BIM – a new role for collaboration tools?

For the past few years, I have been writing about building information modelling (BIM); I have, for example, talked about the potential for BIM to be delivered via Software-as-a-Service routes (BIMaaS), and considered how current SaaS construction collaboration technology platforms might be used to manage the ‘i’ in BIM.

The latter is already beginning to happen; Aconex, for example, is seeing dramatic increases in the volume of BIM files exchanged via its platform, and sees its platform as one solution to the challenge of distributing increasingly large files to bigger groups of project team members (read Managing the data deluge), and Asite has been seeing growing interest in its collaborative BIM, cBIM, functionality. And this is likely to be repeated across other SaaS platforms, especially as UK government clients begins a powerful “push” to expand BIM adoption across the UK construction industry.

An industry Report to the Government Construction Clients Board on Building Information Modelling and Management has just been published by the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, BIS (see release). As part of the industry transition towards ‘Level 3’ integrated BIM, iBIM, it envisages collaboration platforms being used to help share information generated by BIM approaches.

This is not new, of course. Construction collaboration platforms have been used for some years by enlightened clients and project teams to provide a common data environment enabling the sharing of information generated by 2D and 3D CAD applications and complying with BS1192 (‘Level 1’ on the BIM maturity road-map). However, there will be new challenges. Instead of files, the focus will switch to managing the core data of BIM, and, according to the BIS document, the next stage is for these platforms to be used to provide a Data Management Server:

“A Data Management Server is required for the express purpose of collecting and processing delivered information. It must be available 24/7, reliable, secure and intuitive to use.  Its appearance and operation is to be similar to that of one of the existing “Collaboration” systems currently available in the market. Indeed it may be that during the mobilisation period we may engage the existing service providers to enable such a service.” (Appendix 13, p.77)

The document talks at length about the COBie data standard, which I saw last year as the bridge between BIM and collaboration technologies, and, while highlighting the suitability of cloud-based solutions, also discusses the need to create some industry standards and service specifications to meet government clients’ needs:

  • The COBie control server is likely to be hosted and fully managed in the cloud. This will satisfy the security, disaster recovery and high availability requirements of such projects.
  • It is possible for the server to be hosted on Premise (e.g. at the clients or Main Contractor’s offices/data centres). This may be required for projects that have an elevated level of security.
  • Publication of a standard and service specification that could be embodied in existing collaboration service provider’s offerings on behalf of HM Government. (Appendix 13, p.81)

Constructing Excellence* (see its response) is looking to position itself as the host organisation to provide an implementation team to support government clients, highlighting its industry neutrality, its routes to market, its experience in collecting data for the Construction Industry KPIs, and its broad engagement with both clients and suppliers at strategic and practitioner levels.

I would add that CE also has a track record in representing some of the collaboration technology vendors through its provision of secretariat services to the Network of Construction Collaboration Technology Providers (NCCTP). While this is now largely dormant, I think CE is well placed to help industry and the SaaS providers and other technology businesses develop the recommended standards and service specifications and to provide a clearer picture of the current and future state of collaborative IT in the built environment.  While the current focus is on BIM, it is also worth thinking about how the architecture, engineering, construction and FM sectors are adopting other technologies and approaches, including mobile computing, contract workflow and social business applications, which may well complement and enhance collaborative BIM.

[* Disclosure: I have been active in Constructing Excellence for some years, currently serve on the CE steering group, help its G4C group, and act as a CE Collaborative Working Champion, and was active in the NCCTP when I represented my then employer BIW.]

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  1. Good blog Paul,
    From my perspective as a QS, I’m particularly interested in the way the QS profession views these data management platforms. Will it be viewed as a threat or an opportunity?
    I’m also interested to understand what sort of investment (time & money) is required to take advantage of the opportunity? Is the cost data already available to populate these platforms and how will it need to be collated? Will anyone be prepared to invest the time to collate the necessary data?

    1. It was interesting to watch how the surveying profession reacted to the arrival of collaboration platforms a decade ago. There was initially a lot of suspicion, particularly about the level of apparent transparency that such systems allowed, but as it became clear that there were also secure audit trails to track how people used the systems, that suspicion soon dissipated. I expect much the same will happen as we make the transition from 3D through 4D (scheduling) to 5D (cost models) and beyond. It will threaten old, often adversarial, attitudes, but will reward those individuals and businesses which embrace the principle of trust that is at the heart of collaborative working.

      There have already been some eye-watering numbers from the RICS estimating the BIM training costs for the industry, but the industry had to go through much the same kind of investment and learning process when we moved from drawing boards to CAD. BIM, of course, is much more all-embracing and it will require entire supply chains to start to think about their contribution to the data models (including cost data), but I don’t think anybody is expecting the industry to change overnight. It will be a gradual change, but a necessary one for any business wanting to supply services, products and materials to public sector projects. And as these businesses will then want to maximise their return on their technology investment, they will also increasingly be using it for private sector clients too.

  2. I agree with your observations Paul – although in terms of gradual change i wonder if BIM after many years of being kicked around is going to finally start to drive industry change. Mandate from in the ‘Government Construction Strategy’ for inclusion of BIM on all projects by 2016 will undoubtably have an effect. We just need clients to then start to take a vested interest in the long-term life of a property – rather than short-term delivery of projects. We are starting to see this as our customers look for more and more ways to manage costs and become competative.

    I wonder if both levers are pulled together whether the construction industry may be on the cusp of significant cultural change?

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