Zutec’s ‘Fireside Chat the BIM Experts’, took place on 26th May, treating online attendees to powerful insights into the scope and value of BIM in construction, and exploring the impact of the ISO 19650 standard.
The panel of experts comprised Melanie Dawson, BIM Director at Origin7; Robert Hine, Head of Commercial Partnerships at the BSI; and Tom Boland, Head of Digitisation for Zutec.
Chairperson Julie Currid, Chief Marketing Officer at Zutec, oversaw the event, navigating the discussion through the necessity of digital construction tools, to tips on getting started and optimising BIM within operations and document management.
Participants agreed from the offset that the year of COVID has fast-tracked digital adoption in the construction sector, propelling BIM up the corporate agenda for many companies. This has put more impetus on fostering a better understanding of international standards for data management and file naming conventions, as BIM beds in.
There was consensus that construction industry professionals now want the full picture on projects, requiring a cloud-based digital platform to work efficiently, collaborate seamlessly, gain deeper insights, and make better decisions. Much of the discussion focused on the dangers for construction companies being left behind, while early adopters become future-proofed, thanks to completing their digital transformations.
Here’s a summary of four key topics that emerged from the chat:
When getting started, it’s important to think of BIM as a game-changing investment not a one-off cost, noted Melanie Dawson of Origin7. “You should be clear on what return you want from a BIM platform. Set relevant KPIs at the very start – what goals do you want to achieve by using the system? Make sure all stakeholders understand the deliverables and communicate that clearly to everyone.” When starting on a particular BIM project, identify skills gaps up front, and be aware of when key data drops will take place, and how the BIM platform will manage this, said Melanie.
The experts urged anyone embarking on BIM adoption to spend time thinking strategically about how people will use the technology, and what processes should be prioritised, to gain maximum advantage. “It can be challenging to get everyone’s heads together to decide on the direction and speed of your BIM journey,” Tom Boland of Zutec noted. “For some in the industry, it’s widely used and is business as usual. Often construction companies and developers have started out just using BIM snagging tools, while others might have several pockets of activity. But the productivity advantages come from embracing a much broader use than that, so BIM use needs to be a lot more joined up. It’s about being focused on the right processes at all phases of a build, so you are getting a full return on investment.”
Certification around data management standards, when working within a Common Data Environment (CDE) was also discussed. BIM exchange information requirements have been clearly set out with ISO 19650, the new International Standard for secure, functional and resilient construction data management. So, sourcing software which has been awarded the BSI BIM Software Kitemark (of which Zutec is one of the first) means a business can be confident that their best practice aspirations will be supported by the software, and that the international standard ISO 19650 has been achieved.
Robert Hine of the BSI said: “There are a lot of certification providers, and it’s a bit unregulated at the moment, so make sure you align with the best to suit your needs. We are looking at how to standardise accreditation going forward. From a contractual point of view, it’s important to set up a protocol usually prior to entering into formal contracts.”
He signposted where to get advice and resources on contracts relating to BIM:
JCT – Joint Contracts Tribunal has a BIM advice section https://www.jctltd.co.uk/category/bim
UK BIM Framework has a repository of information https://www.ukbimframework.org/
Project delivery is where the majority of graphical data, non-graphical data, and documents come together. The panel agreed BIM greatly improves the management of key data drops during a project, and the complex handover process once completion is in sight. In a post-Grenfell environment, with heightened emphasis on the Golden Thread of information, building owners expect both a completed building, and totally reliable asset data at handover.
“Be aware that today your client is buying the physical project, whether that’s a school or a hospital, but they also want a really good data set that goes with it,” Melanie pointed out. “When you’ve put so much effort into creating a fantastic building, the final task of delivering the handover documentation is paramount. The BIM system will ensure you don’t drop the ball right at the end. So at least six to eight weeks before the end, we need to start managing that handover of information as well.”
“The great thing about a BIM-able project is it defines disciplines in so many areas,” agreed Tom Boland. “This includes standardising naming conventions of assets, to driving a contractor to try and collect the right information at the right time, ready for the data drops. It empowers us to make sure we are collecting all the information required to go over to the operational side.”
He added: “It needn’t be frightening to do this digitally. You are simply dealing with digitised information rather than a storage cupboardful of paper copies of everything.”
The panel acknowledged that with different classification systems developed for different types of BIM data and actors, and for different geographic areas and situations, choosing which to align to can be challenging. These include Uniclass 2015 for the UK industry covering all construction sectors, OmniClass in North America, and MasterFormat for organising specifications and other written information for building projects in the US and Canada – to name just a few.
In a data-centric world, these filing and naming conventions provide a framework for robust data management, and more intelligent searches for information across multiple assets – so are really important going forwards.
“But it can be confusing, so you should make sure your technology will allow you to rename asset documents with ease, or be able to run a database with maybe two or more different conventions against assets in tandem,” suggested Tom Boland. “Throughout a project’s lifecycle, and bearing in mind all the different services involved, realistically there’s going to be multiple layers of conventions that will be used. So, I advise finding BIM solutions that have flexibility built in, that can adopt to different naming conventions where it’s appropriate.”
He added: “At Zutec we love IFC standarised solutions. As time evolves these issues will become less, the industry will become used to using multiple file formats, skill sets will adapt to that. The cost issue will certainly ease.”
Robert agreed that businesses need to be aware of their responsibilities, despite the “fluid situation” around naming conventions. “And unless things change with regard to standardisation of naming conventions, you need to be able to adapt.”
Melanie’s argued for international standardisation. “It keeps changing which is a problem from a technology perspective,” she said. “You set up your system to deal with one particular naming convention, and then a new version comes along. Even with the new ISO 19650 there are regular updates that need to be managed.”
She said as an industry, “we need to nail it down, and agree that we’re not going to change things for a number of years, to make it simple for everybody going forward”.
There was agreement that for BIM to deliver real value, stakeholder buy-in is vitally important. Educating all parties about how a vast remit of operational needs can be met by the technology was the key, the panel agreed.
If all parties, from designers and specifiers to contractors and building operators, understand the lifetime value of information, benefits will be felt in the design and construction phases and right through to facilities management, bearing in mind building assets will last 20 years and longer.
“However, a lot of the time we’ll get resistance from those people who have ingrained processes, and set ways of doing things,” said Melanie. “You’re essentially telling them they need a new way of working, which can be tough. You also might come across stakeholders who are kind of weather-beaten by the whole thing. They’ve actually had two or three goes with nascent technology, and this has failed. Some organisations have invested in BIM technology and it didn’t do what they thought it was going to do. They spent money on technology and it hadn’t delivered for them, so they are sore, and take some careful convincing.”
Her advice is to identify a core group of like-minded individuals within the stakeholder eco-system – “to be your allies, and advocate the use of technology to the wider audience”.
Tom Boland felt the biggest single stakeholder that needs convincing is the owner operator. “Typically, they are picking up the cost. They are sitting watching a BIM project take shape, and financing it, so you need to give them real value. That includes demonstrating clearly from the start, how the data can be used as an ongoing resource. Otherwise, the danger is data will just sit on a server somewhere and not offer any real value operationally.”
Lack of interoperability between different parties’ software, despite open standards being heavily promoted, can hamper stakeholder enthusiasm for BIM adoption, and slow projects down, it was felt.
“While we’re all fully engaged in the idea of open BIM, sharing files and information, I think the commitments and the reality are two different things,” said Melanie. “I think the software vendors need to iron out some of those interoperability issues, so that both client teams and contractors can use the technology seamlessly.”
One audience member also raised the issue of contractors not employing the principles of ISO 19650, making it difficult to collaborate with their software solutions.
Another flagged the fact that issues around IFC model formats and interoperability are merely technical, and can be resolved, but too often they are used as excuses and smoke screens to delay BIM adoption.
Tom Boland warned that inaction to sort out these issues could cost businesses their competitive edge in the near future. “Ultimately decision needs to come from the top down. It’s do or die. In the next five years, if your construction business isn’t digitising or you haven’t digitised a significant amount of your site-based processes – your inspections, your handover – then you’re going to be in trouble.”
If you want to watch the Webinar on-demand, download the recording here.