Collaboration is a key element in the successful execution of a BIM project and can help to share information across teams. David Philp, Head of BIM at Mace and the UK BIM Task Group details how BIM can aid collaboration…
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is purported to aid collaborative working. Every conference or symposium marries these two themes together without really unpacking what this relationship looks like. Like BIM, collaboration has different meanings depending on your perspective and what lens you are looking through, indeed the Collins Dictionary defines collaboration as either:
1) The act of working with another or others on a joint project;
2) Something created by working jointly with another or others;
3) The act of cooperating as a traitor.
Most would say that one and two are the most commonly related meanings in the context of our industry, though some I am sure would recognize the third definition as a reality on some projects.
Hopefully we all identify collaboration as a key element in the successful delivery and execution of a project programme and as a lever to help break down silos and successfully share information across teams. The reality, as the author Morten Hansen points out is that “bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration” and that “the goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but results.” So how can BIM really help us collaborate and deliver better outcomes?
In this author’s opinion, the main pedal to ensure successful collaboration in a BIM environment is a clear ‘purpose’. High-performing teams are driven by a well-defined purpose (do not confuse this with a vision statement) and if BIM (Level 2) is good at anything it is; a) lots of new acronyms, but also b) defining clear information requirements at all stages of the asset life-cycle.
Level 2 maturity begins with clearly defining the purposes of the model(s) and their uses. These are referred to as the organisational and asset information requirements and are articulated to the supply chain through an Employer’s Information Requirement (EIR).
Defined information requirements, defined processes (PAS1192-2 and 3) for information delivery and agreed data exchange standards (BS1192-4 COBie) create a strong foundation for collaboration, and when properly worked through with the entire project team, help create unifying goals. The wise client would also do well to additionally invest in BS 11000 Collaborative Business Relationships which defines roles and responsibilities and supports collaborative decision-making.
Level 2 BIM also ensures that collaboration extends beyond delivery, with the requirement for ‘Soft landings’ and the requisite for an operational champion to be involved throughout the plan of work for that project – starting with the end in mind and using the model as a basis to visualise and test the lifecycle solution at pre-construction stage. This is a great win in an industry where there is normally a large chasm between the delivery and operational lifecycles.
BIM is data rich in the context of both geometric and alphanumeric data which can be visualized in a 3D, or indeed an immersive environment. In terms of low hanging fruit, BIM allows all stakeholders in a project to clearly understand and explore the project life-cycle – often now assisted by ‘gamification’ methods and augmented reality (AR) techniques. It is essential however that organisations avoid ‘lonely BIM’, where one solitary party sits staring at their exquisite model. Models need to be shared and used as a backdrop for decision making; if you like the modern virtual day camp fire but without marshmallows and bad singing. Projects using BIM should always consider as part of their strategy the creation of physical spaces where collaboration workshops can be undertaken, models reviewed and decisions made with screens such as short throw projectors. These are often referred to as ‘big rooms’ or Computer Assisted Virtual Environments (CAVEs).
It is also critical that rigor be given to managing information flow between the project stakeholders within the context of a common data environment (CDE) as set out in BS 1192:2007. In addition, the collaborative production of architectural, engineering and construction information Code of Practice, which establishes the outline methodologies for setting up the BIM project cannot be ignored. To exploit collaborative working processes, a common methodology for managing the data produced by, and between all parties, must be used. This should include the naming of data as well as a process for exchanging data. This common data environment is a key component of both level 1 and 2 BIM maturity.
Forms of procurement should also be considered as a lever to encourage collaboration. The Government Construction Strategy trialled the use of procurement routes which sought early contractor engagement. The value of this timely appointment should not be underestimated, however, it is essential that this same strategy be considered in the early engagement of specialist contractors and manufacturers who are key to a joined up data hierarchy. This is as much a cultural change as it is a process change.
Open data standards which allow the transportation of information and support interoperability are also really important to the collaborative investment we need to ensure that everyone can play on a level field, especially SMEs. This is why the development of COBie and IFC are crucial to ensuring the uptake of BIM across the construction community.
We must also consider the danger of information overload in a collaborative network; it is therefore essential that the right amount of information, to the right level of maturity, at the right time, is established. It is crucial therefore that a well thought out Master Information Delivery Plan (MIDP) is established through a collaborative process before the information exchange process begins.
What we must always remember is that construction is a human endeavour and technology is there to support collaboration and not replace it. Indeed, the biggest danger is that we get bogged down in a technical discussion when BIM is a behavioural change programme more than anything else.
David Philp MSc BSc FRICS FCIOB FGBC
Head of BIM at Mace and
Head of UK BIM Task Group
Tel:+44 (0) 20 3522 3000
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