Looking ahead to an integrated 3D world

13 October 2010

The barriers to Business Information Modelling are often seen as too high to be breached. But Richard Vertigan believes we can circumvent them

Two decades after the arrival of the first 3D construction design programs, and 10 years since the first online project collaboration tools were launched, the industry is now facing almost exactly the same challenges with respect to building information modelling (BIM). To take advantage of the efficiency improvements BIM offers, we need to make some radical changes in our structures and processes. Incorporating such changes by 2020 will require concerted pan-industry action.

BIM adoption is not just about technologies — it also requires a focus on people and processes. For example, we need influential clients like the UK government to incorporate BIM into their long-term asset operation and maintenance processes, looking afresh at the “whole life cost” of our buildings and other assets. This will help drive change within our project teams, moving us away from existing approaches to procurement, contracts, intellectual property, insurance and other industry structures.

After all, a building information model is more than 3D. It can also be used to generate cost models, schedules to sequence construction activities, and energy efficiency simulations, for instance. And that data should be able to be re-used beyond the design and construction phases, to improve the future facilities management and in-service performance of those built assets.

So it’s encouraging that the UK chief construction adviser Paul Morrell is considering setting target dates to drive the process forward, towards a time when BIM will be mandatory on publicly-funded projects (see CM, September).

Top-down targets would be good news — as long as we clearly define the target, ensure it is achievable by an industry still emerging from recession, and have BIM vendors that can ensure good levels of interoperability between their systems and with other applications.

Currently, deploying BIM can be expensive and time-consuming. BIM-ready applications are expensive to license, users need to be trained, companies may need new hardware, and we have to continue developing how we share data. BuildingSMART, the organisation that sets international standards for construction software, has developed a common data schema (Industry Foundation Classes, or IFCs) that makes it possible to hold and exchange data between different software applications. However, its efforts to develop and maintain open international BIM standards will need support from BIM software suppliers.

Much can be learned from what we have achieved delivering online collaboration applications in the past decade. I first began developing collaborative websites at Taylor Woodrow in the 1990s, sharing information from 3D project models. However, 2D CAD still dominated, clients were often wary of trusting their data to a contractor, and many supply chain members were hesitant about using the internet or concerned about compatibility. So in 2000 I set up 4Projects.

Its systems, and other products from competitors, quickly won supporters in the post-Latham, post-Egan era. Once clients and project teams began using more transparent communications, they didn’t want to go back to email or paper-based processes. And it soon extended beyond online sharing of CAD and other information. Vendors added collaborative functionality to support project and contract processes (NEC3, for example), to support different phases of the asset lifecycle (eg: tendering, FM), and to integrate with other applications.

Looking ahead, BIM-based collaboration is the inevitable next step. But in practice, how do we allow multiple users simultaneous access to our building models and reconcile the changes they make? Again, the progress we’ve made so far points the way ahead and the collaboration vendors’ huge experience.

The project teams working via online collaboration tools are now used to the idea that project IT doesn’t have to mean a local server in every location. Instead, they’re buying “Software as a Service” (SaaS). Web-enabled BIM model sharing could help integrate whole supply chains, and it is conceivable that by the 2020s we could be deploying “BIMaaS”, using superfast broadband links and centrally-managed servers with which members of our supply chains can interact in real-time.

Financially, the BIMaaS model also appeals. Collaboration has shown that project or programme-based pricing — a fixed monthly fee for the duration of the project — is easily understood by customers. Plus, remote hosting reduces risks, requires no investment in new in-house servers, and overcomes neutrality issues. Moreover, browser-based platforms mean there is no software to download and fewer software compatibility issues.

Today, SaaS construction collaboration platforms are routinely used by construction managers on most of the UK’s leading projects. BIM could reach that stage within a decade if we can tackle the key challenges and respond to current trends in people’s use of technologies: easy-to-use applications that allow us to create, share and re-use data seamlessly, while also accessing it via our mobiles.

By adapting our technologies, processes and industry structures to meet these requirements, collaborative BIM could become the core of an integrated new construction world by 2020.

Richard Vertigan is chief executive of collaboration vendor 4Projects

Back to basics: Concurrent delays

In July a Scottish appeal judgment in City Inn v Shepherd Construction put the spotlight on a regular source of difficulty with extension of time (EOT) claims — namely how to deal with concurrent delays when more than one party is responsible for events that delay the works.

The appeal in question related to clause 25 of the JCT Standard Form of Building Contract (1980 edition). The case involved nine causes of delay — seven were the responsibility of the client and two were down to Shepherd.

There are five key points to bear in mind when submitting EOT claims to the contract administrator:

• The contractor must show that a delay is caused by a Relevant Event under clause 25 and that the completion of the works has been, or is likely to be, delayed as a consequence.

• A common sense approach should be taken when deciding whether the Relevant Event causes delay.

• That decision can be made on the basis of any acceptable factual evidence. While a critical path analysis may be of assistance when making the decision, it is not essential.

• If there is more than one cause of delay but one cause is dominant, then the non-dominant cause should not be factored in to the EOT claim. If the dominant cause is a Relevant Event, the claim will succeed.

• Where there is concurrent delay derived from two causes, one a Relevant Event and the other an event for which the contractor is liable, and neither could be described as the dominant cause, the EOT claim will not necessarily fail.

The contract administrator should apportion the delay in the completion of the works resulting from the concurrent causes of delay between the events on a fair and reasonable basis.

Andrew Weston is an associate at Taylor Wessing



Truly, BIM is the mediun for Collaboration and (IPD) Integrated Project Delivery now and beyond 2010

Bertrand Carrington, 12 November 2010

Three cheers for common sense. In this area of endevour, our industry has not felt in much need of it since computer fever took hold, completely over looking the "rubbish in -rubbish out" factor (until now). We are getting back to the early 80's when there was no other option. I would like to think that this will lead to the end of time wasting competing computer spreadsheet battles.

Peter Berry, 11 January 2011

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