Is building time into BIM a key to success?
Every firm in construction is watching the approach of BIM with huge interest. BIM, or building information modelling, is a crucial part of the construction strategy through which the government seeks to create high-impact changes within this vital British industry. It wants construction to follow through on its promises better, deliver greater value for money, contribute to environmental goals and ensure that its end products are fit for purpose. As a software provider to firms across the industry we, like everyone else, are working to understand what responsibilities it places on us and the new challenges it will create. It is clear that the debate about what BIM is, and what it will take to deliver the vision of a communicating, sharing and well integrated construction industry, will continue – because BIM is here to stay. It is raising questions about what new industry dynamics will mean for different players, activities and roles. The government’s purpose is to create alignment of interest between the parties that conceive and design buildings through to those that ultimately occupy and manage them. It is a holistic approach, which seeks to integrate project delivery in a somewhat similar way as do the principles of lean construction, driving out costs and inefficiencies, and focusing on customer needs.
While these parties may not all end up as best buddies, there is no doubt that improving information flow via more informative visual models will drive synergies and benefits, including opportunities to reduce costs and inefficiencies. However, the debate may be failing to focus sufficiently on one vital element: time. One reason why the industry under-achieves, despite excellent capabilities and a wealth of creative and engineering excellence, is its failure to manage time adequately. The timing of handovers between parties in the chain form the critical path of any construction project – yet time is not central to the current debate.
It has become clear, particularly since reports such as ‘Rethinking Construction,’, also known as The Egan Report published in 1998, that timely delivery of major projects is a recurring issue. Delays are not only contentious but often litigious, and the chain of blame for underperformance almost always relates to time – when something happened or did not, when information was shared or was not, and so on. Most players, although aware they are part of a wider ecosystem, only care about their own part. The government strategy mandates that all parties must develop a wider appreciation for the entirety of the value chain that brings buildings into being, from design through to delivery. That means that efficient performance is firmly linked to ensuring delivery on time at every stage. Every player, from architect to fabricator to contractor, must do their bit on time and with full appreciation of the dependency and impacts of delay on players downstream. In addition to embracing continuous and multidimensional visual modelling we believe that there will be a need for more continuous scheduling and time planning at every stage. Where the official strategy seeks to address poor practice and protectionism by forcing information sharing, it seems to miss out the vital role of time in the whole process of creating and delivering a building. BIM already promises to create opportunities to engage some players earlier in the process to ensure neater, earlier problem solving or avoidance – such as bringing contractors in to consult and review early visual models at the pre-bid stage. However, it doesn’t end there. The purview of BIM will extend three years post-handover, as the government plans on monitoring performance of buildings in order to see whether efficiency and performance goals are met. For the first time players outside FM must start to care what maintenance will cost, how much energy a building may use, and so on.
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It is all about assuring building performance over time and players can no longer only care what happens in their own phase. Time will become a bigger factor for everyone. Planning and scheduling will become integral to every stage and to every tool employed. It must support the continuous improvement which smart companies seek in managing their supply chain and in improving their procurement control. Today planning and scheduling is only fully employed during the construction phase. If you are forced to care about time (either what is happening upstream that may impact you or what happens downstream as a result of what you do) then being able to see changes coming and communicate changes is vital. Time must be a factor for everyone and every tool must be able to interoperate and communicate relevant scheduling information, whether it is designed to help the design stage, ensure on-time fabrication and delivery of material, or plan the maintenance schedule that will ensure a building’s future.
The BIM debate is driving this industry to review its established processes, and the tools which support them. It is gradually adopting new software, including time-related platforms. Amongst these, 4D modelling adds the time dimension to 3D visualisation and is emerging strongly, though most are tools to support the design and construction phases. Products such as Tekla Structures, D-Studio 4D Virtual Builder and Autodesk Navisworks are in active use, and helping to ensure that designs can move smoothly from design into construction without clashes. 3D and 4D visualisations are slowly becoming ubiquitous, and in future it is unlikely that any building project will be without its virtual construction simulation. However, because scheduling and timing is undoubtedly unifying information that makes sense of the flow of activities through the whole chain, it is necessary that platforms that support other phases of the chain adapt too. Visual modelling is unlikely to be the only type of tool which requires more planning and scheduling functionality.
Project managers and planners are in an interesting position, if this view proves justified. They are already tuned into time management, particularly critical-path management and the implications of time delays. While their traditional preserve has been mainly in the construction phase, the ability to look upstream and downstream with an expert eye on scheduling, key stages, and the marshalling of resources in the right timeframes — especially if supported by tools which create a clear view of the wider process — could open up a range of new opportunities to deliver value. Project managers may find that they can create a new position of authority, supporting not only a single phase but multiple phases of the construction process. We can’t wait to see what the next few months and years will bring, as the industry shapes up for its first deadline in 2016. BIM will undoubtedly boost control, efficiency and predictability through the chain – as long as there is recognition that, to achieve any of this, it also means managing time well from the start, through the construction phase, and to the end of the lifetime of the building.