When I was asked to write this article I thought of a huge list of possible topics and it was really challenging to come up with a theme that could tie them all together. We have many great things and not-so-great things going on in our industry. (Quite frankly, I am fed up with “BIM this” and “BIM that” and the sooner it becomes “the way we do things” and is fully integrated, the better. But I digress…)
One thing that has always struck me is that two of the key benefits of BIM are “on time” and “on budget.” So, by implication, it is the norm for a project to be late and over budget! When did it become acceptable for an industry that offers a service to a client to not be able to guarantee to that client that they will have their product when they asked for it and for a sum agreed upon between professionals?
So if there is one item to keep coming back to, it's cost. Should that cost be money, time, “value,” “the project,” or human lives?
My background is in architecture and design. I now work more on the delivery side and even when working on the design side I realise one key factor is that design can be a nice clean digital environment that is easy to control and define, but construction sites are not! That is a huge divide between the design and delivery of a project. One person works in nice, air-conditioned office space at a computer or meeting table and the other is knee deep in mud in all types of weather! There is a distinct mismatch in the potential for one to understand the needs of the other. That goes in both directions. So how do we address this?
I prefer to define BIM as Building Information Management. (It also lets me get away with saying “BIM Model”). We are in the business of managing information, so one of the key flows is between “as designed” and “as constructed”. A common term in the industry is “as built.” The debate comes as to what “as built” really means and who does it? Is it “as designed” or “as manufactured” or “as installed” or is it “as is currently operating”?
Well “as designed” is a no brainer—that is not “as built.” “As manufactured” is useful for comparing against “as designed” and can be used to improve coordination and accuracy of the data and subsequent costing, but it is still not “as built.” “As installed” is closer to “as built,” but there are many systems which change and flex once in operation and so a “currently operating” data set may be required to give a true “as built.”
The Nth degree of a data set is one that contains the information as it currently is at this moment in time. Through the life cycle of a data set, the design information will be replaced by each subsequent activity. Therefore, at the end there will be nothing left by the designer. The manufacturer carries out shop drawings of the equipment to be installed, but it’s often left to the installer to optimise it on site to match site conditions. Then many of these items are buried or concealed. Then the as builts are done to demonstrate what is actually done on site (which can be challenging when most of the construction is concealed by walls, floors, ceilings, and earth). Then if you get an FM team involved, they will just bin the lot and start again. What a farce!
A far better process is to do “whilst built.” The prime function being that before anything is hidden, concealed, or buried is scanned and photographed. This will create a raw data set that can be used “as is” or data extracted as necessary. This will form the single source of truth as to what is really going on. This will also create a BIM diary of activities on site: Conditions before, during, and after activities. This ensures stakeholders are working with facts and not conjecture. This information can be leveraged by the planners, logistics teams, construction management, health and safety, manufacturers, the design team, and, most importantly, gives an accurate picture to the client of what is going on and what they are paying for. We all know the collaboration requirements and we are seeing these becoming more mainstream, but what we need to know is what is actually happening on site now and to be able to compare this data with what should be happening on site and what is planned to happen on site in the future.
I see this being the role of a dedicated reality capture team. Their role is to document exactly what happens on site. Many people talk about BIM to Field but there is also Field to BIM. (Let's face it, it's ALL BIM.) This process creates a feedback loop. With high-end total stations it is possible to feed in the coordinates from the model data and set it out on site; conversely, you can take what has been set out to match site conditions and feed it back, via the total station, into the data set to inform the next set of project decisions. This is then communicated back to the stakeholders who make the necessary amendments to all the relevant data to ensure that the data hand-over is correct.
By data hand-over, I mean maintaining the data that is to be used by the person following you. So, in the same way that trades follow each other on site, the key is getting them to arrive at the right time. This is also true for data, in order for the team utilising the data to make the best decisions and keep costs and mistakes to a minimum, there has to be a rolling update to the data. Teams have to have optimised processes and be lean enough to enable them to react and keep on top of data being fed back from site and keeping their data up to date to be used by others. No more “I am only paid to do this once.” This needs to be changed, as the person who really ends up paying is the client. To tie this to live cost reporting on what is designed, manufactured, in transit, and on site; what is installed, commissioned, and in operation are also keys to delivering the service that we promise to our clients.
The expectations of clients are rising—partly by their exposure to technology and partly by aspirations of our society as a whole. Many of us carry around a personal device that gives us access to the entire stored knowledge of mankind, and yet we use it to look at pictures of kittens and get into arguments with strangers. But this is personal information that we all have access to and clients have now brought this desire for access into the business and our construction world.
In many ways though, there is still what I call the “in flight magazine” mentality. This can be seen as both a negative and a positive. Sometimes it can set expectations way too high, but it can also give us something to aim for by at least giving some focus to issues. It is this focus that we need. Many, if not all, clients are focused on cost. How much will the construction cost? How much will this change cost? Am I getting value for money? We as an industry must be able to react to this with greater certainty and speed. When setting levels of development or suitability of information, we must be sure to enable as accurate a costing analysis as possible to be carried out, with the same approach taken to defining the level of accuracy as we do to current BIM data. In doing so we must be completely transparent with the client and work with them to ensure that their needs are satisfied as they, in the end, are paying the bill and so anything we can give them to ensure they can monitor cash flow will be immensely valuable and, at the moment, certainly a competitive advantage until such time as it becomes the norm. However, be warned—that norm is not too far away!