10 steps to BIM: How AEC firms can prepare for coming mandates

Over the last decade, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has transformed design and construction projects, helping to drive time and cost from the building process. Governments around the world have noticed its advantages, and increasingly are mandating the use of BIM on public projects. For instance, by 2016 public projects in the UK will require fully collaborative 3D BIM. Other countries, including Brazil, China, South Korea, Singapore and the United States, have issued similar BIM mandates of varying scope, and the European Union recently issued a directive to its 28 member states recommending the use of BIM on public projects.

Here in the UAE, Dubai Municipality was the first to mandate the use of BIM for architectural and MEP works for all buildings 40 storeys or higher; facilities/buildings that are 27,871sqm or larger; all hospitals, universities and other similarly specialised buildings; and all buildings delivered by/through an international party. The announcement also states that the decision to mandate BIM is based on the (proven) ability of BIM tools and workflows in improving construction quality, enabling collaboration between project participants across project phases, lowering cost and reducing time.

It’s not just governments looking to BIM, however. As the public sector mandates BIM, private industry has shown more interest in working with BIM-ready teams. Increasingly, lead contractors demand BIM on particular projects, even in countries where government mandates are not yet in the works. For example, Qatar Rail awarded the BIM services contract to Autodesk. Under the terms of the agreement, Autodesk will provide BIM implementation, consultancy and advisory services to Qatar Rail, which is responsible for the design, construction, commissioning, operation and maintenance of the entire rail network and systems within Qatar.

Private industry wants to realise the benefits of BIM on projects, and it’s easy to understand why. BIM helps project teams explore designs before they’re built. The intelligent 3D models and data that drive the BIM process make critical aspects of projects, such as coordination, communication and collaboration, easier. Better visualisation of projects speeds up approvals. The proactive sustainability analysis that BIM enables also reduces environmental impact.

Making the move

All over the world, design and construction firms that have yet to adopt BIM are planning their move. Many of these firms worry that their ability to compete will suffer if they don’t make the transition soon. But some firms are also concerned that adopting BIM will prove difficult and disruptive. This could be holding them back, or leading them to over-plan their moves.

At Autodesk, we’ve talked to many firms about how they successfully adopted BIM. While there’s no one right way, we’ve identified 10 common steps that help to both accelerate the process and reduce the disruption that can accompany change.

10 steps to BIM

Step One: Get to know BIM. Designate one or two people to learn more about how BIM will affect the way your team works. For instance, in the 2D world, many firms leave the details to the later stages of the design process. With BIM, many design details need to be worked out much earlier.

Step Two: Communicate the change to your people. High-level leaders should take a leading role in letting people know the firm is definitely moving to BIM. The message is “we are moving to BIM because it’s critical to our future”, not “we’re trying BIM”. Be sure to communicate the anticipated benefits of BIM for your firm and clients. It will be easier to rally the team around a compelling future vision than by talking too much about mandates.

Step Three: Account for software and hardware needs. BIM isn’t software; it’s a collaborative process that relies on intelligent 3D models. But you’ll need software to create those models. Take the time to explore available software, and consider whether your current hardware has sufficient processing power. Some older, less powerful hardware may need to be passed on to team members outside the design department.

Step Four: Develop a change management plan. This plan should document at a high level how your team anticipates BIM changing established workflows, who needs training and when they’ll get it, and how you’ll support people when they have questions and issues. Support is probably the most important item; organisational change happens faster and more successfully when you help people adopt new ways of working.

Step Five: Start a pilot programme, and train the pilot team. For most firms, it makes sense to run a BIM pilot. If you do dozens of small projects each year, consider completing one pilot and capturing lessons learned before running several more pilot projects. A firm with just a few massive multi-year projects might prefer to capture lessons learned from an initial pilot as it happens, while also initiating all new projects in BIM.

Step Six: Document preferred processes. As your pilot project (or projects) progresses, have the team document BIM processes. Consider your preferred outputs and how your team needs to do BIM to support them. It’s tempting to try to create standards during or before running a pilot, but your ideas about standards will evolve as you use BIM. Starting with standards could slow your team down and complicate the BIM adoption process unnecessarily.

Step Seven: Cultivate BIM champions. You’ll find that some people in your firm are excited about BIM – perhaps they even learned about BIM as part of their education or while working at another firm. Try to put BIM champions on every pilot project, and provide them with the additional training and support they need to help teammates adopt BIM.

Step Eight: Train and transition other teams. It is important to provide training to people who are about to begin a BIM project. A common mistake is to train the whole firm at once, but then transition to BIM project by project over the course of a year or two. People on later projects will have forgotten much of what they learned in training.

Step Nine: Integrate with other models. You’ll see the most benefits from BIM when you share models with other firms that are also working in BIM. Many firms find that integrating models into a single, shared model accelerates the coordination process and opens the door to a new level of collaboration.

Step Ten: Expand and innovate with BIM. As you use BIM, you’ll find that it enables new visualisation, coordination and analysis capabilities. Look for ways to turn these new capabilities into value – and new service offerings – for clients. Communicate the value of BIM to current and potential clients in your marketing, and let them know you’re ready to meet the requirements of looming BIM mandates.

Start Today
Refer to the steps above to get started, but don’t view them as rigid suggestions. Follow the steps in the order that makes the most sense for the types of projects you do. Many steps will overlap, and you may decide to skip or alter some. When facing a mandate, the important things are to get started with an adoption plan that firm leaders support, and to keep focused on your goal, even if you need to modify the plan along the way.

Louay Dahmash is head of Middle East at Autodesk


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