Arsen Safaryan, head of BIM and digital construction, ALEC, outlines how BIM provides a competitive advantage within the region
ALEC started using BIM tools and processes back in 2009 on the Yas Waterpark project, as an effort to coordinate multiple services and disciplines of the theme park. This was an externally sourced service provided by our consulting partners, and at this point ALEC as a construction business started to realise that technology-driven changes were approaching.
Hence the next effort in 2013 on one of the infrastructure projects in Dubai Airport, where BIM was implemented with the help of a consultant by training and upskilling a team of BIM champions from the in-house design department. Since then, many projects have been executed using BIM for engineering deliverables, introducing a number of efficiencies in drawing production.
With BIM being a collaborative set of processes, supply chain, subcontractor and even client collaboration was the next obvious step in the maturity of implementation. This came about with the award of the first ALEC Client BIM Mandated project, yet again with one of the airport projects in Dubai. This is when and where ALEC’s BIM capability, lessons learned and the appetite to exhale all catalysed exponentially.
Since early 2015, collaborative BIM execution is business as usual for all our projects, including utilisation of industry-renowned tools and processes in a collaborative manner between us, our sub-contractors and our consultants and client teams.
Today BIM is playing a pivotal role in the digital transformation of the business as it allows us to receive, validate, process and disseminate construction information in a centralised and controlled manner by enabling us to monitor and track changes, issues, and deficiencies of information, as well as coordinate engineering deliverables in advance of the construction execution.
Moreover, in the last two years, due to the Organisational BIM Framework and other strategic initiatives adopted, we were able to expand the use cases of building information modelling in about nine different areas of the business, to modernise and digitise legacy processes.
What will be the evolution of BIM?
The evolution of BIM is already happening, and it’s not BIM! BIM, or building information modelling, is becoming the foundational backbone of all the other data-driven tech that infiltrates and finds its way into the construction industry. Virtual and augmented reality are examples of future tech that are already being exploited and implemented in construction, and BIM acts as a solid foundation for this.
Today at ALEC we have a one-click virtual reality capability thanks to BIM, and adjacent gaming technology, out-of-the box, where we are concentrating our energy, taking it to the next level and being ahead of the curve by engaging gaming industry and engineers to help us make BIM more interactive and accessible through virtual reality and gamification.
The same is true for automation and artificial intelligence, where data and data visualisation are of paramount importance. BIM is object-oriented and data-driven in nature. This allows smooth integration between different data sets for further use, such as predictive analytics, machine learning and automation of mundane, labour-intensive and repetitive tasks. In turn, it also creates a dynamic aggregate of data that drives the construction information deliverables (design, cost, scope, time, quantities, setting-out, etc). Plug this into a contemporary ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, and your decision-making is, apparently, also driven by data sourced from BIM.
What are the challenges around using BIM?
Before we can discuss challenges, it is worth looking at the key enablers of a technology implementation such as BIM. The three key enablers of BIM and BIM-centric processes are, in reverse order:
The toolsets and tools were historically driven by software companies creating the BIM software and tools that we use today. But if we look at the way this has evolved? Processes and mindsets are driving the evolution of toolsets by providing constant feedback. So effectively software transforms itself into the vision of people and processes using it.
Skillsets, on the other hand, enable people to transform themselves into a more efficient and demanded workforce that keeps evolving with the same pace or even faster than the industry and the toolsets. It is the human side of BIM, and it needs to stay human. In other words, people need to constantly upskill themselves in order to stay in control of technology.
Finally, all the above is driven by mindsets. For me, the mindset is the key enabler of any change, and especially technological change – the vision and understanding of the senior leadership. It is top-down, and it fuels and promotes the change.
What are the major trends around BIM in this region?
Our region is booming in terms of BIM adoption and implementation. This is driven by a few key factors, such as the complex mega projects, where demand comes naturally amid the competitive nature of the market. One interesting factor was the Dubai Municipality circulars about mandatory BIM use of certain projects meeting or exceeding certain criteria. This created a massive awareness about BIM in the construction market in the UAE.
One of the major trends today is cloud-based information management and BIM collaboration in the cloud. In other words, almost real-time collaboration around BIM and information management in general. This and other elemental BIM processes must be implemented first, in order to allow other more futuristic trends in technology to be implemented easily. Blockchain-enabled, decentralised distribution and management of BIM-born data will be coming next, and it is sooner than we think. We need to be ready for this.