The PPP Journal - Issue 61
A Model for success
22 July 2008
The University of Salford's Dr Yusuf Arayici and Professor Mustafa Alshawi give an overview of BIM, and what is needed to achieve the required level of capability to address BIM-based innovation.
The construction industry has been facing a paradigm shift to: increase productivity, efficiency, infrastructure value, quality and sustainability; and reduce life-cycle costs, lead times and duplications, via effective collaboration and communication of stakeholders in construction projects. The focus is therefore to create and re-use consistent digital information by the stakeholders throughout the life-cycle. This shift is based around BIM (Building Information Model).
BIM as a life-cycle evaluation concept seeks to integrate processes throughout the entire life-cycle of a construction project in order to remedy the calcified processes, fragmentation, duplications and lead times, in order to provide client satisfaction, cost, time and quality related benefits to all involved in a construction project. More broadly, it can be described as the use of the ICT technologies to streamline business processes that are required by building infrastructure and its surroundings to provide a safer and more productive environment for its occupants, and to: assert the least possible environmental impact from its existence; and be more operationally efficient for its owners throughout the life-cycle of the building infrastructure.
The front end advantage of BIM models is the potential of visualising building information in 3D. Having an instant 3D visualisation facility from BIM models is the best intuitive method for effective communication and collaboration amongst the construction stakeholders. In simple terms, this means that client requirements can be captured and verified effectively, building design can be developed in a shorter time since shared understanding can be established quickly, and planning activities are performed more accurately. BIM models can be developed to produce 4D simulations (3D +time) in order to conduct what-if analysis.
In some States such as Finland, Denmark, Norway and the USA, the use of BIM has been endorsed, while some other States have progressed toward it. However, implementation of BIM systems requires dramatic changes in the current business practices, which will lead to the development of new and sustainable business processes. Added to this, IFC model server implementation technologies are being developed by vendors to meet the demand for fully integrated BIM systems that facilitate long-term integrated collaboration and communication processes. However, this development is raising new challenges for all parties, such as the emerging knowledge and skill gap in BIM implementation and use.
The greatest advantage resulting from the implementation of BIM-enabled collaborative environments can be attained by exploiting their capabilities to create streamlined business processes, rather than merely automating outdated functions. While the BIM concept is becoming popular, the industry over the past few years has clearly moved towards: partnering as a new procurement philosophy; experimenting advanced BIM orientated technologies to improve performance and quality; and becoming aware of the need to transfer into process-based practices. In particular, partnering itself requires replacing more traditional processes with a culture of sharing to achieve common goals such as cost-effectiveness, improved efficiency, and greater quality and innovation, while still satisfying the individual expectations on each partner. The main criteria for successful partnering are: improved efficiency; increased project speed; increased project quality; project cost reduction; greater reliability; greater co-operation and collaboration; and lower legal cost. It is clear that there are common overlapping goals between partnering and BIM in order for successful implementation of partnering. In other words, successful implementation of partnering, BIM adoption, is critically required.
Although such moves have demonstrated significant improvement, their contribution to sustainable competitiveness is limited. This is because the level by which organisations can successfully implement collaborative environments to improve their businesses or achieve competitive advantage depends, firstly, on the level of their maturity in managing their business processes, and secondly on their ability to mobilise skills and competences to create BIM-based core capabilities. However, there is also ample evidence that BIM focused Information Systems (IS)/IT have failed to bring about a competitive advantage to organisations in spite of the large investments over the past decade.
The main attributes of the high percentage of these failures are rarely purely technical in origin. They are more related to the organisational 'soft issues' that underpin the capability of the organisation to successfully absorb these IS/IT into its work practices. IT is still, in many cases, being considered by the management of organisations as a cost cutting tool. This 'technology push' alone, even though to some extent is still dominating in many industries like construction and engineering, will not harness the full business potential of BIM, and thus will be unable to lead to competitive advantage. It is the innovation in process improvement and management, along with BIM as an enabler, that is the only mechanism to ensure sustainable competitive advantage. This requires an organisation to be in a state of readiness, which will give it the capability to positively absorb IS/IT for BIM-enabled innovation and business improvement into its work practices.
The competencies that an organisation needs to develop in order to acquire the capability to strategically benefit from BIM, prior to BIM investment, falls under four main elements: people, process, work environment, and IT infrastructure. The first two elements are the key to change and improvement, while the other two elements are enablers without which the first two elements cannot be sustained. The 'acceptable' level of BIM, that can be successfully utilised in an organisation, ie. ensuring its business benefits are realised, therefore depends on assessing a range of critical issues needed to ensure a balance between the organisation's readiness (mainly factors required to adapt to the proposed change) against the level and complexity of the proposed IT (which often hinders or limits success). This balance often includes many issues such as: capital expenditure, resource availability, organisation's maturity and readiness, culture and vision, and available BIM skills.
In order for an organisation to achieve the required level of capability to address BIM-based innovation and continuous improvement, it has to:
• Create an innovative work environment. This should focus on developing and sustaining a highly skilled and flexible workforce, which will have the skills and the competencies to continuously introduce improvement through better and more streamlined business processes enabled by advanced IT. In this context, organisational learning and knowledge management become a necessity for organisations to sustain business improvements and competitive advantage out of their BIM investments;
• Achieve effective alignment between business strategies and BIM strategies. The focus should be on improving the organisation's efficiency by directly integrating BIM with the corporate, strategic and operational needs. This ensures BIM resources are 'in line' with business imperatives.
Therefore, the capability of an organisation to integrate a new BIM system into its current operations depends on its level of readiness to:
• Adapt to the new business processes;
• Embrace the new business process by employees (awareness, competencies and skills of employees);
• Adopt the changes into the organisation's work environment (a work environment that eases and encourages the expected changes to occur);
• Accommodate the new technology within the existing IT infrastructure and management.