What is Building info modelling technology?

International not-for-profit organisation buildingSMART ME communications director Dave jelling says the secret to slashing project costs, boosting efficiency and increasing sustainability in construction is Building Information Modelling technology, but the region is still lagging behind

buildingSMART ME, Dave Jellings

Up until September 2008, the Middle East property market was expanding at such a phenomenal rate that no-one stopped to consider the commercial need to improve efficiency of the construction process, according to buildingSMART ME communications director Dave Jellings.

If a project was not completed on time, it was easier to increase the cost of the real estate than consider why delays occurred. Why bother? Investors caught up in the market boom were more than happy to foot the bill. “But then the bubble burst and the whole construction industry has had to relook at the way it is doing business,” observes Jellings. And one of the key areas that buildingSMART has identified as in desperate need of improvement is technology.

buildingSMART is an international, not-for-profit organisation focused on ensuring projects are completed on time, with optimum efficiency, high levels of sustainability and within budget. It suggests this can be done through implementing a process called ‘interoperability’ utilising Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology.


BIM effectively creates a construction project in a virtual environment. Not just for visual purposes, the model is an accurate, dimensional representation of a building, which stores all of the relevant design and construction data.

There are a lot of errors that are currently allowed to slip through the design stage right through to construction and even those that are minor can cause major problems in later stages of a development, according to Jellings.

Take, for example, building piles being designed slightly off centre, if the piles have to be repositioned it can amount to enormous costs. Furthermore, even if a problem only costs a few hundred dollars to resolve, it may cause delays and that is when expenses add up. Implementing BIM allows for early identification and removal of problems so that they do not translate right through to construction phases, he says.

There are two ways that the model is used; either basing BIM on traditional design processes, or more effectively, creating a single model right from the concept stage through to construction and building management.

“So you’re using one single source and updating that model, where as currently a new design is produced and sent out to a number of contractors, who all produce their own elements of that design and there are thousands of hard-copy drawings floating around. With BIM, all construction stakeholders can work with the same information at the same time through one model,” explains Jellings.


He says the Middle East is lagging behind in terms of its technology deployment and skill level, which is one of the reasons the region has such a high expatriate contribution to production, because the indigenous skills are not available.

“In more established technology markets; most of Europe and the US in particular, these technologies have been available and implemented for a number of years and the academic institutions are providing training for people using these technologies so the market is more advanced. These markets have the processes in place that improve efficiency, reliability, quality and sustainability in the construction industry,” he adds.

buildingSMART was established internationally in the mid-1990s and launched in the Middle East last November: “The construction industry in the Middle East is using 20 to 30 different technologies for every large project and none of these are designed to communicate with each other. So if you want to transfer data between one contractor and another it’s a very difficult process and instead of sending electronic data, which is usually faultless, you end up sending a hard copy,” observes Jelling. “The technology buildingSMART promotes is collaborative, which basically provides the process and software to enable the current platforms to communicate. So you immediately have the advantage of being able to work from the same information at the same time”.


Jellings says the communication between the different parties involved in the design and construction process is crucial to the efficiency of developments and the cost. This is of paramount importance since the onset of the global economic downturn, which has made investors increasingly wary of the risk of delays and costs involved: “Investors have to find ways of protecting their level of risk, but we’re not trying to squeeze contractors on prices to save 1% of the project cost here and there; we’re looking at a paradigm shift. We need to look at ways of taking off 7% plus and guaranteeing we can reduce costs by improving efficiency and ensuring projects are completed on time.”

Generally speaking, Jelling estimates using BIM from the early stages of a project process would require an investment of around 0.5-1% and result in an estimated saving of more than 5%. It isn’t just investors that are protected with these savings; developers benefit and contractors and consultants incorporating the process perform better, have fewer problems on site and are more likely to deliver projects to cost and on time, according to Jellings.


However, not all developers have warmed to the idea: “As with any new technology, some are open to new methods, others are not. Every time you introduce a new process, you have the leaders, the watchers and the ignorers,” he observes.

But according to Jellings, buildingSMART ME has already partnered with a project in the region worth in excess of US $5 billion and anticipates that eventually its BIM implementation rate in the Middle East will equal that of the US, where he estimates that around half of the industry is abiding to BIM standards outlined by buildingSMART in the National Institute of Building Scientists (NIBS) and National CAD guidelines. This is made possible through an umbrella organisation called the BIM Support Bureau; a collection of members, which are independent organizations accredited by buildingSMART to provide a consistent level of service delivery that utilises BIM.

“We’re not here to promote any specific organisation or particular technology provider; just to give advice to members and signpost which companies can provide the service,” asserts Jellings.

He adds that the organisation also offers single accreditation programmes so individuals can acquire the necessary skills through a certified training course.

The early phases of training are available in the Middle East and buildingSMART ME is currently in the process of customizing the NIBS and National CAD standards for the region.


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