Beyond the mandate: Unlocking the value of BIM by linking your “information islands”
27 October 2016
By Andrew Walker
With the passing of the UK Government’s second BIM milestone of 2016, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the overall impact of the Level 2 mandate. The Government’s aims in introducing these new regulations has been to increase the efficiency and reduce the monetary and carbon costs of the construction and operation of the built environment. Yet achieving this goal remains a long way off. Indeed, we’re hearing many clients question the benefits they’re getting from compliance to the UK’s BIM Level 2 mandate – with some even wondering openly whether the whole exercise is worthwhile.
To date, they may have a point. However, the problem lies not with BIM Level 2 itself, but with the behaviour that the regulations have engendered in the industry. Given a regulatory obligation to implement BIM, some organisations have focused on ticking the right boxes to achieve compliance – establishing processes to create and manage ‘BIM data’ – rather than taking a holistic view of how they use the data to create value for their organisation. This mindset is clear from the many project tenders we see that request ‘compliance with BIM Level 2…’ rather than more value-focussed requirements.
While BIM is currently a primary focus of efforts to encourage digital innovation through the supply chain, it’s actually a part of just one distinct cluster of digital activity in capital project organisations. These clusters of similar or integrated technologies are something we have likened to “information islands” that each create localised insight. I’ll introduce three of the key “information islands” we typically find below, but there are more and they can vary for each organisation.
The first island – which includes BIM – is the digital asset information. The digitisation of the design, build, operate and maintenance processes has created a virtual asset, one that can ultimately evolve into a ‘digital twin’ that is created before a physical asset exists, and lives alongside it throughout the lifecycle to inform decisions. The typical repository of this data is asset and life-cycle phase specific but may include a combination of BIM, GIS (Geographic Information Systems), CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture), asset management or CAFM (Computer Aided Facilities Management) systems.
A second island is project controls. Typically over many years, construction clients have built up relatively mature project control processes and systems that provide visibility of delivery performance principally against cost and time. Technologies frequently located within this island include cost, risk, schedule and commercial management systems, often summarised through a reporting integration layer.
A third island is site and field technology. Advances in “field tech” and sensing technology have created new data sources and new mechanisms to interpret, analyse and communicate this data to the site team as actionable intelligence. These capabilities can improve each of the “3Vs” of big data: volume, variety and velocity. The technology landscape here is rapidly evolving and ranges from RFID tags to drones linked to photogrammetry processing.
With careful selection and implementation, technologies in each of these islands can deliver benefits in their own right. But they’re also all highly complementary to each other, meaning a client that links and integrates their islands into a ‘common data environment’ (in its broadest sense) stands to multiply the overall returns on its digital investments.
What’s more, this integration can occur and deliver benefits at multiple levels of an organisation: at an operational level this may relate to more efficient workforce performance management through linking specific design/construction information with detailed task plans; or at the C-suite level the benefit may be ‘live’ reporting and management of business benefits/outcomes through linking a requirements set with a maturing BIM model.
While there are commercial and contractual boundaries, all industry participants can benefit from the creation of a common data environment for projects to link their “information islands” and consider in the broadest sense their Digital Built Environment (DBE). To do this, what’s needed is a new approach and mindset towards BIM – one targeted not on compliance, but on identifying and realising mutual benefits for every participant in the supply chain.
Achieving this shift would not just benefit individual projects and stakeholders but also deliver advantages at the macro level such as tackling the construction industry’s notoriously poor productivity record. While there may ultimately be mutual benefit, the reality is that it’s down to clients to kick-start this journey. So, moving beyond the mandate clients shouldn’t just focus on the value of implementing BIM in isolation, but consider what other information islands they should be looking to integrate.