In the Australian AEC professions, it is largely accepted that the mass adoption of software capable of meaningful contribution to BIM is indeed here.
Among architects and engineers, the use of BIM is predominantly happening in medium to large practices where implementation will take a number of years. Inside these practices across the industry, an internal version of the technology adoption cycle is beginning again.
Despite the many opportunities that BIM can deliver to AEC professionals, there are also many challenges. There are plenty of opinions expressed in print and at conferences regarding these challenges including the absence of consistent and reliable product content and the apparent lack of seamlessness to interoperability. However, I would contend that the largest issue for the majority of adopters (both early and late) is the successful implementation of BIM within their businesses for good and sound business reasons.
Doing it because everybody else is doing it may be a driver, but this is not a sound business reason for the investment. The single major reason that any company should impliment BIM is increased productivity. BIM is an information-centric approach that translates single actions into multiple consequences, thus increasing productivity. Many other and varied benefits may in turn flow but this is fundamental. We cannot always add more people, thus we are compelled to find “more hours” in the day. The inherent multiplier effect of BIM does just this.
Example: An item of joinery is changed on a floor plan and then appears on any other plan type as well as sections, internal elevations, kit of parts and strategy drawings.
How much a company allows the information-centric approach of BIM to improve and even redefine the way they conduct their business is critical to success.
Once a staff member opens a single discipline model, he or she has direct access to any part of the model and related document sets. This in turn provides opportunities for this resource to logically track changes and pursue the implications across all outputs, current or planned. It also allows resources to be redirected to any part of the model at a moment’s notice. Any business needs to ask itself whether the resources they are currently using are well-suited or able to leverage this opportunity.
In the modern game of soccer, while the traditional positions are still understood, the actual players move fluidly between these roles, resulting in the exciting and efficient game we see today. This differs from the game many of us grew up playing or watched in our youth. The specialist has not disappeared but is rather the exception, and the multi-skilled or utility player has become the norm. This is an excellent metaphor for the transformation that BIM enables in the design professions. The transformation did not happen over night, and in fact there was much debate and gnashing of teeth but the change was inevitable and the game and its followers were the better for it. It will be the same for the whole of the construction industry.
Through instinct and trial and error, many of the early adopters experienced and understand this paradigm shift. It is certainlyevident in smaller practices as the very survival of those businesses was dependent on employees being multi-skilled before adopting BIM. An obvious result of this is that some of these practices leveraged BIM to “box above their weight” and take on larger commissions that they were not previously capable of.
The BIM process benefits most from early quality input from design professionals to better validate design in a more timely fashion. In turn, the more mundane tasks of document creation and coordination can be greatly automated. The divisions that currently exist between design and documentation and even designer and drafter are far less relevant, even out-dated, in the BIM paradigm. Maintaining the model from sketch design through design development and on to construction is fundamental if a practice is to better control risk and change through the later critical phases. This is even more true if it is required for contractor and end client use.
Despite this, many BIM-enabled practices do not do this. They may take one of two typical approaches. They may leverage the model for design outputs and hive off “freeze frames” to be manually annotated through later phases or they may model too late in the process, when subsequent validation calls for changes that are now difficult to incorporate. Some vendors even encouraged the former as a “low-risk” entry into BIM.
In a modern and evolving economy it could be said that single skills in the workplace are a dead end for both employee and employer. Strengths and weaknesses will always exist but as in “the beautiful game,” the skills of the majority will be multiple to compete effectively.