BIM is a bit of a problem

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Alan Muse, Global Director of Built Environment Professional Groups at the RICS provides an overview of the findings from a think tank report into BIM and ‘big data’…

Cultural change and technological innovation are axiomatic. In the built environment, BIM and ‘big data’ promise much, but they have to overcome industry global challenges and fragmentation. At the RICS, we have recently commissioned a think tank report on the future of our profession – our Futures Report (futures@rics.org).

This report focuses on the major touch points of change that we believe will have a significant impact on the surveying and related built and natural environment professions. We have seen through this study that our world is changing, becoming more complex, and that the pace of change is increasing. Many resultant impacts are already being felt across the sectors and markets in which RICS operates. Actions identified in this report apply not just to surveying, but equally to those in the related disciplines of architecture, engineering, financial and, increasingly, technology.

Within the context of this report, this piece considers global issues, how these relate to the construction professions and why technology can facilitate effective improvements.

Global challenges

Business practices are increasingly demanding global rules. We have seen this in the accounting arena, with international financial accounting standards (IFRS), and, with 70% of global wealth in land and property, valuation, measurement of property and ethics are prime candidates for international standards.

Uncertainty or risk, is a major drag on investment in construction and infrastructure. In turn, uncertainty is often caused by a lack of comparable, consistent and collaborative standards. Hence, we are making the case, with other like-minded global bodies, for the vision of how International Construction Measurement Standards (ICMS) could appropriately connect with, and be a next step, of International Property Measurement Standards (IPMS) – a current, ongoing project. ICMS will involve the collaborative development and implementation of internationally agreed and recognised measurement standards for the construction and infrastructure sectors.

Currently, there is a lack of measurement standards relevant to the construction industry at a global level, particularly in emerging and developing markets (whose share of construction will increase).

This lack of measurement standards means that construction projects, their inherent works elements and the resultant assets are incomparable from one geographical market to another.

The international measurement standard principles will integrate with detailed measurement standards in accordance with local market jurisdictions to ensure the standards are adopted by practitioners (bottom up). The standards will be developed in consultation with expert, international practitioners and panels, subject to international consultation and stakeholder review. All this will improve certainty in construction and enhance project performance for the users of the industry.

Construction challenges

Globally, construction project organisations are highly differentiated, made up of people from different disciplines and organisations, with different loyalties and priorities, from different backgrounds and cultures, in different places, who join the team at different times. There are likely to be great differences in attitudes and behaviour, as well as differences in specialised knowledge, between architects and builders, engineers and cost consultants. Distinct sub-cultures have their own beliefs, values, language, dress codes, expectations, codes of conduct, norms and practices.

Teamwork between parties with differing aims and interests is more difficult to achieve productively when a gain for one party is a loss for the other. When each participant represents an organisation with its own agenda, it is more important to gain an advantage over the other party than to solve the problems in the best interest of the project. Economic competition predisposes people and organisations to act in selfish, rather than cooperative ways. Indeed, from a ‘radical change’ perspective it can be argued that where there are fundamental differences of interest between project stakeholders (internal or external – including, for instance, groups who are totally opposed to the project) than any claims to ‘collaboration’ are simply a way of suppressing, containing or co-opting conflict, by attempting to redefine it as functional, leading to consensus. Conflict may have been discouraged, but only within certain limits, giving an illusion of engagement with multiple stakeholders’ views.

The problem is, biases invariably creep into any team’s reasoning – and often dangerously distort its thinking. A team that has fallen in love with its recommendation, for instance, may subconsciously dismiss evidence that contradicts its theories, give far too much weight to one piece of data, or make faulty comparisons to another business case. That’s why, with important decisions, senior management and project managers need to conduct a careful review not only of the content of recommendations, but of the recommendation process.

Technology can help leaders examine whether a team has explored alternatives appropriately, gathered all the right information, and used well-grounded numbers to support its case. They also highlight considerations such as whether the team might be unduly influenced by self-interest, overconfidence, or attachment to past decisions.

Clients can build decision processes over time that reduce the effects of biases and upgrade the quality of decisions their organisations make. The payoffs can be significant: A McKinsey study of more than 1,000 business investments for instance, showed that when companies worked to reduce the effects of bias, they raised their returns on investment by seven percentage points.

Technology challenges

BIM is an important concern for industry professionals not least because of the perceived threat of technology. It is evident that most professional bodies in the built environment domain around the world are helping their members to develop a deeper understanding of BIM, with enhancements and embellishments in areas that connect with their members. The message is loud and clear: BIM is here to stay – it is not a case of if, but when.

The built environment sector is striving to be a highly efficient, quality-centred, socially responsible and bullish industry capable of successfully delivering the requirements of current and future generations. BIM can play a strategic role in this transformation, but it is naïve to assume that BIM alone (if at all) can make such sweeping changes. But it is clear that BIM, along with other complementary paradigms such as lean principles, offsite construction, integrated project delivery, sustainability and smart cities, can provide the necessary impetus.

Smart cities BIM is not limited to a single asset: it can also be used to develop an information-rich model at the district, precinct or city level. These models can become the foundation or digital ‘DNA’ of smart cities. Smart cities have spatial, physical, digital, commercial and social dimensions.

Built environment professionals can contribute through information-rich 3D modelling to the ultimate realisation of the smart city concept. BIM for a smart city framework requires use of data standards such as CityGML, LandXML and Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). BIM provides one of the key pieces of information for the smart city concept, but it alone cannot deliver everything. The city model needs to be linked to a variety of other data sources such as geospatial data, sensor data, transactional data from citizens, and statistical data.

Synthesis

How do these challenges come together for the RICS?

One central theme is decision-making. International standards and BIM, separately and jointly, improve decision-making. Standards also allow classifications to be developed for the productive use of technology.

In addition, RICS has recently published research on the direction of BIM in global construction.

Collaborative BIM

Collaboration in the construction industry can help to align the incentives of clients and suppliers. But even with the best will in the world communication and coordination can be difficult to achieve, particularly for complex projects.

If properly designed, collaborative BIM can provide solutions for this.

This report outlines findings from a research project exploring the potential and pitfalls of collaboration and matching these with an analysis of BIM.

Using interviews and online surveys, novel insights from behavioural economics and incentive theory are applied to investigations of collaborative working and the potential of BIM as toolkits, for improving information flows and enabling collaborative working practices, particularly for lower tiers of the construction supply chain.

Utilisation of BIM in Construction Cost and Project Management Practices

As the development and uptake of BIM continues in major construction markets worldwide, it is imperative that construction industry stakeholders gain an understanding of the utilisation of BIM in construction cost and project management practices. This knowledge will enable them to become familiar with potential issues that may both positively and negatively affect the future adoption of BIM and take the necessary approach to promote it.

With this objective in mind, the research assesses the opportunities and challenges facing construction professionals and the sector as a whole in the adoption of BIM in construction cost and project management. Based on this it formulates best practices and recommendations relevant to policy makers, professional bodies and practitioners which will help develop suitable strategies to foster the development of BIM in the future.

BIM and the Value Dimension

BIM offers rich opportunities for property professionals to use information throughout the property lifecycle. However, the potential benefits it may have for this sector have been largely untapped to-date. BIM tools and processes were originally developed by the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector to assist in managing design and construction data. As these technologies and processes mature and evolve, so too does the opportunity for other professional groups to utilise various types of data contained within, or linked to, BIM models.

Using feedback from workshops in Sydney and London and a global online survey this research report identifies the data types and needs most significant to property professionals’ and maps these across the property lifecycle. It then evaluates the extent to which this data is generated in Architecture Engineering and Construction focused BIM deliverables. Following on from this the research looks at issues around training and education for property professionals along with the ways in which BIM can be integrated into property education.

Conclusion

One of the key future challenges highlighted for the surveying profession is new technology. At the same time, this is set within the context of increasingly global business practices and fragmentation and lack of collaboration in construction. RICS wants to create a worldwide debate in the built environment professions on how the industry can use these challenges as agents for change and process improvement. Join in the futures debate at futures@rics.org or e-mail me directly at amuse@rics.org . ■

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Alan Muse BSc (Hons) MSc FRICS

Global Director of Built Environment

Professional Groups

RICS

Tel: +44 (0)24 7686 8555

contactrics@rics.org

www.rics.org/uk

www.twitter.com/RICSnews

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