16.02.2016 : Jon Williams

The three worlds of BIM

BIM is one of the most overhyped topics in the construction industry today. My personal favourite is “The structured sharing of digital information within the built environment.”

Do you understand it? That is, the world of Building Information Modelling (BIM)? Most don’t and yet it’s challenging owners and operators of hospitals, universities and commercial buildings to look at how they procure projects.

BIM is one of the most overhyped topics in the construction industry today. It appears in the media, at conferences and even in Government policy. There are as many definitions of what BIM is as there are national standards, guidelines and authors of discussions like this. My personal favourite is “The structured sharing of digital information within the built environment.”

Many owners who start looking at BIM get scared off by trying to understand how the various aspects of BIM directly benefit them. They have been sold on the picture portrayed by many of the software vendors that BIM is a ‘whole building lifecycle process’ or ‘to be doing BIM you need to be doing it all!’

In my view the whole process has been overcomplicated. While we should be thinking about operations and maintenance during design, we shouldn’t lose sight of the benefits that a BIM approach can make just to the design process. Likewise with construction and operations phases. This has led to promoting the process as the ‘Three Worlds of BIM’.

Within the design world, the benefits of working within a 3D modelled environment are now being realised by all disciplines. Improved coordination, integration with analysis and better visualisation for client communications are all resulting in a better, no surprises, design product.

Likewise within build world, creating a virtual construction model before doing it in steel and concrete is reducing rework and waste. Integrating models with cost and time schedules allows multiple options to be compared and provides a clear communication tool.

It is the operations world where there are the biggest challenges and biggest potential long term benefits. When facility owners and operators listen to all the BIM hype around modelling, clash detection, 4D and 5D they should rightly be thinking “How does this benefit me?” If it’s not delivering a cheaper, faster or better product (more on this in a later posting), why should they get excited?

The main benefit in operations world is harnessing the power of data relating to the asset. Most organisations use this data in multiple ways including planned maintenance schedules, asset depreciation calculations, space allocation and booking systems, upgrade planning and design. Whilst there will be separate systems needed for all of these functions, the source of the data for most of them is the same i.e. information about the physical asset.

Currently these systems are being populated by different people making differing interpretations either from walking around the asset or from paper drawings and schedules. If the owner can develop an information (the “I” in BIM) requirements plan before the building is handed over (the earlier the better!) then all of this data can be obtained seamlessly and consistently from an As Built Model.

So the key to success in an operations world is knowing what information you want and communicating it to the team that can best provide it. Construction projects involve a large number of designers, contractors and suppliers. There is a new information management role required to take all this data and audit, filter and translate it into what the owner really needs.

With BIM the success is to focus on how to maximise the benefits and value-add in the world you operate in. Communication between the worlds will get better over time, but until you really know what information you need, how can you expect someone else to provide it? BIM is not all about buildings or all about modelling it is all about Information.n Williams

About the Author

Jon Williams

Chief Specialist - Project & Digital Delivery

Jon is our Building Information Modelling (BIM) strategic leader. He established our in-house approach to BIM and is setting industry standards by helping to develop the National BIM Handbook in New Zealand. He is focused on using BIM to drive a positive change in the building industry and is working with clients to help achieve this.

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Peter · 21/04/2016 1:26:37 p.m.
"Facilities" include linear infrastructure also such as piplelines, road/rail networks etc, it seems that too much emphasis in BIM remains on Property and Buildings

Phil · 29/08/2015 8:15:12 p.m.
My thoughts are that BIM capable software such as Revit only go half the distance they could. If say a list of manufacturers products for steel lintels, cavity trays, cavity closers, etc came up when you put in a window into the design appropriate to the construction build up then you could be able to generate a detail section rather than just a section. This is a big deal that most BIM capable software seems to miss out on.

Even still non BIM capable 3D modelling software often seems to hold a design advantage of modelling piece by piece rather than ham-handedly plonking stuff together as is commonly the way in Revit type of software. Revit models often have a sort of blandness to them I think as a result. So at the moment while I was initially impressed by what Revit could do, no I think the advantage is not as great as it first appears or could be.