I was fortunate to attend an afternoon seminar yesterday called ‘Reducing Risk and Improving Outcomes with BIM’ and pitched directly at housing associations. I was invited in my position on the UK BIM Alliance Executive team where I serve as a non-exec.
The housing sector has made significant changes to its processes in recent years – in the noughties it was pushed to reduce carbon emissions via the Code for Sustainable Homes and revised Building Regulations, and the economic changes in the 2010s (including dramatic reductions in government funding for affordable housing) led it to move to new methods of developing housing, including for many housing associations to become developers themselves. As a result many have major mixed use multi-tenure property development pipelines, and they are also major asset owners and managers.
Recognise this? No thought had been given in this project for how the bedrooms in this project would be used by disabled people. 20wks programme delay and over £50,000 just for layout change plus materials and labour, delayed occupation, increased decant costs etc #BIMinHousing pic.twitter.com/Xkk2dbWEDz
— Su Butcher 💚 (@SuButcher) November 22, 2018
As a result, Housing Associations are in an ideal position to benefit from BIM Level 2 processes. They have significant asset portfolios to look after, they are developing new schemes, and they need to save money, reduce risk and improve quality. Nevertheless, despite various pathfinder projects, uptake of BIM has been poor.
This is the context in which the excellent seminar invited housing association personnel, including asset managers, to participate. And this wasn’t any ordinary seminar with speeches and a few Q&A at the end. Attendees were invited to submit questions beforehand and the majority of the afternoon was spent in an interactive panel session where these questions were explored and discussed with the audience. You can see some of the discussion on the #BIMinHousing Hashtag.
The panel members were:
- Kathryn Kligerman, Partner, Construction & Engineering, Devonshires
- Andrew de Silva, David Miller Architects
- Jack Ostrofsky, Head of Quality, Notting Hill Genesis Housing Association
- Denise Sheerin, Senior Director, Airey Miller
- Lloyd Patman, Information & BIM Manager at Airey Miller (Chair)
- George Stevenson, Managing Director, Activeplan
Below: George Stevenson, Lloyd Patman, Kathryn Kligerman, Jack Ostrofsky and Andrew de Silva (Das).
Thanks everyone for a great afternoon discussing #BIMinHousing and how we can use information to help reduce risk and improve the quality of housing! @aireymiller @Devonshires @NHGhousing @activeplan from @DMA_Architects pic.twitter.com/kgQ0k5J1eU
— Andrew DAS de Silva (@PTA_DAS) November 22, 2018
Why should we learn from Construction’s BIM Pitfalls?
I’ve been involved in BIM for over five years now, and in that time have worked with and spoken to hundreds of people in the industry, across all disciplines, from hard core BIM Enthusiasts to complete Luddites. Indeed I was regaled at the launch of the Winfield Rock Report by an architect who told me that BIM would kill off architecture, and I’ve had my mind blown spending a morning with the BuildingSMART UK and Ireland team learning about IFC.
Most of us, though, have a day job and BIM isn’t really on our radar. So it was interesting and somewhat challenging in that context, that one of the questions asked at the seminar was
‘How to generate critical mass for BIM adoption?’
when people in construction have been banging on about BIM for the best part of a decade and we still haven’t reached critical mass.
Maybe there is something that those in the advocate camp can learn, or have learned, and can pass on to people seeking to become part of a new wave of BIM adoption? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to learn from our mistakes?
I put together my own thoughts about this question for the housing association asset management audience, and participated in the discussion, but I also agreed to share these thoughts online, so here they are:
How to avoid Construction’s Pitfalls on BIM
1. Use Plain English
It is very common for a new approach to invent a new language. One example of this is a plethora of new acronyms. However if you want people to get involved, we need to use language that they understand – and where possible, including using the terms that they use.
For example, OIRs – Organisation Information Requirements – is a completely new term for housing associations. They have OIRs, but they call them something else.
The UK BIM Alliance is aware that language can be a major barrier to change, and launched the #ConstructingPlainLanguage pledge to help. Make your consultants sign up to it and use it – it is very simple advice. You can read about it here.
2. Don’t believe all the PR
There are many people who will tell you that they are ‘BIM Ready’ or do ‘BIM Level 2’ or ‘Level 3 BIM’. Indeed the National BIM Survey 2018 reported that 74% of interviewees said they are “aware of and use BIM” (Page 16). However anyone who actually works in the construction industry knows that these numbers do not represent reality on the ground. I personally suspect that people have been saying they are BIM ready for years because it makes them look good (or their boss says they have to say it because it makes him/her look good). This is a classic example of PR inflation – and frankly it’s silly.
What people say doesn’t really matter in the long run, it’s what they do.
3. Stress the Benefits in Hard Cash Terms and Prove It
Alongside the question of how we reach critical mass, is how we obtain management buy in at a high level. The seminar’s case studies demonstrated very simple ways in which properly digitising your information can save money – thousands of pounds on just one item, like a lift that isn’t fit for purpose, for example. And digitising and managing our information is really what BIM is about, what it facilitates.
There is evidence of these savings, the problem is people won’t share it. The UK BIM Alliance has a ‘Business Case’ project trying to surmount the problem that people quite naturally are willing to say what was great about a project and not what wasn’t, and certainly not how much money they made out of it. But if you want to prove to your CEO that managing information saves money, you have to do it in pounds, shillings and pence.
4. Don’t Get Tied into Software Walled Gardens
One of the things that happened in the construction industry with the 2016 mandate (which said that all government procured construction project should be BIM Level 2 by April 2016) was that companies stepped forward to provide a variety of services to clients, contractors, consultants and product manufacturers and suppliers, including software.
What we have realised looking back is that some of these software companies have a business model that involves creating a “walled garden” for your data. This may be because they want to keep you signed up to use their software. If you can take your information out of their software and into another platform they will lose your custom, so the temptation is to tie you in. In the early days some companies were even saying they owned the copyright to your data. Some are also collecting activity data and selling it on (either directly or as part of their service back to you) as part of their business model (many digital companies do this – look at Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc).
The problem with this approach to making money out of BIM is that we can end up with the software solutions actually becoming the problem. Especially when an agreed standard does not exist to determine how that data should be managed or what it should be called. We investigate some of these issues in the UK BIM Alliance Product Data Report “A Fresh Way Forward for Product Data: State of the Nation” . Of course this issue isn’t only about product data only though, it’s about all information. George Stevenson made some good points about the role of software in his comments yesterday – it isn’t about software, it’s about information management. But make sure the software doesn’t end up controlling your ability to manage the information, rather than facilitating it.
5. Don’t Underestimate the Influence of Making a Profit on Behaviour
Any change management process is going to require people to try new things, that’s the nature of change. But in getting people to try new things, it is important to understand what they currently do and how they benefit from doing it. This is particularly important when it comes to money.
Enthusiasts often like to forget about the profit side of things – I know this because I’ve written about why architects don’t make money and have been told it isn’t the money that’s important! (I trained as an architect and escaped the long hours, low pay culture, so I’m happy to have that fight).
In an industry where it is common for projects to involve different commercial entities working together, it is essential that such projects consider profit for all parties. Everyone has to have skin in the game and make money at the end of it. If one of your consultants or subcontractors can’t make money out of what you want them to do, the likelihood is that they will find a way not to do it, or to do it differently. This just increases your risk.
So when you’re thinking of managing your information better, make sure you don’t lock someone out if you need them. You’ll pay the price in the end.
6. Collaborate – within and without
We didn’t talk enough about collaborative working yesterday, though it is an essential element of making BIM work. Collaborative working enables the elimination of waste, the sharing of information, greater profits for all. But it requires early involvement and a range of other elements. You can learn more about these in construction in this video I made in 2014 with the B1M.
There are two ways we should think about working collaboratively when it comes to getting BIM adopted in housing associations.
Firstly we need to work collaboratively within the sector. Working with each other, sharing our challenges and needs, and our solutions, will help us develop a shared methodology which everyone can use and adapt. In this context it is important to remember that no one is an expert in BIM. The Winfield Rock Report into the legal challenges of BIM identified that virtually everyone they interviewed thought they didn’t know enough about BIM to comment on it. In other words, everyone thinks everyone else is an expert, not themselves. But you are all experts in your own fields, and your first hand knowledge is important to developing processes that can actually be used on the ground.
Secondly we need to encourage collaboration with other sectors. As I hope you might have realised from reading this article, you can learn most from the mistakes of others, and therefore it is important to reach out beyond your own silos and find people who have made the mistakes you want to avoid. Equally most ideas have already been tried by someone else, so save yourself time and ask.
At yesterday’s seminar a good example was the mention of Activity Databases (ADB) and Room Data Sheets, a mechanism which the health sector has used for many years but which hasn’t been adopted in housing. We shared this idea on twitter and had some relatively quick feedback from architects who work in health that they are useful, but they do need looking after if they are going to be used properly:
ADB in concept is great but nobody uses it now because the support and updates simply didn't keep pace with devleopments so everything ended up being bespoke. The tool to create 'C' sheets is useful but there are much cheaper alternatives.
— Keith Wilkinson (@Studio_Bim) November 22, 2018
The UK BIM Alliance, as an umbrella group for people interested in BIM right across construction, infrastructure and the built environment, is dedicated to helping people learn from each other about BIM and digital transformation. Collaboration across industry is part of our nature. That’s why we are keen to support the project to bring UK housing associations together to develop a suite of documents for housing associations to use. This won’t only help housing associations accelerate their adoption of BIM for asset management, but it will also help other parts of our industry move forward – other clients, other asset managers in different sectors. We’re looking forward to seeing how this initiative develops.
If you’d like to get involved in the work of the UK BIM Alliance you can contact us on email@example.com.
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Header image courtesy of @BIM4Housing