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BIM: Are We There Yet?

By Matthew Sulhoff – Implementation Manager, Assemble Systems on February 05, 2015

“Are we there yet?”  The all too familiar question asked from the back seat anytime we leave the house. Ultimately this game results in the parental tactical nuke of, “One more time and no Minecraft for a week.”

Silence.

This is a very valid question.  It emanates from not understanding the time to destination.  Once a trip has been traveled a number of times, there is a familiarity with the route and how long it takes to travel. Markers along the way give a sense of place and being and help to predict just how much longer they will have to sit in the car. Interestingly enough, it’s a much more pleasant drive when you know where you are going and how to navigate to your destination.

Of course, without a destination you are just wandering.

Imagine packing up the family in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster without a destination. You drive aimlessly for what seems to be an eternity, never knowing that your destination was just outside your neighborhood. Without a clear destination in mind, you cannot create a travel plan. No plan means you have little, if any, chance of success.  Simply saying you want to go west because other people are heading west is a guarantee for failure.

An ambiguous question results in an equally ambiguous answer.

“Can we do BIM?”

“Sure.”

Is implementing BIM a good thing?  Of course it is.  Are there significant advantages of BIM over other antiquated means and methods of communicating design intent throughout the project team? Absolutely. Can you buy a box of BIM and give it to your people?  Nope.

BIM is a process, not a product.

As with any process change, it will fail, usually in some epic and fantastic manner, without a clear plan outlining expectations and a goal.  Using BIM just for the sake of being able to say you use BIM is not an adequate answer. “Because we can,” is the worst possible reason imaginable.

So let’s talk about destination.  Once we have that in mind, we can work our way backward to where we are currently and create a plan that is intentional and goal driven.  This is how to successfully implement BIM.  Where this can be tricky is in the fact that BIM can be many different things.  Your destination may be to create a data rich model to accurately depict design intent.  You may want to utilize a data rich model for pre-construction and estimating.  It might even be to leverage a data rich model through construction and into owner occupancy.

Hmmm…

In reality the destination for BIM is pretty simple, a data rich model. Data. The most important aspect of BIM. Everything from door schedules to area calculations to material quantities to construction schedules are simply ways to analyze the data. The better the data, the better the analysis. More data means more ways to analyze the project. Better analysis will always result in better decisions which builds a better building.

Data collected but never analyzed is worthless. Data only gains value once it’s analyzed for the betterment of the project.

The construction landscape is changing rapidly, gone are the days where you could just submit/win a bid based on paper plans, manual takeoff, gut check and your good name.  Today’s owners are more involved and vested in the overall construction project lifecycle.  Owners that continuously deliver work on large projects realize the impact of BIM data and visualization on design, budget, and schedule.  It is a highly competitive market, contractors that can differentiate their services by offering expanded BIM services increase their chances of winning more work.  BIM usage during pre-construction and design phase is well documented and accepted.  However, many companies are missing out on the advantage of extracting and analyzing model data to create greater project efficiency, and accuracy.  BIM is more than just modeling and coordination, proper BIM implementation can result in improvement in scheduling, tracking pay out, production rates, managing change orders, and team collaboration.

Another road block to successful BIM implementation is the inaccessibility of the data for all stakeholders throughout the project life cycle.  Companies and departments can no longer work in silos.  Open communication between internal and external project teams result in the ability to deliver a project on time and under budget.  Data shared needs to be consistent across all stakeholders to arrive at the same conclusion and project goals.  Data must be disseminated across the entire design and construction team rapidly to stay competitive and deliver on faster timelines.

Data needs to be easily digestible so the project team can spend time on high value work, instead of rummaging through the data to make sense of things.  Visual representation of data simplifies complex concepts into easily understandable variables to make data driven decision.  Simplicity of the data communication can be the driving factor that impacts the adoption of BIM processes through both the office and the field team.

Back to my original question, are we there yet?  Well, maybe.  It’s a question you have to ask yourself.  The bigger question is, what are you doing with your data? If the answer is just door schedules, then I would opine that you have some ways to go. On the other hand, if you can demonstrate that you are tracking key materials through design and trending their usage and comparing against a baseline budget generated from historical costing, allowing you to make predictive decisions early in the project saving the owner heaps of money and shortening the project schedule, then yes. You are there.

In parting, let me ask you another question. What are you not doing with your data? Knowing what you should be doing with your data will help you set a destination from which to move backwards and establish your BIM implementation plan. Because it is all about your BIM implementation….