BIM is not just for design efficiency, it can be good for business too, says Will Nicol, Head of AEC Sales Autodesk EMEA
Although it has taken a few years for it to pick up speed, the spread of building information modelling (BIM) is now seemingly unstoppable. Governments in the UK, US and Scandinavia have all made BIM mandatory for certain projects and most of the large global contractors are now setting themselves goals and deadlines to become entirely BIM-enabled. It seems inevitable that this way of working will soon become the norm.
This can only spell progress for the worldwide design and build community. It’s a chance to right all those deep-seated wrongs such as too much waste and too little control that often blighted projects in the past.
But with change comes uncertainty. Who owns the digital model at the very centre of this way of working? What are the legal implications of closer collaboration and, importantly, who pays for what? The industry is still fizzing with questions but will eventually settle down to no more ‘BIM projects’ but just projects using BIM, as usual.
Yet, there is one more question at front of mind for most firms who have invested, or are about to invest, in BIM-enabling technology and the change management that inevitably accompanies it. BIM ability is still a business differentiator, but for how long for? If it becomes as widespread as CAD has done before it, then where is the competitive advantage?
Thankfully this is easy to answer. BIM offers many design benefits – but also many business benefits too. Some of these come through the design benefits – the competitive advantage of having a reputation for creating first-class quality buildings, for one.
There are significant financial savings to be made through being able to detect clashes between structure and services on screen rather than on site and through a reduction in the number of requests for information (RFIs) from the construction team. The availability of accurate and early quantity take-offs enables supply chain acceleration and economies of scale in purchasing.
But these are benefits available to most – or even all – BIM-enabled firms. What about those who want to be even more proactive about exploiting BIM’s business potential?
Once BIM becomes fully embedded into a company culture, users will be able to consider further ways to make productivity gains and efficiencies. This can be a valuable exercise which reduces operational overheads. But the real prize will come when the value of the data behind the building model is realised and BIM is used as part of business strategy to improve the bottom line.
The advantage of experience
Early adopters of BIM will still have a big advantage over later BIM converts. When BIM is first implemented, users are breaking new ground. They are bound to experiment and every team will do things differently, testing the water and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Eventually firms tend to establish ways to share experiences, capture the best ideas, define best practices and back its use with a procedural and standards-based infrastructure across an organisation. The result is that BIM fades into the background. Productivity is increased because processes become second nature and architects and engineers can revert to doing what they do best; design. Strategists can plan more accurately as time and costs become more predictable.
BIM in the boardroom
Once BIM is optimised for efficiency, it’s time to explore ways it can be used to add to a value proposition.
What new BIM-based services might firms be able to offer? There has been much talk around how BIM can help significantly reduce the total cost of ownership of a building and how the real beneficiaries of BIM are building owners or managers. But contractors don’t have to miss out; they are limited only by their imagination as to how BIM can help them offer services in this area, whether as a separate, paid-for entity or as an added-value part of a package.
The testing and analysis of a building’s energy use is an important example as energy bills often account for the best part of running costs. BIM enables the optimisation of building materials and services to help conserve heat and helps with decisions such the positioning of a building to make the most of natural sunlight. This leaves the way open for firms wishing to specialise in this aspect of design, adding to their services in this area as experience – and innovation – grows.
Clients can be provided with an information-rich digital model of their building once construction is finished, complete with details of all assets for more efficient maintenance. No longer will they have to rely on a caretaker’s memory as to, for instance, the type of light bulbs used or when a boiler needs servicing as it will all be stored digitally. Whether presenting clients with this key data is ‘just part of the service’ or it opens up a whole host of new possibilities for the contractor surrounding facilities management is up to terms of contract, client relationships and company strategy. However, it does offer fertile ground for profitable new ideas and ventures.
From data to intelligence
In general business circles, ‘big data’ is currently a much-discussed phenomenon. As our use of enterprise wide IT applications has increased, the amount of data produced has exploded. A whole new sector has emerged surrounding the integration and ‘slicing and dicing’ of this data to make it valuable and meaningful to business.
Likewise, as the use of BIM becomes universal so the AEC industry has acquired its own big data – large pools of highly-structured, trustworthy project information. This opens the doors for those skilled in spotting patterns and using this knowledge to their business advantage. Cross-industry analysis may be a job for the experts, but individual firms may want to blend the data from concurrent or historic projects. This could be used for practical purposes such as aggregating structural steel requirements across all projects and using this information to negotiate a lower unit price. Alternatively it could be used for higher-level planning and budgeting and to identify trends in demand to help shape business strategy.
It’s clear that BIM adoption is gaining momentum, but in many ways this is just the beginning, even for those who already consider themselves old hands. Better, more efficient and sustainable buildings and infrastructure may be the main aim of this new way of working, but there is also a whole new world of further possibilities out there for the taking.
Will Nicol has been in the frontline of Autodesk’s BIM campaigns since 2007, working with major customers such as Halcrow, Jacobs, WSP, Mott MacDonald, Atkins and COWI and witnessing the growing take-up of BIM across the industry. Currently Autodesk head of sales AEC EMEA, he is particularly involved in helping both large AEC enterprises and smaller businesses get the best possible return on their investment in BIM enabling technologies.
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