BIM Implementation - Learning from the Mistakes of Others


Successfully implementing BIM demands process change as well as purchasing the relevant software. Let’s take an example of a typical multidisciplinary design and project management consultancy looking at deploying BIM and what shape it may take.

A company that is looking into BIM understands that there are enormous benefits inherent in making the switch from a traditional segmented approach of project delivery to that of an integrated BIM solution. Even so, once a company starts to go down the BIM route they are usually very keen to ‘hit the ground running’ and as such will enlist, for example, their architectural, structural and MEP teams to achieve an in-house BIM capability.

Indeed many companies have already heard a lot about BIM and realise that its adoption can be less costly than leaving things as they are. It is noteworthy however that most of these companies almost always have their decisions supported from the outset by senior management.

The current financial challenges facing the construction industry sees construction companies looking to consolidate their position in the market and expand their core skills to maximise potential earnings through cost savings and increased productivity. So much so that the case for BIM adoption becomes ever more proven and just as strong.

Cutting Costs vs Cutting Corners

With tunnel vision in a drive to solely minimise costs many companies forgo essential basic training in favour of end users ‘self-learning’ and testing the software and their newly acquired skills on a live small-scale project instead. Backup being available in the form of hired technical specialists.

In many ways this approach tends to be very short sighted. The introduction of CAD in the late 1980’s was a very large step for many construction consultants, but for most it did not change their existing workflows. The introduction of BIM however fundamentally changes many workflows within the design and engineering process.

Placing greater importance on model management at earlier stages ensures that benefitsare secured throughout the process therafter. BIM is not just a more powerful version of CAD, it changes the way offices and teams are structured not to mention how their work is carried out.

A common misconception about BIM is that it is just another software program. This is based on the assumption that ‘CAD monkeys’ are replaced by ‘BIM monkeys’ and little else. But in fact, to use BIM to its full potential requires very high levels of skill experience and judgment. The traditional draughtsman or modern day junior architect is not equipped to simultaneously design and evaluate a myriad of interlocking pieces of information. The integration of design choices, cost implications, technical know-how and feasibility considerations requires specific skills and authoritative decision making capabilities.

The move to a new way of thinking can only be achieved via a systematic implementation plan. This plan needs to address the need to properly train staff and to introduce best practices that effectively integrate the BIM process into the organisation.

Adequate training is one of the greatest challenges to BIM adoption. Many businesses feel they have to reach a critical mass of user experience before it becomes viable to introduce new technology. However this experience can be established via a structured training program instead, within which the benchmarking of users enables training to be targeted to an individuals’ needs and thereby reduces the cost of training overall.

Benchmarking also allows firms to analyse the effectiveness of their training approach and to determine whether alternative methods such as ‘Just in Time Training’, ‘Over the shoulder training’ or similar approaches can be used too.

Technical vs Systematic Change

Far too many companies hastily introduce BIM by purchasing software before factoring in the process of change and the training required to implement new workflows first. Rather, it is better to drill down on the design processes that would swiftly optimise the way the BIM systemswould fit in with current and future business needs instead.

Returns from the software investment would be realised more quickly if investment in proper process engineering and training, as well as a detailed process audit itself had been made. In addition, if teams were engaged in the design of the new workflow they would understand why changes were necessary and how it could benefit them too.

Old-fashioned communication is vitally important when using an integrated BIM model. Each team member’s contribution to the model affects the rest of the team. Rather than a traditional ‘hand-off’ of project data from one discipline to the next, BIM encourages collaborative decision-making.

The logic behind changes to workflow processes becomes even more evident as a user gains experience with working with BIM enabled systems. New users sometimes look so hard at ‘little BIM’ that they fail to see ‘big BIM’ and its potential instead.

It has been reported that 7/10 users say that BIM has had at least a moderate impact on internal project practices and processes. Given the long standing traditions of many firms this is a significant finding. Companies develop best practice through years of project experience yet a large percentage of users are willing to rethink those processes when using this (still) emerging technology.

How Complex is too Complex?

One major stumbling block encountered by some companies taking on BIM hastily with ‘self help implementation’ type plans is that they believe they can immediately generate all of the content they needed to be productive. They underestimate the skill levels and time needed to generate content components in 3D for example. This illustrates the necessity to manage the BIM process at a higher level than required by any traditional 2D CAD project.

This frequently means that an external consultant is hired in to find out what has gone wrong; with some of the findings pointing to the strong CAD specialists and designers who thought they should ‘go wild’ by defining many data points for an element for example (as the capabilities of BIM in this area are nearly limitless).

CAD users who have experience in 3D CAD usually find it very easy to grasp the concepts of the modelling aspects of BIM, but on the other hand they often fail to understand the information and process layers that are required to connect the complete BIM project together. Allowing the BIM model to work like 3D CAD can be an easy way to introduce some of the concepts of the mass modelling tools, but this uses only a tiny fraction of the capability of the software and process itself.

The question is, how complex does the model really need to be to generate an accurate picture for the client and for construction?

Teams assigned for a BIM Implementation project need to sit down at the start and discuss what data is important before they get things started; what detail can be added over time and what can be left out altogether. This is a crucial part of any implementation strategy but feedback consistently reports that one of the most challenging aspects of BIM implementation is agreeing on standards upfront.

Whether this is a simple title block or the complex types of parametric data that different drawing elements should contain - these are initial hurdles that must be solved.

Companies implementing BIM are best served to leverage this change as an opportunity to promote consistency accuracy and productivity. They need to discuss these new in-house processes and drawing standards in order to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in their new environment.

In addition to recognising new ways to make BIM work, companies should consider customising the technology so that it meets the specific needs of the organisation, while facilitating best practice and ensuring their business goals are met.

For many companies on their BIM Journey the road ahead will be strewn with options that have not been encountered before. Acknowledging that, the most effective way to implement a particular strategy is to build a solid base of knowledge which will maximise future potential thereafter.

It is with this understanding that a company will make the change to BIM a fruitful one. It will not just put the software ‘back on the shelf’ but will be ‘ahead of the pack’ and in the strongest possible position to capitalise on the many new opportunities going forward.

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