Sam Collard

18 July 2013 — Working in building information modelling as a design and construction manager for a UK general contractor meant a career shift as a building services veteran to a fledgling subject matter expert in the emerging technology of building information modelling. What have I learned and what can I share about BIM? Essentially we must position BIM as an attainable goal and make people believe they can achieve and implement BIM on their next project.

What is BIM?    

A building information model is the 3D digital representation of a building. BIM presents the physical and functional information of a building format as an accurate assessment of the building, its form, its engineering services and potentially its assets.

Materials assembled for presentations and conferences, especially project case studies coupled with live model demonstrations, ensured early engagement in BIM. Prior to this presentations heavily referenced theoretical BIM – what we thought we could do opposed to what we can actually achieve on projects consistently and competently.

See our story BIM: get set; it’s coming fast

Positioning the technology

Early BIM was substantially unproven as an integrated design and construction tool. Facilities management was seldom considered as a project deliverable within the contract. Setting minor problems like this aside, and despite considerable difficulty in getting consistent traction in the UK mainstream, the appetite for BIM deployment continued. The UK Government was seen as a potential avid consumer, sponsor and advocate for BIM.

BIM has now made it to the boardroom agenda and is seen as a key business differentiator – and design and construction companies are trying to brand their own versions of BIM to launch into the market.

One of the most important things to do when dealing with a new subject matter is to differentiate what you are doing from the competition. Usually this involves renaming the topic. This is by far the most significant things you can do – these naming rights are of immense value. You now own the BIM!

Love your software, embrace your software provider

Don’t fight your software, you won’t win. It’s all about establishing a relationship with the technology. Embrace your software provider’s technical team. They have a genuine interest in the development of your BIM solution.

Parametric BIM and the ability to transmit BIM across the building cycle “from cradle to cradle” is a goal, but we are far from achieving this, but this should not deter you from working in BIM today. Recognise the limitations of what your team can do in BIM, and record the project’s BIM goals in the BIM management plan.

The key to integrated global BIM – standard object parameters

The development of accredited BIM objects and object parameters are the key to success in BIM, and we are far from achieving this as an industry. For the time being we work and develop object standards and content that are not universally agreed upon – and spend a significant amount of money doing it.

We must agree on an international content standard that software providers and product suppliers will willingly participate in, and agree on consistent product content. Let’s ensure the significant technical and financial burden of the BIM content industry does not remain the responsibility of individual companies. The cost to produce verified content – and keep it technically and time relevant – remains a significant barrier to BIM and BIM FM. Is the alternative of coming together as an industry to provide a national BIM library through an appointed body a forlorn hope? Government aid and sponsorship for a National/International BIM Library that can own and verify present and manage future BIM content must be worth a consideration.

Evidence-based solutions in BIM

There are a significant number of early players who have learned to use BIM effectively, and have done so through success and intelligent failure. It’s a balance in the end; we make decisions to adopt BIM based on intelligent “hunches”. Those who have done this combined the realistic part of design and construction BIM they hoped would work with the futuristic part of BIM we would like to work but ultimately know is not quite the case yet.

Don’t believe all you hear, look for evidence-based BIM solutions. BIM breakthroughs and pioneering work cited in the USA has been taken up with great enthusiasm in the UK, and is now being benchmarked as a definite must-do for the Australian market. Finding out that what was claimed did not happen consistently and competently in the place of origin does nothing to further the case of what was potentially good work. Seek evidence-based solutions.

Work being undertaken by BIM-MEPAUS is being viewed with great interest by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers BIM working group in the UK, and not without good reason! But it remains the responsibility of the UK market to validate this work.

BIM managers

Competent BIM managers with design and engineering knowledge create significant value in the BIM debate, yet from an engineering perspective all we have done differently in the journey from computer-aided design to BIM is to add “z” height to “x” length by “y” breadth.

My heart sinks when I see a CAD manager or converted BIM manager influencing decisions that once were made by the whole project team. We have to ensure BIM technology is adopted by the complete team. Decisions made about the implementation of BIM need to be made by experienced design and construction industry practitioners.

Leave your BIM manager at the office. I don’t carry a mechanic with me everywhere I go in the car on the off chance it may break down. If you need a BIM manager to sort out your project’s BIM/CAD protocols, lock them in a room, feed them, love them, nurture them, and then let them out when the protocols are established.

See part 2.

Sam Collard is a technical director at Steensen Varming, a firm of building services consulting engineers. He has been involved in the management and implementation of BIM on over 50 projects with a construction value of over $3 billion. His journey in BIM has seen him working as an early adopter in the USA, Canada, Scandinavia, United Kingdom, India and more recently Australia.

Next week, part 2 will cover governance of BIM; protocols and management plans; FM BIM; academia, software providers and industry experts; and when to undertake BIM.