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2012 key trends: BIM

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A radical culture change is needed to get the best out of  building information modelling processes, says Richard Shennan

Who should lead BIM?

If you have kept up with the briefings, you will know building information modelling (BIM) is not a product and it doesn’t come in a box. It’s a way of working that is becoming integral to construction and setting new requirements for design and construction projects. By exchanging and adding value to information, BIM is delivering better-resolved solutions, faster project delivery, improved risk management, enhanced sustainability and improved whole-life performance.

Realising Latham’s vision

BIM is not new. Government construction tsar Paul Morrell’s ideas build on the 1994 report Constructing the Team, by Sir Michael Latham and the subsequent 1998 report, Rethinking Construction, by Sir John Egan. What has changed is that we now have the technology to realise the efficiencies they envisioned. Architects and consultants are now well positioned to work together and drive the change.

Collaboration sounds like an obvious thing to do but the prevailing attitudes throughout the supply chain are: let me just get on with my bit; don’t challenge my ability; my part is the most important; I’ll collaborate when I feel like it.

To fulfil the potential of BIM, leadership is required. The industry needs people who can articulate and engage with others on detailed planning for the implementation of BIM, on programme, cost, carbon and whole-life performance management alongside design, on making sure that software across teams is interoperable, on mapping BIM process and auditing progress to make sure nothing’s missed, and on defining levels of detail and who’s responsible for managing the model.

Many people are recognising the need to be able to do this and are seeking the higher ground that being a BIM master bestows. Contractors, project managers, engineers and new enterprises are putting together ideas that place them at the centre of the process. It is widely recognised that adding value for owners and users through BIM will be good for income.

The design team is in a strong position to lead the BIM revolution, but a number of key challenges need to be overcome.

BIM processes demand an increased focus on defining the project outcomes before design options are developed. This requires restraint in developing advanced thoughts about what a solution might look like. If concepts are developed too soon, the owners’ and users’ requirements can end up being an inconvenience that don’t quite fit what the designers have already thought of.

Conversely, once the requirements have been clearly established and signed off, early investment is required to develop a high-value BIM model. This means that if new ideas occur to the design team out of sequence, they may be better saved for the next job, unless there is enough added value for the owner to be persuaded to pay for the model to be re-worked. Architects and engineers need to work together to drive this rigour, so that the industry and its clients gain maximum benefit.

BIM works best when all the key project players are collaborating and contributing. Architects often facilitate design team workshops that bring the best out of consultants, contractors and suppliers, so there is a strong starting point here that simply needs to be strengthened and include best practice in use of technology. 

Getting the best out of BIM

Getting the best out of BIM requires new relationships in the supply chain. Many contractors believe the skills required for the programming aspects of asset creation are lacking in consultants, who tend to model the finished product without thinking through the construction process.

Further down the supply chain, component-based design and off-site fabrication can deliver great benefits to owners. With more collaboration across the supply chain early on, new and better contractual relationships can be developed.

To achieve this enhanced trust between project partners there needs to be mutual respect among the many contributors.

The race for the high ground in BIM is well and truly on. All aspirants face challenges, as none has the full skill set and all are rooted in the industry’s culture of fragmented and often confrontational relationships. No single BIM pattern will emerge. Those best placed to succeed need to be capable of explaining, inspiring and team-building. Architects and consultants have many of the key skills required to take on BIM leadership. This is an opportunity for them to get their share of the income streams that BIM offers.

Mott MacDonald buildings director Richard Shennan is the group’s BIM Champion and heads its strategy for integrating sustainable solutions delivery

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