Greater interoperability with regard to building information modelling and a stronger emphasis upon the use of BIM in the operation and maintenance phase of building and infrastructure projects are among major challenges being faced in terms of construction sector technology in Victoria and elsewhere around Australia, a leader in the building industry technology sector says.

Following the release of the Victorian government’s strategy for greater use and adoption of technology in the construction sector, Bentley Systems vice president-ANZ Brian Middleton said that Victoria, like other states in Australia, faces challenges in two critical areas.

First, Middleton said, there is a need for greater interoperability with regard to BIM technology.

“At the moment for me, there is a lot of talk around interoperability,” he said. “There are a number of vendors in the technology space. All of them or many of them have got their own file formats, different languages, different technologies that don’t easily communicate with each other.

“Added to that, when you deliver a construction project, you also have the silos of function in terms of delivering the project whether it be from design, from construction, from fabrication or from utilities. We have all of the different disciplines which all have different applications and different technologies which they prefer or want to use because it’s easy for them and they are knowledgeable about those applications. Interoperability is a huge challenge.”

Middleton would also like to see a shift in focus with regard to BIM, with greater attention being given to its use as an asset life cycle program whose principal benefits are realised in the operations and maintenance phase of projects as opposed to simply in design and construction.

Too often, he said, the emphasis with regard to BIM revolves around the capital expenditure (cap-ex) phase, and insufficient attention is afforded to the operating expenditure (op-ex) potential of the software.

“Unfortunately, I think we are also seeing BIM being promoted as the silver bullet but also only being seen at the starting point and being promoted by interested parties (at the cap-ex stage),” he said.

“The whole benefit of BIM is not at the cap-ex phase, it is the op-ex phase. That’s where the true return on investment on BIM is. And if you only focus on the cap-ex phase of the project, which is what I see being promoted widely in Australia – you create 3D models, you do all of your intelligence in your 3D models – and assume that you will be able to use that forever and a day, quite frankly, that’s not the case. I don’t know many operations and maintenance people who regularly would go and look at a 3D model to find out information on how to operate and maintain the infrastructure.”

Middleton’s comments follow the recent release last month of the Victorian government’s Construction Technologies Sector Strategy, which sets out a 14-point plan to build strategic leadership, support innovation and growth, advance the use of BIM, capitalise on digital technologies, strengthen market competiveness in off-site construction and streamline compliance pathways for new construction materials and products.

Middleton welcomes the plan, saying it represents a positive step in the right direction.

Still, the plan has not been welcomed by all.

Veteran construction industry commentator David Chandler OAM said the strategy missed fundamental points about broader productivity issues, including poor project planning practices and unproductive labour practices.

He says the core of the industry’s problems revolve around a lack of willingness on the part of parties such as unions and employer groups to embrace change and subject the industry to necessary productivity measurements.

“I am very disappointed that the Victorian Strategy, which could have become a national blueprint, is so shallow,” Chandler said. “It takes industry nowhere.”