It’s been about collaboration all along

I have been a member of the UK change organisation Constructing Excellence‘s Collaborative Working Champions for some years. My interest in this area started in the 1990s when I worked in what was then Tarmac (now Carillion) Professional Services and my line manager was Shonagh Hay. She was a member of the  Reading Construction Forum (a forerunner of Constructing Excellence), which was in the vanguard producing industry guidance on partnering in the construction industry, and she inspired me to think more deeply about overturning decades of adversarial practice in favour of more collaborative approaches. And my thinking on the technology dimensions of this issue developed further while I was at construction collaboration technology vendor BIW Technologies.

However, trying to turn the industry around while remaining focused on document management and design practices centred around 2D design has proved difficult. Instances of real collaborative working facilitated by collaboration platforms remain relatively few and far between (one of the best examples of teams successfully addressing people and process issues, and utilising supporting technologies – the MOD Andover North project, an ITCBP case study (PDF) – is now almost a decade old and I still hear industry people talk about its other innovations such as a single project bank account).

Constructing Excellence remains committed to the principles of collaborative working and is also aware of the need to embrace changing industry information technology, notably building information modelling (BIM). It has a working party developing industry guidance on the issue, and I am sure this group is aware of the efforts of BuildingSMART and other organisations in this field, both in the UK and in markets such as the USA – where thinking about integrated project delivery is steadily advancing.

Only yesterday, I found a very readable article on the upFront.Ezine (via Ralph Grabowski’s WorldCAD Access blog) about building information modelling (BIM) and integrated project delivery. In it Robert Anderson, Nemetschek North America’s Vice-President of integrated practice, talks about “Big BIM, Little BIM” (software is Little BIM, business model is “Big BIM”, or IPD), and therefore the need not just to change technology but to change business models.

He suggests tackling the contractual issues – people/process interfaces – will require a collaborative approach, and the elements of that approach (summarised below) sound very similar to the recommendations (integrated teams, early supply chain engagement, etc) that Constructing Excellence has been promoting for the past decade or more:

  • Owner, architect, consultants, contractor, subcontractors and suppliers commit to working as a team.
  • All are involved as early as possible.
  • Compensation structure rewards early involvement.
  • Project goals are developed early.
  • Responsibilities are clearly defined in a no-blame culture to resolve problems, not determine liability.
  • Open and interoperable data exchange is essential.
  • Appropriate technology specified at project initiation.
  • High Performance buildings are the result

So, while the US might be slightly ahead of the UK in its adoption of BIM, one might argue that the UK is more advanced in developing ideas about the critical people and process issues.

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