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Why measure BIM? And what should you measure?

Paradise circus redevelopment 23 cutaway web crop
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The lack of information about BIM maturity increases the uncertainty surrounding it. Ammar Azzouz  reports on initiatives to assess its benefits

Building information modelling or BIM has become a popular topic in academia and the built environment arena. The UK government imposed a mandatory deadline of 2016 to implement what is termed as BIM Level 2 for all publicly funded projects. And in Europe, the EU established a BIM Task Group ‘to encourage the common use of BIM, as “digital construction”, in public works’. Professionals, policy-makers and academics have acknowledged BIM’s potential. It has been seen to shape leaner and more efficient projects in our built environment. Yet many challenges remain.

The lack of information about BIM maturity increases the uncertainty surrounding it. Mining performance data would not only help to demonstrate how BIM is implemented in the construction industry in its different social and cultural contexts, but also to create a common language of what is BIM and how to assess its potential benefits.

There is a lack of consensus of what constitutes BIM, what it means to different people and how to assess its benefits

With the changing nature of the construction industry, and the constant emerging innovations, technologies and processes; several disparate systems have expanded BIM. Today, there are several guidelines, standards and research papers that introduce BIM and provide steps on how to implement it. But, there is a lack of consensus of what constitutes BIM, what it means to different people and how to assess its benefits.

To overcome this, there has been an increasing interest in developing frameworks and maturity models to assess it. Such assessments structure BIM’s domain in an organised fashion which makes it easier to focus priorities, communicate strategies and create a common language of BIM and its most critical components. 

In the past 10 years, 17 assessment methods have emerged globally to measure BIM; each has its flavour and focus, with varied similarities and differences. Some of them focus on measuring BIM in projects, others in organisations, individuals or teams. I compared these assessments in a previous paper as part of my PhD at the University of Bath, supervised by Alex Copping and Paul Shepherd.

Amongst these assessments are the National BIM Standard Capability Maturity Model of the National Institute of Building Sciences (2007), the Virtual Design and Construction Scorecard, developed by researchers at Stanford University (2012) and Arup’s BIM Maturity Measure (2014). Individually and collectively, current assessments have been influenced internally by each other, and externally by assessments in different disciplines such as business performance models and the environmental building assessments (eg BREEAM or LEED).

However, current BIM maturity models have various levels of strengths and weaknesses. Some are self-assessments, user-friendly, quick to complete, available freely for users, and consider the multifaceted nature of BIM. Others require a third-party assessor (with fee), lack guidelines on how to use them, require a couple of hours to complete, and focus on one side of BIM rather than drawing a balanced vision of its growing elements. The limitations of some of the tools have led to the emergence of maturity models that attempt to optimise and improve past models.

But why measure BIM? And what should you measure? 

22 48562 c arup 2

22 48562 c arup 2

Source: Arup

BIM model for Kobayashi Maki Design Workshop competition entry for the Taipei Pop Music Center

Why measure BIM?

BIM assessments have been developed to help professionals create feedback on their BIM implementation and identify areas of strengths and weakness. Such feedback loops will assist construction industry professionals to better understand how they are doing, develop a road map for BIM strategies, and identify goals for future directions. 

At Arup, a Global BIM Maturity Initiative has been established by Paul Hill in its London office’s Programme and Project Management team. I work on this as BIM maturity analyst. In this initiative, Arup’s in-house tool, the BIM Maturity Measure (BIM MM), is applied to projects across all regions – Arup has offices in more than 40 countries. Just in the past year, the tool has been applied to more than 1,000 projects.

The BIM MM has been seen to move beyond ‘evaluation’. Through analysis of the collected data, it has been possible to demonstrate how BIM is applied in different teams, groups, projects and geographies. This is of significant value to transfer knowledge and skills across projects, groups and regions.

The potential of Arup’s tool has been acknowledged by several practitioners who apply the BIM MM in their businesses, and also by researchers with whom we also collaborate. 

Eleni Papadonikolaki, a lecturer in BIM and management at UCL’s Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management, notes: ‘Arup’s BIM MM provides a good basis for measuring the success of BIM implementation in projects, and a road map for further improvement through cross-project and cross-country comparisons. Arup’s global network with projects can facilitate knowledge transfer and learning through this tool. BIM-MM helps the project teams with realistic goal-setting in BIM projects and supports better communication and efficient collaboration, which accordingly returns efficiency and effectiveness in BIM projects.’

The BIM MM is helping us generate a dialogue across our regions about what ‘good’ looks like, how to better deliver projects and how to deliver better projects. 

Mech building manchester uni

Mech building manchester uni

Source: Arup

Visualisation of the Manchester Engineering Campus Development at Manchester University, designed by Mecanoo

What exactly do you measure?

Choosing what to measure when evaluating BIM is one of the most challenging tasks in BIM maturity research field. It is widely known that ‘what gets measured gets attention’ and that ‘what gets measured gets managed’. Therefore, selecting the appropriate BIM elements to assess effectively means putting these elements on the map of BIM implementation.

When extracting the measures of the current 17 BIM assessments, it was found that there were more than 200 BIM criteria. 

However, the top five common measures were: data richness (the level of detail in model elements), visions and goals for implementing BIM, technology (the applied tools and applications), data exchange (the ways data is shared across different projects’ stakeholders) and model use.

Some tools have included 11 measures, while others offered more complex models that assess more than 70 criteria.

In Arup’s BIM MM, there are more than 25 criteria, 11 of them focused on how BIM is implemented in the project as a whole, the rest concentrating on the varied disciplines involved in the project (such as mechanical, electrical and architecture). 

Some of the discipline criteria question whether 3D, 4D (time scheduling) or 5D (cost) are applied in the project, and whether analysis tools are linked to the main model.

In general, these measures reflect two types of forces: internal forces, which include the criteria largely under the control of design and construction companies; and external forces, which are shaped and influenced by client demands and needs. Together, these forces affect the BIM process in the project.

The BIM MM is attracting significant interest internally at Arup and is moving beyond evaluation. The tool has been used by project managers to communicate BIM with project members and stakeholders. But it is also gaining attraction from external audiences, including other construction firms, which are applying the tool in their businesses, as well as researchers who expressed their interest in the Global BIM Maturity Initiative. 

The research agenda of BIM maturity is expected to grow in different directions. New models will emerge to reflect BIM’s evolving nature, more studies will be needed to focus on applying these models to real case-study projects, and new types of analysis will be generated when measuring BIM. 

These analyses might answer some of the topical questions surrounding BIM:  how to transfer knowledge and skills from high maturity projects and regions to other ones with lower maturity levels; why BIM is applied differently in different geographies; and how performance measurement data could influence the future direction of BIM innovations. 

Ammar Azzouz is a PhD researcher in architecture at the University of Bath and a member of Arup’s Programme and Project Management team 

This article appeared in the October issue of AJ Specification

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