Interviews

The Importance of Communication in Setting the BIM Agenda with Alan Muse

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Alan Muse is the Global Director of the Built Environment at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), and having worked closely with BIM over the course of the last six years Mr Muse is in a great position to provide his input on the openBIM debate, which is shown in the following Q&A.

Alan deals principally with project managers, quantity surveyors, building surveyors and building control surveyors in the built environment. BIM is important to those professionals, as it is important in terms of future issues that the RICS has identified as being key to the profession in terms of development.  In regards to BIM and construction, he deals with those issues, and has been involved in developing standards, guidance, training and BIM certification since 2011.

Regarding the present BIM landscape, what do you feel are some of the shortcomings of traditional, closed BIM, and do you feel that a more open, transparent and collaborative approach based on open standards and workflows can resolve some of these concerns?

Our view has always been that there are two strands to this, one of which is the technical open data standards that Building Smart are looking to produce in order to enable that kind of environment, but probably more importantly is the culture and collaboration issues within the industry and how the industry can work better together so that BIM can have its maximum effect. There is a hard issue and a soft issue there, both of which must be tackled in order to obtain the real benefits that people are expecting from BIM.

What limitations or challenges might you also see stemming from a collaborative workflow, and can you see this means of working being one to stunt creativity and relationship development, or perhaps complement it in the alternative means of working, with clear controls over personal design data?

I think there is a general collaborative issue within the culture of the industry in terms of the way that the industry procures work, and in terms of the one-off clients in the industry and the fact that we need education to come together into a team environment. In terms of the technical data standards in BIM, I think that is one side of a two sided coin. We need open and transparent data to be exchanged between the design team, the supply chain and contractors, but we also need professional standards in terms of the work processes, and these standards must now interface more with this new technology.

We are very keen to collaborate with other professional institutions and leading technology providers to solve these problems, and to have a two-way conversation regarding what they need from us and what we need from them. We are already members of buildingSMART, but more importantly we need to engage with software vendors and technologists themselves because we feel that this has been a one-way transaction so far.

How do you see openBIM altering the landscape with relevance to small and medium enterprises, the alteration or boundaries to entry, and potentially increased competition from smaller software vendors and the impacts of this on those already-established core brands?

I think that is always a factor in evolving markets and I fully endorse the fact that more openBIM standards will increase competition, but markets tend to go through cycles of entrepreneurial start-ups which are followed by consolidation and rationalisation of the market.

In terms of communication with that industry, yes it will make it difficult if it is more diverse but that doesn’t mean to say we cannot have representation from that sector. I have to say in our early dealings with the technologists this has been a problem, as they principally want to sell software and solutions in the market and they don’t have a professional institution working with them to extend their knowledge.

In regards to the technologists, do you think a lot of these organisations are coming in with a specialist, niche approach and the available opportunities are not being fully understood?

I think from the initial review of that marketplace this is definitely the case, but I do believe that this will develop and rationalisation and consolidation will come with time. The issue is that they are supplying a need to the construction industry, and this industry is evolving in terms of collaborative working and multidisciplinary practices which require multidisciplinary solutions, so market need will drive this change.

Many believe that there is a lack of understanding on the potential of BIM as a whole and that education could be the solution to this, so what would your opinion be on education within the industry in regards to BIM?

This is something we have spent some time considering, and first of all there is an immediate market need for people to be more up to speed with BIM which we have tried our best to help out with in regards to providing the industry with a better understanding with guidance, training and BIM certification schemes.

The second issue is related to professional training, because a lot of people in this profession believe that BIM is just information management and therefore shouldn’t be seen as a separate subject matter as it is already part of what they do. These are the issues that we should be addressing, and universities are obviously developing BIM education and I think professionals will need to come to terms with this in the way it affects qualification routes.

I think you are right to raise the issue and there is definitely a need for BIM training and education, and I think we are certainly keen to develop specific academic actions to our existing educational degrees, with one university already combining data science with quantity surveying.

Do you potentially feel that it is too soon to push openBIM as a standard itself, given the level of understanding in the industry at the moment in regards to BIM as a whole?

I think the industry is very much based on gradualism and that is how it has always worked, and there is a strong argument that when advancements like this have occurred in other industries then there has been a paradigm shift towards it. Digitalisation has transformed other industries in many different areas such as product delivery & cost, and it is not going to go away so I don’t see why it cannot do the same for construction.

The problem with construction is that there are many golden threads that need to come together for it to come into play, for example off site construction needs to develop into repeatable good quality construction where people are less concerned about the bespoke and unique design solutions.

In regards to language and terminology, do you feel that potentially the construction industry could learn a lot from the manufacturing industry in terms of digitalisation?

I think language and terminology is important and there isn’t that much consistency, so I think if that is an objective of open data standards in BIM then that has to be applauded. However, that same issue arises in terms of existing professional processes and standards, as for example there isn’t a universal classification system, therefore as well as the data standards for BIM this needs to be addressed.

When we are looking specifically at the openBIM debate, is there a particular message you would like to communicate in regards to your thoughts on how it will evolve in the coming years and how might you be looking at working with buildingSMART going forward?

The flow of money around the world has transformed the international markets and practice in many areas, and regardless of recent politics that trend will probably continue, so from an RICS point of view international standards are very important in both a digitalisation and electronic aspect.

Comparing construction projects and providing international standards is almost an issue that has not been addressed enough in this profession, and we are quite keen to develop this from a digitalisation of the industry perspective. I think that we as a country are well respected in terms of professional players around the world, and the government needs to use this influence to lead this work into international standards and develop BIM.

BIM will change the industry whether it is sudden or not, but the issue is that the industry wouldn’t have to change if it was very good at delivery which it is not, and therefore this delivery has to improve and BIM is a way in which this could happen through improving certainty and transparency within decisions.

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