We need to talk about BIM


Nick Nisbet, Director at AEC3 Ltd and Technical Coordinator for buildingSMART wants us to be clear-headed when talking about BIM

I’m reliably informed that if you take enough psychedelic drugs, the whole world around you merges into a wonderful tapestry of luminous colours and textures. As when browsing impressionist paintings and point cloud surveys, our ability to be rational and thoughtful is destroyed. Does this explain why discussions of BIM meander effortlessly from BIM, which is about hard data, to ever increasingly soft stuff like collaboration, managing change and culture?

Let’s consider some differences. BIM (Building Information Modelling) or VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) is about using data instead of documents. We can generalise this idea to be ‘Sharing Structured Information’ – this broader definition should ensure that both those with a strong visual sense and those with a strong numeric bent can both join in. The ‘Sharing’ means we think about our colleagues, our customers and our suppliers and create processes that can be repeated, improved, simplified, perhaps even eliminated.

The “Structured” aspect means it can be checked, analysed and exchanged. Comparison can be made between types of facility, between costs of systems, between performances of products. How can we check for completeness or for performance? It may depend on applying industry-wide classification tables such as Uniclass2015 and NRM1, to the assets, and to other information resources. Conversely, private, informal, or ill-formed tables represent a systemic risk to good practice.

But most importantly it’s ‘information’ about real manageable, visitable assets. Assets include the individual named Components, but a Facility is not just a pile of Components, it is also the specified product Types, and the functional Systems. A Site is not just a collection of Spaces, it is also the Storeys and Zones used to navigate them. Lastly a Project is not just a plethora of Tasks to be done, it is also the Job-Types and Work-packages used to organise them.

We don’t have to invoke collaboration or cooperation as the magic mushroom that will ease the process. Good hard solid contracts can make the process robust, checkable and verifiable. COBie and Soft Landings are contractually enforceable information exchanges. The US Army suggested $5,000 per day for each day the Contractor failed to deliver a complete and accurate COBie handover dataset. ‘Digital Plans of Work’ are being developed, but it is the tools to check and enforce them that will make BIM more and more contractually verifiable.

Is BIM a cultural issue? I’d argue no, there is nothing about BIM that necessarily demands a cultural change: delivering information is a competency that can be developed from familiarity with traditional documentation and an understanding of traditional processes. But it can be a liberation, because nothing need be done twice, nothing need be unchecked, every decision can generate many outputs.

We don’t have to invoke cultural change or wait for the Zeitgeist to blow in a new direction. We just have to realise that there isn’t a single process in facilities and construction that can’t be radically improved by transitioning off documents into data, repeating it, and finding ways to check it and improve it. And if we don’t start, a competitor or colleague just might. Or an up-start practice or company might just go straight into it.

So where to start? Pick up any document that’s on your desk or in your pigeon hole and ask what is it really about? What’s the message and what’s the data? What’s being discussed, the site, the project or the facility? Which specific location, component or task? And then think, I’d rather have the background information before I respond. You’ve started your BIM journey.

Nicholas Nisbet

Director, AEC3 and Technical Coordinator buildingSMART UKI

Tel: +44 1494 714933





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