Analysis

We need accreditation to drive collaboration

3 July 2020

BIM is a concept which is easy to grasp at the highest level – its potential is boundless, but its execution requires rigour and consistency. That’s why standards are so crucial argues Peter Barker, managing director of BIM Academy.

In the early 2000s when BIM emerged as an enticing new concept for the built environment, these rapidly maturing digital tools began to drive real productivity and efficiencies for those who were brave enough to take the plunge. Those who did were often practitioners of ‘lonely BIM’, and the pioneers had to hold their nerve as we headed for global economic meltdown at the end of the decade.

For BIM to work, for its value to thrive, we couldn’t have lone adopters – the added bonus of BIM is that it is a powerful catalyst for collaboration and effective teamwork.

It wasn’t long before contractors and designers started making tactical use of these new technologies to solve or ease specific challenges – improved spatial coordination, construction logistics planning, enhanced visualisation for client engagement, quantity take off, taking the pain from the repetitive and bulk tasks.

It was not quite a holistic approach (yet) but that doesn’t mean it didn’t provide value, some were seeing great results, but often in an unstructured way. Contractors began reporting significant reduction in unforeseen site errors and unnecessary rework and designers saw productivity gains in the production of information and increased agility in communicating design intent to clients. Owners and operators also began to notice the value of this coordinated and reliable data in the operational phase.

Common approach

From the moment we started getting more than one organisation working together, we needed a common approach to the organisation, the structure, the naming and the exchange of information.

There is no denying that BIM can be complex, especially if there are multiple applications of its many uses through the lifecycle of the project – design creation, coordination, measurement, performance analysis, logistics planning and phasing, data production and migration to FM and asset management systems. But without structured, logical and commonly understood frameworks to plan and execute projects, it can all end in tears. Arguably it can be more chaotic and disruptive than ‘the old way’.

To reap the digital rewards, it all relies on diligent early preparation, commonality of approach, documentation and communication, and spending some extra time at project inception to agree standards. This investment will yield amazing results by ensuring these are properly shared and understood, but perhaps most importantly, by ensuring that everyone round the digital table has the appropriate skills and resources to participate.

As always with evolution, it has become much more than that: BIM is a concept which is easy to grasp at the highest level. its potential is boundless, but its execution requires rigour and consistency.– Peter Barker, BIM Academy

The construction industry does not have a great track record in this regard. “Let’s get started, we’ll fix it later” are sentiments often heard. To be fair, this is improving, but over recent years our industry has still fallen short, evidenced in the shocking tragedy of Grenfell and the wake-up call that we cannot go on without creating an industry where a more reliable single source of truth, a ‘golden thread’, is embedded in every project. Working alone and sequentially is no longer optional.

To quote Gordon Ryder, one of the founding partners of Ryder Architecture, one of the first UK multidisciplinary practices: “Unless we have the closest cooperation between all who contribute to the realisation of our designs, we will continue to make a great many mistakes.” He made this comment in 1965, pre-CAD and BIM, but it still rings true today.

Can BIM mitigate mistakes?

Arising from our last economic crisis, the UK government’s drive for BIM in 2010 was focused on achieving cost and carbon reductions for the government estate, through relevant, consistent and reliable data. The beginning of a brave new world in which we could create and share universal, trustworthy and comprehensive data for the public and ultimately private sector.

But as always with evolution, it has become much more than that: BIM is a concept which is easy to grasp at the highest level. its potential is boundless, but its execution requires rigour and consistency.

Let’s set the standard

So, what has this all got to do with standards, accreditation and certification? The role of international standards is crucial.

On the back of the UK government’s vision outlined in the 2010 Construction Strategy a host of coordinated standards have been developed, led by industry expertise and respected national and international standards organisations.

This network of complementary standards culminated in the publication of the first elements of international standard in 2019 – ISO 19650. This is a major breakthrough in proving we are a global industry, with a common approach, providing uniformity in methods of working and consistency in terminology, workflow structure and exchange mechanisms.

Giving the ISO 19650 its full title says it all: “Organisation and digitisation of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modelling. Information management using BIM.” This articulates a powerful concept which can yield hugely beneficial rewards, no longer optional if we are to achieve our targets for a safer, environmentally responsible and leaner construction industry.

Accreditation schemes operated by organisations such as the British Standards Institution (BSI) provide a framework for companies to design and develop systems within an internationally recognisable method of working and terminology, giving confidence to themselves, their partners and their customers that they are conversant and appropriately skilled and resourced to deliver in an internationally recognised approach.

The pioneers of BIM have achieved great things in the past two decades, often in isolation, but the global industry is now ready to unleash the power of a concerted digital approach which we must adopt to address our changing and challenging new world. Accreditation and certification to international standards is essential in achieving a truly unified global digital built environment.