Delivering BIM in the browser is now part of think project!‘s technology roadmap and it is on track to start its first BIM project in early 2015.
Late last year, I had a long conversation with two executives from Munich, Germany’s think project! about its plans to augment its existing Software-as-a-Service collaboration capabilities with building information modelling (BIM) functions.
No German BIM mandate
For a business mainly supporting customers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Benelux countries, there isn’t the same push to deliver BIM functionality arising from a central government mandate like that in the UK (indeed, given the federal structure of government in Germany, imposing a central mandate across 16 separate administrations would be difficult, I was told).
Nonetheless, at the BAU exhibition in January 2015 (read BIM+ article), Germany’s federal minister of transport and digital infrastructure Alexander Dobrindt announced the creation of a “Digital Building Platform” [Platform Digitales Bauen], a group of industry-led organisations aiming to standardise process and device descriptions, develop guidelines for digital planning methods and provide sample contracts (similar to the UK’s BIM Task Group, it seems) – Update (23 February 2015) – “planen-bauen 4.0 GmbH” was launched last week, reports BuildingSmart, with Arup’s Ilka May (briefly a fellow member with me of the ICE’s Information Systems Panel, and knowledgeable about the UK BIM movement) appointed as CEO.
Meanwhile, CEO Thomas Bachmaier (right) said the company planned to extend its collaborative capacity by adding a BIM solution to its “collaboration cloud”. The think project! strategy remains focused on a single core back-end system, but with multiple front-ends to suit different customer or end-user requirements, and BIM will be delivered through two new front-ends, he said.
Some customers are increasingly sharing 3D, 4D and 5D models on think project! for design coordination and construction control among disparate corporate divisions and project partners, Sven-Eric Schapke told me (he joined the company in early 2013 and had been leading its BIM development work since January 2014, having previously been involved with BIM research projects for 12 years).
These customers were working on six out of eight pilot projects where BIM was being deployed to support new road or rail infrastructure work. Sven-Eric told me organisations (mainly contractors and trade associations) in these sectors had been voluntarily associating together to develop the industry’s understanding of BIM. It seems likely German businesses will adopt BIM once they have a detailed and thorough set of processes and a mature and reliable BIM “ecosystem” of technologies to support them and the people involved in delivering better whole-life built assets, he said, highlighting healthcare as a particularly progressive sector.
BIM in the collaboration cloud in 2015
Think project! will be incorporating BIM functionality into its technology stack in early 2015, and expects its first BIM project to start in Q2. We talked at some length about 4D (time) and 5D (cost) elements of project delivery, recognising the potential of BIM to enable time and cost-critical decisions to be made earlier in the design process and for these impacts to continue to be felt throughout the operational life-cycle of the built asset. The role of the “Collaboration Cloud” platform was therefore to support cross-enterprise collaboration, recognising that – particularly in the early days of a BIM project – there are likely to be multiple systems (including local file-based applications), partial models, and large numbers of unstructured text and graphic documents. Accordingly, the BIM tools in this “Cloud” will span and link all project data, and support all BIM-related processes from design coordination, through tendering and construction, to operation and maintenance.
In common with rival collaboration providers (eg: 4Projects, Asite, Business Collaborator, Aconex), the think project! ambition is to provide an environment in which discipline-specific models (and related drawings, specifications, and distribution and approval workflows) can be brought together and coordinated, where the coordinated model can be marked-up and commented as required, and where all resulting and related project document revisions and workflows are carefully captured and controlled.
How this common data environment might look in a browser will clearly differ accordingly to the design approach of the vendor. The 4Projects BIM viewer, for example, allows users to review elements of a federated model alongside its work breakdown structure and a view of the underlying model database. In think project! Sven-Eric showed me an interface presenting four different areas: the partial models, the coordinated model, related 3D viewpoints, and related process outputs (eg: RFIs, drawing management). But as with other systems, the think project! intention is to make BIM accessible in any web browser, without additional software downloads or plugins.
With Conject, think project! is one of mainland Europe’s leading providers of online construction collaboration software services, generating revenues of €17.2m [£14.4m] in 2013, though it may also face competition from the acquisitive RIB Software, based in Stuttgart, Germany, which has been building a portfolio of built asset life-cycle management applications – its iTWO Collaboration Exchange (iTWOcx) covers pre-contract and design through to construction cost control and progress reporting, plus some ERP-type functionality. The Nemetschek group has also been building its BIM and collaboration capabilities, adding US-based Bluebeam in October 2014 to a portfolio that included Allplan, Vectorworks and Graphisoft (home of BIMx Docs - February 2014 post), plus its own BIM+ offering.
Unlike Conject – with less than a year to go still yet to publicly showcase its BIM common data environment (4Projects, Asite, BC and Aconex have all shown off their BIM interfaces) – think project! is not being pressed to provide BIM capability by the 2016 Level 2 mandate of the UK government, but with BIM now on the German government’s horizon, it now has a clear strategy.