Building Information Modelling – a prototype for digital workplaces
Much of the discussion and debate around digital workplaces takes place in a vacuum. With the exception of the case studies in Jane McConnell’s Organisation in the Digital Age reports there are very few published examples of working digital workplaces. For that reason it is well worth taking a look at what is happening in the global construction industry in the adoption of Building Information Modelling. The Wikipedia entry on BIM is written by people who are very conversant with this work. One definition of Building Information Modeling (BIM) is that is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility providing a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility that then forms a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition. I’d like to highlight the word ‘shared’ as BIM brings together all the stakeholders in a construction project from design to build to maintain and then demolish. Demolishing a complex building requires knowledge of how it was built!
There are global standards for BIM files and file management, an area where the UK construction industry is very much in the vanguard. For several years the Royal Institute of British Architects has been publishing an annual survey of BIM adoption. The 2016 report notes “We can see that BIM adoption is set to increase. Within one year, 86% of people expect to be using BIM on at least some of their projects. Within three years, 95% expect to be using BIM. Within five, that number increases to 97%.” Among the leaders in implementing BIM is Laing O’Rourke and it is well worth reading through its Engineering Excellence Journal. Although there is a lot of good news the challenges are also important to be aware of. In the 2014 edition of Engineering Excellence Journal Laing O’Rourke comment that “The current fixation with Building Information Modelling (BIM) within our industry globally is gathering pace and this is undoubtedly progress. However, it once again reflects the vested interests within our own ranks that we chose to embrace the minimum standards of these new ideologies and technologies only when pushed to do so, rather than seize the opportunity to exploit their potential for real and lasting industry-wide transformation.”
This challenge is not unique to the global construction industry. In all sectors there will be a tendency to do the minimum possible rather than look to the future and work backwards to define what is required to take full advantage of not just the technology but the way in which the technology facilitates teams working together to solve complex problems. Of course the problem is always that we can often learn more from failures than we can from success stories and it is very difficult (especially for quoted companies) to share project failures There is no open forum for the exchange of visions, roadmaps, achievements and challenges, and in my opinion many conferences in this area focus on how employees are working in the back office at headquarters and not 30 stories up on a skyscraper building with only a ruggedized tablet for company.
If you are engaged in any digital workplace initiative I would strongly recommend that you take a look at BIM implementation. There may not be any individual elements that can be applied to your own sector but the principles are eminently transferable. Note just as an example the exemplary commitment of the Royal Institute of British Architects in supporting BIM initiatives. Are your industry and trade organisations playing a similar role? And if not, why not?