IMPLEMENTING BIM (building information modelling) process and technology brings a number of benefits to the construction industry. However, a bad start when venturing into the system due to inefficient deployment may force the company to put the software back on the shelf, missing out on the opportunity to transform its business.
Finith E Jernigan, in his acclaimed book BIG BIM, little BIM, identifies the differences between BIG BIM – the all-encompassing process that is widely published through global media and conferences – and the little BIM – the actual use and application by operators within a design or engineering office.
The publication also clearly identifies that BIM means different things to different users in the process and, critically, that the specific advantages to individuals often take priority over wider benefits to business and projects.
The BIM Hub endorses the view that BIM changes both internal and external workflow processes. Implementation is a business decision, first, and a technical approach, second. Not realising this is the first step towards potential failure. Individual application – little BIM Jernigan compares little BIM to the use of individual computers before the advent of integrated networks and the Internet, when operators used software tools only to enhance the performance of their individual tasks. This analogy helps visualise the problems associated with the little BIM concept.
Effective use of software depends upon the quality of the product, the skills of the operator and the training provided – these are easily defined parameters that are commonly used in traditional processes, where software is used in isolation.
For example, 2D software drafting tools were easily mastered by those familiar with drawing boards because they worked in the same way, albeit more efficiently (just like those who could use a typewriter easily adapted to word processors). Similarly, those who had mastered 2D tools took on board the principles of early 3D technology without difficulty. The progression to 3D BIM as a modelling tool is likewise easy to understand and adopt. The only real consideration in this ‘little BIM world’ is which software tool to purchase; what happens outside their world is of limited interest to individual operators.
Business application – BIG BIM
The analogy to the BIG BIM concept considers the fact that the little BIM systems have now been linked with other systems via networks and the Internet, which is the actual representation of the integrated business process – the BIM.
In the BIG BIM world, personal systems are in communication with each other and not just within one particular discipline. Architects, structural, MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and engineering cost managers, planners and facilities management experts are all connected and are able to integrate their designs into a single environment.
This is the strength of BIM which is a seamless exchange of data made possible by system interoperability; communication in real time to improve co-ordination, share vital information, and improve the quality of project delivery.
However, in this environment it is essential that individuals create their data in such a way that it can be used by others. For example, components, areas and volumes need to have material and functional information added to be properly quantified. This collaborative environment requires the adoption of new business processes to define workflow and this requires both commitment and involvement from all who share the process from management downwards. Not realising and acting on this is a common mistake and will inevitably result in an ineffective deployment of BIM that can prove costly to the business and would amount to an improper use of resources. To avoid this, it is important to ensure from the outset that the implementation is planned correctly.
Optimising BIM implementation
To secure the full benefits of BIM, a ‘major business programme’ approach is needed. Unlike adopting a new technology in isolation, BIM implementation has to be undertaken in stages. This requires proper planning, patience and full commitment at all levels of the business.
The first step is to understand the current status of the business, both in terms of existing systems and available skills. An effective way of achieving this is to undertake an audit that can best be described as a ‘health check’. This will determine the level of change required, how best to achieve that change, how long it will take and how much it will cost – all essential steps in ascertaining the critical ‘return on investment’ on which sound business decisions are based.
This health check has two major component parts – business and skills: Business health check: The first step is to identify and analyse existing business systems and processes (both internal and external) and ‘map’ those within a BIM framework. This is possible because BIM is still in a relatively new phase of development and can often be manipulated and customised to suit the specific needs. Some of the many aspects that are part of this analysis include:
• Primary business process;
• Self-performed versus sub-contracted work;
• Types of contract worked with;
• How data is transferred and with which platforms;
• Current system standards and operational manuals;
• Existing technology tools and platforms;
• Current document and data management;
• Collaboration platforms;
• Office and financial systems;
• Size and type of existing networks;
• Current skill levels;
• Expectations of cost and willingness to invest; and
• Level of management commitment.
Skills health check: Central to any business implementation is training of staff, where it is not just enough to know ‘how to use software tools’. Understanding the BIM process and how it affects current work practice is essential.
Assessment and benchmarking the capabilities of staff at an early stage of the implementation process is crucial. This identifies the best people for training and deployment of BIM within the business who will together form the best team to undertake a first ‘pilot’ project.
To avoid mistakes, the following strategy may be useful:
• Deploy the implementation process in real business context to produce tangible, bottom line results.
• Seek out a reputable BIM consulting firm who can advise and assist in adopting the best implementation method. A good consultant will consider existing business process, software selection, benchmarking, targeted user training, content development, translation of existing standards, customisation of systems, on-the-job mentoring, implementation tracking and reviews. All of this should be captured in a stakeholder agreed, structured implementation plan or roadmap.
• Identify BIM methods and implementation strategies by project phases and define potential benefits, costs, and strategies at each phase.
• A structured implementation plan should include detailed guidelines and best practices to achieve optimum workflow and returns on investment.
• Create a BIM manual. Just as CAD required new drawing standards in the office, the BIM system will necessitate standardised modelling procedures and methodologies.
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