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Jul 13 2011

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Will BIM kill the document controller?

I watched and listened to a Building Design webinar today on building information modelling (BIM). Hosted by Robert Klaschka of Studio Klaschka Architects (he and I shared a platform at a London Constructing Excellence event in May), it included a question and answer session with UK government chief construction advisor Paul Morrell, and short presentations from various BIM practitioners, including an architect, a software vendor and a contractor. Some viewers of the webinar were also interacting via Twitter (hashtag #BDbim), and someone asked: “Is BIM going to make the information manager/document controller’s role obsolete?

I tweeted back that, under BIM, we will still need people to manage contract processes, correspondence, etc, but there would gradually be fewer drawings to control. I then added that we may also see the emergence of a BIM or Model Manager role, a more expert professional role combining design expertise with skills in team coordination (though this role is still in its infancy).

Of course, this gradual erosion of the drawing management aspect of the document controller’s role will take some years, but it will continue a process that started over a decade ago when electronic document collaboration platforms first began to be used on construction projects. Then, they dramatically reduced the volume of files (both paper-based and electronically) exchanged among project participants, and by holding a “single version of the truth” in one central repository, made it more transparent and easier to audit who did what and when. With document issue and receipt increasingly automated, controllers became more productive and, in some firms, were capable of managing multiple projects simultaneously, or taking an additional responsibilities such as extranet system administration.

The production of drawings is not going to suddenly disappear due to the advent of BIM. Indeed, today’s BAM Construction presentation showed 1100 drawings were generated from the building information model of one recent project, but the processes of clash detection and reconciling design issues were accelerated and the number of revisions was reduced. This is likely to be repeated across many projects by many more firms, and the productivity gains witnessed through using web-based construction collaboration technologies will doubtless be increased still further as they become used to manage data stored in the model (see BIM – a new role for collaboration tools?). However, the ins and outs of BIM-based design will still require management by human beings according to agreed project protocols, and so the role of document controller will evolve.

A sprinkling of job advertisements have already appeared for ‘BIM Document Controllers‘, mainly in the USA, and I expect similar vacancies will soon be advertised in the UK and other markets undergoing the transition to BIM. Over time, though, I expect the word ‘document’ may be replaced by ‘information’, and I also expect today’s document controllers will be looking for training and support as they become tomorrow’s information managers, complementing the professional design coordination role of the BIM or Model Manager.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2011/07/will-bim-kill-the-document-controller/

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  1. macArchitect

    I think it’s inevitable isn’t it? This follows the general decline in the need for admin staff across the profession as technology enables more direct communication. The DC is an overhead; non fee-earning. The role is important and many projects that I’ve worked on would have ground to a halt without one, but if the overall process changes and this means that they can be replaced by a fee-earning member of staff then that is surely what will happen. Many project teams have someone akin to a CAD co-ordinator at the moment; I see the definition of that role expanding as BIM becomes more prevalent.

  2. Ruby

    Interesting piece. note though that the term ”document controller/information manager are used interchangeably, depending on the company. you mentioned(in another article) that BIM is been used with Aconex. you also left one of my questions unanswered which is; does BIM interface with collaboration tools like BIW/SharePoint? how will it work? can BIM be used on smaller projects where collaboration tools are not used?you seem to be a mine of info on BIM…..

  3. Paul Wilkinson

    Hi, Ruby
    There have been some efforts recently (notably by Aconex in Australia) to develop an accredited training course for document controllers that will see their role formalised a bit more – perhaps in the process creating a more consistent terminology. As documents reduce in number, I think the focus will be more on ‘information’.

    BIM doesn’t easily interface with SharePoint or BIW – though the outputs (drawings, etc) can, of course, be shared through such platforms. Some of the existing collaboration vendors are already testing viewers that allow users to see and comment on models. Aconex has seen growth in the use of its platform to share model files, and only last week, I watched a webinar where Bentley talked about using its ProjectWise platform (locally hosted, not SaaS) to share model files.

    Potentially, BIM can be used on just about any project, but there will be greater economies of scale the bigger the project. There will also, of course, be many small firms that delay investing in BIM in the short-medium term (there may also be connectivity constraints – model files can be huge, requiring good broadband connectivity for effective sharing), but they could still use document-sharing platforms to share conventional 2D information.

  4. Catherine Burns

    Drawings are only a small aspect to a document controller’s job description and, as noted earlier, Information Manager is a more accurate term, used already by Lend Lease (amongst others). We manage multitudes of documents unrelated to drawings including RFIs, reports, schedules, HSE Files and O&Ms, none of which would be affect greatly by BIM. There are also tenders and bids which would not be included in a BIM model and then there is archiving searching for litigation as well as the belt and braces approach of recording steps taken within BIM.

    Although the end may have been sighted I believe we are a long way from even the beginning of the end.

  5. Tahir Ahmad

    I see DCs moving away from traditional processes and taking on greater data compliance activities and having tighter integration with quality teams.

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