BIM = Better information mobility?

A US survey suggests growing benefits of mobile information, but its respondents weren’t enthusing about mobile access to digital models.

Bentley - logoAt the Bentley Systems Year in Infrastructure conference in London this week, information mobility has been a recurring theme (indeed, BIM has even been verbally re-engineered to become ‘better information mobility’), and its not just about mobile devices but about the whole challenge of enabling collaboration by connecting people and sharing data from a multitude of different applications, operating systems and devices. We are, of course, some distance from the utopian vision of seamless exchange of the right information at the the right time in the right place and on any device, but the industry has at least started to make steps on the journey, it seems, though I think the speed of that journey may also vary between the US and the UK.

McGraw Hill Information MobilitySmartMarket report

A survey of 300 contractor firms in the US construction sector undertaken by McGraw Hill Construction has been published this week, and I listened as Harvey Bernstein, vice president of Industry Insights & Alliances, presented some of the research findings from the new SmartMarket Report this morning (click here for report). Contractors are benefiting from increased information mobility, he said, but significant gaps need to be overcome for the benefits to be widely achieved across the industry.

Overall, the most highly reported benefits are better team collaboration (reported by 76%) and improved productivity (reported by 68%). Bottom line benefits, such as shorter project schedules, lower project costs and increases in project ROI, are significant for those that are tracking the benefits.

However, only half (51%) are tracking information flow at all, and only 20% are tracking the flow of their information outside their own firms—a significant need in the industry in order to understand and improve the flow of information.

There are proven results in the value of information mobility investments, with contractors reporting shorter schedules by 9%, project cost decreases of 10% and increases in project ROI of 2%. We need to encourage the industry to track and report these benefits so they can justify investing in information mobility, thereby improving their profitability.

Another challenge is determining access to data and information—ranked as one of the most important factors driving investments in information mobility. While the industry has made significant improvements in information flow within or outside an office, only 37% report that their workers onsite can access information outside the trailer. The two most important functions of information mobility reported by contractors are gathering real-time data from the jobsite and conducting analyses of those data.


As you might expect at a Bentley conference, ProjectWise is widely discussed, and you almost get the impression that no other online collaboration platforms exist (though I did hear Crossrail’s Neill Pawsey talk this afternoon about connecting third party tools such as Aconex and Asite to Bentley’s eB system). Certainly, ProjectWise has become a pervasive tool within the Bentley ecosystem, and Bentley CEO Greg Bentley has highlighted that more than half of UK Bentley users now collaborate via ProjectWise. Extending this collaboration beyond the site office, though, is still seen by the US survey respondents as fraught with difficulties, particularly relating to document security, secure access and version control.

Crossrail lessons

Bringing the Bentley conference to London, however, has (I think) opened some US delegates’ eyes to the great strides that the UK industry is making with building information modelling (the original BIM) and the smaller but still significant strides that organisations such as Crossrail are making with use of mobile devices (see May 2013 post). Neill (who I know well through COMIT and as a fellow member of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Information Systems Panel) talked about use of Apple tablets in the challenging underground environment of a major tunnelling project. While some contractors ban mobile devices completely, he suggested there could be exceptions.

He compared the safety of using a conventional paper notebook within a live site’s ‘safe zone’ with using a tablet in the same place; he also pointed out “Paper tends to lose all integrity in wet weather” and argued that an encased tablet would be a more than adequate replacement, particularly if you could overcome its vulnerability to knocks, etc. Crossrail had learned from using an application called Formotus on iPads to rapidly capture and centralise engineers’ observation reports, and he also said viewing building information models in-situ often helped explain construction methodologies better than any paper drawings could.

Currently, though, mobile devices still tend to be used predominantly to share PDFs and electronic versions of paper drawings and documents – according to the SmartMarket report – and, perhaps surprisingly, the US survey respondents were not predicting increased mobile use of digital model files. I expect if the same survey was undertaken in the UK, where BIM adoption and interest in BIM on mobile devices is exploding, the results would be very different.

(Note: COMIT’s own conference on information mobility is next week, 7 November in London.)

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