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.