Wednesday, September 18, 2013

10 Things a Client Should Know about BIM


Written by Dominik Holzer 

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As a client on any medium to large scale construction project you would have come across the acronym BIM (standing for Building Information modelling) one way or another over the past 1-2 years. BIM is an industry buzzword that can relate to many things. It is often misunderstood or at times even deliberately misused in order to promote the goals of individual parties.



This essay provides clients with a straightforward summary of 10 things that are useful to know about BIM. In putting these points together, the author draws on extensive industry knowledge as well as exposure to some of the most prominent BIM projects that have been delivered in Australia. 


1)   BIM will change the way you procure and operate your assets

‘Why should I care?’ is often the first question that clients ask about BIM. For clients, BIM is often associated with 3D software applied by consultants or contractors to facilitate their documentation. So what’s the benefit for clients who don’t engage much with this sort of technology anyway?
The answer is simple: BIM is about much more than just ‘intelligent 3D models’. A key value for clients lies within the data that can be embedded in BIM; this data ties into the design and construction process as much as it can tie into your procurement and operational procedures.  Through BIM, you can test the value proposition associated to a newly proposed project and you can fine-tune it during feasibility studies. In doing so, you can derive relevant clues about the most appropriated procurement and delivery methods for the following project phases. As a client, you can also benefit from well-structured and up-to date BIM-data in the commissioning phase. This data responds to your requirements as a developer and possibly also the needs of your Facility Managers.
The bigger picture related to BIM is that it offers you more certainty about an asset even before it gets built. The information-rich environment provided by BIM will assist you in reducing risk and gain more certainty about your assets during operation. If implemented correctly, BIM results in higher quality buildings, a reduction in (planning & construction) time, and ultimately in significant cost-savings throughout the life-cycle of an asset.  

2)   BIM doesn’t come off the shelf

BIM is not a preconfigured product that you can buy off the shelf. It is a process that allows you to strengthen your core business through the use of cutting edge technology. It gives you the opportunity to manage building information that counts for you on any given project. BIM therefore affects each client (and even each project) differently and there is no common formula that fits all enterprises. Whether you just develop a project to sell it off straight away or if plan to operate the facility over a prolonged period of time has a major impact on the BIM output relevant for you. The advantages you derive from BIM will always depend on your specific business goals, the project requirements, and a customised strategic BIM approach associated to them.
A common mistake made by clients is that they ask their consultants and/or the contractor for BIM without specifying what information-content they are ultimately after. This mistake more often than not results in consultants/contractors overpromising and under-delivering. The more reasonable approach is for you as a client to be able to specify (or at least explore with your team) what information you want to get out of BIM on any given project.

3)   Not everyone does BIM yet, but it pays off to get involved now

As a client/developer, you clearly don’t want to know about the technical nuts and bolts of BIM. It is one thing to consider what the consultants and the contractors get out of it, but in the end what counts for you are the benefits for your business. Not everyone in the industry is fully BIM enabled, so why would you as a client risk engaging with this topic now?
In short: you will be able to make better decisions about the assets you develop if you link the detailed building information produced by your project team to complement your own business processes . With you as the client in the driver’s seat you can start to articulate clearly (and early on) what information you’d expect to get out of BIM. You may go as far as to preference those consultants who can deliver the information that counts for you, or at least those who are willing to engage you in that dialogue. The clearer your demands on information content, the more likely you will see others follow your lead.
BIM policy makers in the UK have developed an “Employer Information Requirements (EIR)” document. It is a matrix to be filled in by clients and their Asset/Facility Managers at the outset of a project to articulate what data (and ultimately: information) they expect to get out of BIM on a given project. The deliverables defined in the EIR then forms the basis for the consultant and contractor team to develop a BIM Execution Plan (BEP) – a document they establish to identify how BIM is implemented across a multi-disciplinary team.
Currently most BEPs only consider the needs of the consultants or the contractor. They only really make sense if they start off with what you as the client expect.  

4)   BIM is as much about MANAGEMENT as it is about TECHNOLOGY

As a client, BIM can have a major effect on the way you manage your entire portfolio.  It is true that BIM processes are facilitated through new technology, but that’s just an enabler. The changes inherent to BIM have a fundamental impact on your business procurement and management strategies. It is pivotal to query your Project Managers and your legal counsel on their position on BIM. Ensure they become knowledgeable about BIM in order to provide you with consistent feedback about the impact of BIM on a policy, procurement, and a business level.
As a client, you are well advised to become strategic about the opportunities and the impact of BIM on your business in order to minimise risk and maximise ROI. A stronger focus on information management will help you to communicate your expectations clearly with your project team and to fine-tune parts of your project briefs and contracts that deal with BIM.  You should also consider involving BIM consultancy from third parties who help you to formulate your strategic approach to BIM in close alignment to your business model.
 

5)   You determine the value of BIM

Return on Investment is relevant for any business; when it comes to BIM, it is not the only driver for adoption. If you consider the process-change inherent to BIM, there are some other opportunities that allow for stronger engagement between you and the work undertaken by your consultants and contractors:
Firstly, clients can get stronger involved in the early planning process through better engagement with the 3D aspect of planning. Those of your consultants who use BIM will find it easier to update you with 3D screenshots and simple renders of the planning process.
Secondly, collaborators on BIM projects will search for integrating information from various trades earlier than they were able to with traditional methods. The associated risk mitigation leads to increased certainty and to a decrease in RFIs during construction. You as a client will ultimately benefit from a project that is more likely to be delivered on time and on budget.
Thirdly, owner/operators have the biggest stake in BIM of all clients. They want streamlined transfer of planning and construction data through to commissioning and operation. Imagine a process where your project team interacts with you Facility Manager to determine the kind of information useful for them for Asset Management and Maintenance right at the start of a project. Through early supply chain interaction, the team appropriates their BIM output throughout the process to facilitate handover of the information useful during operation.

6)    Expect more (& something different) from your project team

BIM is in many ways a game-changer. If implemented well by your project teams, it will allow them to communicate their design with an unprecedented level or clarity. The 3D interface comes as a by-product of their documentation, which in return makes it easier for you as a client to engage with their proposal at any stage. Whereas your team will still deliver you 2D documents, such as with traditional forms of delivery (CAD), they can now also associate other data (such as quantities, construction-sequences, or O&M manuals) to the documentation they produce. You should not expect to get all this information from them for free, but it makes sense to ask them what they can or cannot deliver. Paying for these extras will make sense as long as you are clear about what constitutes your cost-benefit equation for BIM. Consultants or contractors are often still hesitant to provide you with extras if they are not adequately compensated for the additional work-effort it causes them.    
As a client, you should clearly state your intentions related to BIM as part of the project brief and the professional service agreements. You also need to scrutinise the BIM-maturity of your project team.

7)   It's the data that you're after

Consultants and contractors often overlook that clients don’t have much use of 3D models. What really counts for you is the data associated with geometric objects in BIM.  What information do you want to get out of BIM and how does that information relate do data embedded in the model. In order to answer this question you as a client should engage your project team and ‘work form back to front’, namely define your data requirements (even for O&M) right at the start.
Consultants in particular are more often than not fixed on the graphical output they produce as part of their documentation. During the design process, they usually don’t engage with your Facility Managers who in return see little reason to talk to the consultants about what concerns them once the building gets handed over.  
As a client you are well advised to bring those parties to the table (also involving the contractor) in order to elaborate on data drops the team can provide your FM experts with throughout the various project stages. BIM allows for facilitations of FM relevant data to be exported in a fairly straightforward manner (via a format called COBie) as long as the key stakeholders are on the same page about your basic data requirements.  
Make sure you have sustained benefits of this process by considering how data that stems from BIM can be maintained over time.

8)   BIM is still evolving and it will keep doing so

BIM is still a moving target. From the previous comments you will gather that there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to uniform industry uptake and clarity among stakeholders about what constitutes ‘best practice BIM’ on a project.
Still, it is not advisable to wait until the BIM train has left the station. The time to engage with BIM is now. The sooner we see clients in the driver’s seat for BIM with clearly established deliverables, the sooner the industry will (have to) respond to their demands for better information content that gets passed on to them. The majority of BIM development still focuses predominantly on the consultants and the contractor. It is time to take on board how BIM is changing their processes in order to work with them on solutions that equally benefit you as a client. This engagement will ideally be bi-directional as clients also have a responsibility in considering their contracts in the light of the opportunities BIM provides to all stakeholders.
There is currently no government mandate for BIM in Australia, but several state departments and groups have issued BIM protocols that outline their expectations to the project teams.

9)   BIM also works for your existing building stock

There exists a misconception among a number of clients who believe that BIM only makes sense on new projects. It is true that the application of BIM is best considered right at the start of a new project in order to encompass its entire lifecycle and supply chain. At the same time, clients have numerous opportunities to include aspects of BIM on their existing stock, in particular where a link between O&M management systems and a geometrical representation of an asset is desired. A key example where this currently happens in Australia is BIM4 FM approach by the Sydney Opera House.
One additional facilitator of applying BIM on existing projects, is the recent technological advance in 3D terrestrial laser scanning. Land surveyors, civil engineers and architects alike are increasingly capturing ‘real life’ geometric data and combine it with object based models via BIM. It will become relevant for you as a client to understand the potential of this technology for creating a BIM enabled inventory of your assets. It may not include the same information-rich context that is usually achieved if BIM is modelled from scratch, but it may nevertheless allow you  to capture essential building data for O&M and link it to 3D geometrical environments.

10)                     BIM is just the starting point for your Enterprise Information Model

The final point looks at BIM beyond the application on single projects. Imagine how useful well integrated building data may present itself if several of your assets or even your entire portfolio gets linked together in one environment. The step BIM to Enterprise Information Models (EIM) is just a logical continuation of the principles behind intelligent data management.
When considering the bigger picture, and by linking BIM to FM to Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) countless opportunities arise. You can start connecting the dots in order to get relevant operational data about your portfolio in one environment. By combining this information with other sources of information (think BIG DATA), one can soon understand the potential benefits for clients to:
  •          Extract what you need to know to make decisions (quicker)
  •          Have all the information of your combined assets at your fingertips
  •          Appropriate that data once and re-use it again and again
  •          Develop briefs for future projects based on that knowledge
BIM is the enabler for these activities to unfold. It is a stepping stone to an information-rich future where you as a client are far better informed about the performance of your assets no matter what aspects you want to focus on. With all of the opportunities mentioned above, you will learn to engage with BIM to get out of it what benefits you most. This process will take time and it will possibly ask of you to consider changing parts of your traditional contracts.
In the long run, you may want to consider viable options in procuring your projects that are better tuned to enable more adequate handling of risk and responsibilities between the various project team members.

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