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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