Oct 16 2015

Beyond document collaboration: BIM and data sharing

Big DataIn the two previous posts, we’ve revisited a late 20th century UK construction industry still heavily reliant upon paper-based communication methods, and seen how, since around 2000, firms like CONJECT have helped reshape collaboration during project delivery. Significant parts of the industry, however, are now engaged in an even more significant shift: away from deliverables exemplified by drawings and documents towards model-based collaboration.

Since 2000 IT moved increasingly into the centre of project delivery. This was partly a reflection of existing trends: construction businesses were expanding beyond CAD to 3D modelling, design coordination and ‘clash detection’, encouraged by the lower cost and increased processing power of computer hardware, new data capture techniques such as laser-scanning, higher bandwidth telecoms links (at no extra cost), and adoption of industry data exchange standards.

However, the main catalyst for change in the UK came after the late 2000s global financial crisis when the UK Government (funding around 40% of the UK construction industry’s turnover) began to demand better ‘whole life’ value for money and better carbon performance from its public sector projects. Paul Morrell, the Government’s first chief construction advisor (2009-2012), was passionate about building information modelling (BIM), and following the publication of the Government Construction Strategy in May 2011 it became clear to industry that BIM and collaborative working would be vital if they wanted to work for public sector bodies from 2016.

BIM is more than the graphical expression of geometric information. Models incorporate schedule or sequencing information (3D + time = 4D), + cost data (5D), operations information, sustainability data, etc. As a result, digital collaboration is being extended across wider project teams and deeper into client organisations with a huge range of job functions increasingly working with BIM-based data. The heightened emphasis on the ‘whole life’ performance of built assets also underlined the need to capture and retain information throughout the planning, design, construction, commissioning and handover processes and ensure its continued availability to client teams throughout its operating life.


Big Data StructuresBIM Level 2 collaboration

As previously outlined, traditional design processes involved different designers separately producing their own designs and associated information, but BIM ultimately offers a means for people to collaborate, to share and develop a single integrated model. The whole asset can, effectively, be assembled virtually, and then built efficiently in real life – though such delivery also requires substantial changes beyond technology, to working processes, cultures and behaviours, which is why the latest industry strategy, Construction 2025, also advocates new approaches to information-sharing, procurement, contracts, intellectual property, insurance, payment, etc, to create conditions conducive to collaborative working.


How a common data environment supports life in a BIM world

The short-term aspiration for the UK is that, by April 2016, public sector clients and their project teams will achieve ‘Level 2’ BIM (many significant private sector clients are also working towards the same target). In practical terms this involves collaboration platforms – such as CONJECT – being used as a web-based “common data environment” (CDE) to share multiple ‘federated’ models, alongside 4D scheduling, 5D cost information, and all associated documentation needed during and beyond design and construction. SaaS vendors’ experience in overcoming structural, cultural, organisational and technological barriers to collaboration is also proving invaluable in helping UK clients and their supply chains make the necessary changes.


A common data environment supports clients and supply chains in multiple ways, including:


  • defining and sharing the employer’s information requirements (EIR)
  • early involvement of facilities managers and end-users in project design
  • implementation of a BIM execution plan, including BS1192 file naming and numbering conventions, project processes, standard file formats, etc
  • support for the whole downstream supply chain so they can incorporate BIM objects of their products into models
  • use of a project-wide CDE, PAS1192-2 workflows for sharing documents, the ability to populate, validate and export COBie data, and support for continued access to “open shareable asset information”
  • provision of model viewing, clash-detection, scheduling and cost data management capabilities
  • defining how data can be used, viewed and kept up-to-date by facilities managers, with as-built BIM data perhaps augmented by capturing in-service building performance data


Data-centric infrastructure lifecycle management

It was a wry reflection on the adversarial nature of much of conventional construction in the late 20th century that some still defined collaboration as “co-operating with the enemy”. Thankfully, many parts of the industry have moved away from mutually suspicious contractual mind-sets. While still highly fragmented, silo-based industry mentalities have been eroded. Frameworks and other long-term supply chain relationships are rewarding effective collaboration. BIM has also encouraged less focus on lowest price and more on delivering the best ‘whole life’ business outcomes for the industry’s clients. And, in addition to BIM, we are deploying IT to share data, improve communication and to deliver collaboration – here meaning the process of shared creation.


The future of how the AEC industry will work

As a result the construction projects of the 21st century will no longer be purely physical entities but will have digital dimensions to both their delivery and to their through-life operation. Industry clients will, therefore, not just take ownership of the asset but will also potentially become long-term owners of the data about it, sharing elements for re-use in delivering future assets and in real-time representation of it. However, many clients may not have the skills or technology needed to maintain, update and share that data – thus, the emergence during the past 15-20 years of SaaS and ‘Big data’ specialists may mean they become the custodians of their clients’ data, ensuring it can be shared appropriately to support ongoing business needs and future infrastructure developments.

About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

View my LinkedIn profile:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>