As we move toward 2016, the onset of the BIM mandate in the UK is quickly approaching. I suspect most other developed nations will be following.

While I can confidently say that everyone knows BIM stands for “Building Information Modelling,” it’s become abundantly clear to me that BIM means many things to many people.

Words and concepts behind acronyms are overshadowed by the desire to adopt new technologies to improve the processes and parts of the project puzzle the beholder occupies. The designers see reusable design artefacts, the contractors see the greatly improved design review process, estimators can see the quantity take-off potential, and the clients are promised better handover information.

Car manufacturers have already created cleaner flows of products and data from inception to the hands of consumers. A new car comes with a handbook on operation and maintenance; the specification of the wiring or chassis is not relevant to the owner. In a similar way, a building should be delivered with a well-ordered handbook of relevant information. Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) is designed for this purpose, although each building is unique and requires tailoring of the required elements.

Why, also, do major construction companies and design practices adopt an internal facing strategy for BIM, when the government is encouraging a more external facing collaborative approach? Moving past this phase as we approach 2016 is the key challenge, and no one business can do it alone.

Perhaps delivering Level 2 ahead of the mandate is stalling for some because they believe their partners haven’t completed the required work to reach this level, and focus therefore on matters that can be addressed today like developing a clash detection strategy or deploying new BIM authoring software.

One of the most commonly cited shortcomings is the quality of employer information requirements (EIRs). Lacking a fundamental digital project briefing document draws the focus away from creating a rigorous COBie delivery process. This is a symptom however, rather than the cause. How can a client prepare an adequate EIR when they don’t know what data they need, or are able to, procure?

Clients also take issue with the project team for not offering a menu of data for them to choose from; a kind of data takeaway menu allowing decisions to be made at the tender stage about which bidder offers not only the best price and value in terms of the physical project, but allowing the data product on offer to be judged as part of the process. As it is, BIM consultants are currently working hard to uncover the client’s data needs by playing the role of a digital archaeologist, and the resultant bespoke EIRs lack consistency.

Although these issues were defined by the UK, these are not just UK-specific. Every modern construction industry needs to extract structured data from its projects, distilling it into information, which, combined and interrogated produces knowledge, impacting their business with wisdom won.

As for BIM, has the concept outgrown its acronym? Maybe it’s just ‘Big Data’ with BIM processes as a mere source. We now have software as a service (SaaS) databases for construction, offering cross project knowledge capture and the collaborative data capture as and when it is created either on site, in the office or in the factory. However, as construction industry processes evolve, the more structured data the supply chain will be able to produce to clients demand, creates a need for construction to have software tools that facilitate the delivery and acceptance of a digital product alongside the built fabric.

By John Adams