Excuse me, what the hell are more than 60% of the AEC industry doing?!

Seven years. For seven straight years, the vast majority of the world’s Architecture, Engineering & Construction firms have stood flat-footed against the tide of technological change 

In 2012, Salman Achar of Auburn University warned against the risks of not adopting Building Information Modeling, yet KPMG reported in 2019 that most respondents to its Global Construction Report remain “skeptical” about an integrated digital supply chain, while one-fifth aren’t even bothering to do anything at all! 

What on earth is going to get this industry to wake up and start creating standardised and integrated environments that can use next-generation technologies, such as BIM, Virtual Reality, Mobility and Smart Sensors? 

Why do we sit beneath this yellow sun and cast aspersions at an integrated digital supply chain’ when the only thing construction jury found BIM guilty of is saving you a lot more money than they anticipated? 

This is all doable stuff – but focusing on the output, like BIM or VR, when your still reading data of spreadsheets is probably why you’re so disheartened. 

Why can’t we do it? 

In 2011, BIM Expectations and Experiences: A Constructor’s Perspective by Ku K. and Taiebat M outline six major barriers to BIM adoption. They are: 

  1. Learning curve and a lack of skilled personnel 
  2. High cost of implementation 
  3. Reluctance of other stakeholders 
  4. Lack of collaborative work processes and modelling standards 
  5. Interoperability 
  6. Lack of legal / contractual agreements 

We can confidently wipe 1 and 2 off the board, you need looking no further than LinkedIn to see how much that skill market has developed, and I’ll show in the next paragraph implementation costs are always less than the cost of rework and error fixing. 

Advances in BIM technology and integrated project delivery will help conquer numbers 4, 5 and 6 – and guess what it’s been 9 years, and the technology is there. Most vendors today claim to be platform agnostic, while others are developing IoT platforms from the ground up that can consolidate data from multiple unique sources. Several Australian councils, such as AIA Integrated Practice Task Force and working groups formed by the Australian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) and the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF), deal with the specific problem of integrated project delivery. 

Let’s skip 6 as that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, which seems to devolve into a conversation about project maturity. However, you can watch a Collaborative Contracts Podcast if this issue interests you. 

I think the key problem we’re facing is this skepticism from contractors around the integrated digital platform – so let’s address that at its core. Can we collaborate on work processes and standards in a digital environment? 

But first, here are your business case numbers 

The 2018 paper Benefit-Cost Analysis of BIM on a Railway Project by Min Ho Shin et al. showed that implementing BIM carried a labour cost of 0.5% of the total project budget, compared to 0.7% labour cost of fixing design and construction errors. In this example, the South Korean contractor could have saved 30% on the cost of fixing errors with BIM methodologies. 

In fact, the Return on Investment Analysis of Building Information Modeling in Construction Report by Biel et alshowed several BIM projects invested anywhere from $1 million to $120 million in BIM, and gain returns of 140% to 399000% – yes, according to this paper, the return can be ludicrously high. 

To give a specific example from this report to show how insanely high the ROI percentages can be, project C was a regular, pre-BIM project while project D was BIMassisted. 

Project A had a contract value of $41,757,618 but had cost of change orders sitting at $5,097,222 and a 426-day delay on top of the original schedule of 601 days.  

Par for the course, right? 

Well, not compared to the BIM-assisted project B, which had a contract value $44,400,000 with cost of change orders coming in at $513,632 and they delivered the project 60 days early. 

Cost of change on a non-BIM project can sit at around 512%, while on BIM-assisted projects that’s between 1-3%. 

You can use these numbers to show that focusing on BIM at the beginning of a project will always cost less than running the error and rework gauntlet. But the problem does not lie with the numbers being right – most executive know this – the problem is how do you get to BIM-assisted nirvana? 

And the answer is: data and Information standardisation. 

Stuck in the data mud for seven long years 

In 2012, Salman Ahzar et al. Building Information Modeling: Now and Beyond paper said interoperability and information risks posed a major barrier to success, however the risk was diminishing during the five years leading up to the publishing of the paper. 

It’s hard to imagine that interoperability’s risk would grow in the following eight years. KPMG says one-fifth of the world’s organisations use integrated reporting systems todayso it’s probably safe to argue that this barrier to adoption is dramatically decreasing – especially with standardized information management systems, such as the 2009 Australian National Guidelines for Digital Modeling., becoming more normalised. 

The KPMG’s 2019 report also said the middle 60 percent skeptical about the possibility of an integrated digital supply chain. Seven years after the invention of CFIHOS and Salman Achar publishing his paper, more than half of organisations remain skeptical that integration is even possible. 

The problem is, standardisation is a higheffort process that is often plagued with inherent internal biases. Each function in the business has their own data collection, consolidation and reporting methods – each process is unique and each values data in a different way. This can scupper a project-wide initiative from the beginning for several reasons, but the point is – this is likely the reason why most organisations remain skeptical towards “integration”. 

Every companies’ internal processes are unique and finding commonalities across these processes can be like pulling teeth. Unfortunately, a common language for data and a strict process for managing information is the very foundation of a successful BIM deployment. 

The simple solution to this is to find and pay third-parties to start a data and information governance program for you. This external consultant should manage the methodologies outlined in an industry-standard guideline document and coach your design, project and construction teams how to conduct ongoing “model audits” to ensure the quality of your standardised system, while also being able to contextualise your internal methodology into an industry-standard system. 

What you can learn from looking at a library

One of the most successful and famous standardisation systems is the Dewy Decimal System, which allowed information to be categorised and accessed by subject in libraries across the world, was invented in 1876By 1888, the classification system had published its 3rd edition in the US with the allocation of all previous editions completely exhausted. In 1895, the French wanted a translation, and by 1927 – 96% of public US libraries had adopted the system. 

In 50 years, this system went from invention to complete market saturation – and this is in an era where information had to be printed and posted by train, then picked up in a horse before everyone in the logistics chain died of tuberculosis at age 45. 

This system is so good, it’s still used in libraries today despite the huge leaps in how we distribute information. And that’s the thing about standardisation – once it’s implemented, it’s done. It rarely needs tweaking or updates. 

The modern-day Dewey Decimal Systems for the AEC industry started being published between 2008-2010, with several BIM Standardisation Methodologies being launched during this period. I linked to one earlier, but here it is again. 

We’re now 11 years on from this groundbreaking moment, and adoption is moving about as fast as it did 150 years ago or even slower. And this is in an age where I can post a picture of a cat to a person in Lithuania from an electric box in my pocket – for free. 

Start putting in the high effort work now because once it’s done, it’s done. And you can lay claim to be the person that brought in BIM-Assisted projects that returned 399000% returns on your projects. 

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