With volume II of our successful BIM eBook, BIM Digest, to be released next quarter, we catch up with what one of our contributors had to say in Vol I (published just prior to the April 2016 UK BIM mandate).
John Eynon (Open Water Consulting, UK BIM Regions CIC & Digital Node) takes a topical overview of the issues surrounding BIM with the mandate looming. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of what he asserts remains highly pertinent today.
The Pace of Digital Evolution
I am perhaps your typical Baby Boomer, born in the late 50’s. All this technology stuff? I’ve seen it happen within my lifetime!
Calculators, fax machines, mobile phones, and personal computers; I’ve seen the first versions come out and rapidly become obsolete. I got up early to watch the first moonwalk on our black and white TV in 1969. Do you remember the ZX Spectrum? Commodore 64? Amstrad PC? Apple Macintosh? Betamax and VHS? O2? Vodafone? Well I remember Mercury 121! (An early mobile provider in the UK, now long extinct).
"Other industries have migrated to digital long before Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC). We are perhaps the last major industry to make this journey."
Feel the speed of change: frightening, exciting!
And then there’s the technology. Computers once filled a football stadium. The first Apple Mac I bought had 4MB RAM and a 40MB hard-drive (that was 25 years ago. Ouch!) Nowadays I carry 64 GB in my pocket on my iPhone. The Apollo 11 command module computer had 64KB. And then of course there’s the whole migration to mobile from static PCs. Increased use of tablets, smartphones and wearable/implanted tech, the latter that in time will surely catch on. We are no longer tied to our desks or offices, or anywhere in particular even. The world is our oyster thanks to 4G and smartphones, and online information 24/7. And my point is?
The pace of this evolution.
It’s getting faster. Transforming our lives as communities, nations, and the whole world, not only just as individuals or industries. Perhaps the most recent example is the advent of MP3s, iTunes and the like have transformed how music is produced, distributed, accessed and sold. Economic models were changed as suddenly musicians were brought much closer to their audience. The middleman could be easily bypassed.
What Does It Mean For Us?
Other industries have migrated to digital long before Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC). We are perhaps the last major industry to make this journey. Moore’s Law dictates the doubling of processing power and the halving of cost about every 18 months or so. The computing power at our fingertips and in our pockets is way beyond the wildest dreams of our forebears.
Our lives have been digital for many years, perhaps we just haven’t really realised it. Take the whole world of Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS), and the handling of our banking, transactions and buying patterns. Travel is another example. Using big data machines, corporations have for years been analysing our digital footprints to profile our spending patterns and lifestyles.
So here’s the thing. I believe that the reasons and drivers for our industry to move to digital – BIM and Common Data Environments – lie more outside than within.
"...'16 billion devices' projected to be connected on the IoT (Internet of Things) by the end of 2014 (which was 20% up on 2013), ‘50 billion’ forecast by around 2020, and ‘one trillion’ somewhere between 2030-2050."
We have seen our whole lives go digital affecting all aspects of what we do and how we live. If you’ve come across the Internet of Things (IoT) or Everything (IoE) then you will know that all around us machines, objects and sensors of all kinds are communicating and sharing data, in most cases to make our lives better. But not always.
Estimates differ but I have seen figures such as ‘16 billion devices’ projected to be connected on the IoT by the end of 2014 (which was 20% up on 2013), ‘50 billion’ forecast by around 2020, and ‘one trillion’ somewhere between 2030-2050. When you bear in mind that over the same period world population is only projected to rise to around nine billion people, that’s a lot of devices and information.
The Smart City movement around the world shows how digital life works on an urban or national scale. Sensors embedded in all sorts of things and objects share data about our surroundings, from the weather, environment, traffic queues, people movements, energy and carbon consumption to the time we’re coming home so that the house will fire up its systems in time for our arrival.
For all of these reasons and more, migration to BIM for our industry and the like is absolutely inevitable. For the AEC industry or the AECO industry as some now call it (Architecture, Engineering Construction Operations), then BIM and CDEs provide the missing link that joins us up to everything else. As the Built Environment moves into the digital age this connects us to all the other digital communities. We can no longer remain an analogue island in a digital sea.
Our industry moving into digital and BIM makes all of the above things possible; joining up buildings, assets and infrastructure, both individually and on an urban, national and even international scale. BIM isn’t about a single building or asset. No more than it’s about just design and construction. It’s about how we live in the built environment and share and use information about absolutely everything.
“As the Built Environment moves into the digital age this connects us to all the other digital communities.”
“As we know information is now ubiquitous, we can have data on anything, anytime.”
In my mind this is the democratisation of our industry. If you have the right skills or the right team with BIM tools in your hands and data at your fingertips you can achieve amazing things. You might be an engineer, or an architect, or a client or a sub contractor... but it won’t matter, and you won’t have to be... the “label” will be unimportant.
As we know information is now ubiquitous, we can have data on anything, anytime. The information we need was always there, it was just not as easily as accessible or searchable as it is now. With COBie, IFC and Uniclass, we can have consistent structured validated data on whatever we need. Again something we’ve never had. Add to this big data analysis engines and we can have aggregated data on whatever we want – performance of components or services units, reliability and performance of suppliers, sub-contractors, consultants, perhaps even individual people – it will all be out there!
To broaden this out even more we can consider the wider consumer and the general public. As we have seen over the last decade the smart phone and tablet have totally changed our attitudes to data on the move, not only in terms of availability of the information we want but also how we access what we need.
Now that mobile tech is out growing static or desktop, then this will only go one way now. More data, more mobile, but user interfaces, apps, and so on will become more intuitive and easily accessible. This means more accessibility for those that are on the fringes of the industry or even outsiders. This will eventually take us to a new era, where our current professionals will need to look to their laurels. There will never be a substitute for human experience and creativity, but the potential of the technologies being developed, and the data that is and will be available, will in time give us platforms and capabilities that we can’t even begin to imagine.
We will see a blurring of roles, moving across the traditional silos and boundaries. As an industry we can get hung up about roles and titles, in the future, this won’t be so important. With BIM data and tools easily accessible this will revolutionise our daily work.
We’re seeing this happening already, some designers moving into 4D and 5D analysis, contractors using their BIM teams to move up stream into design and downstream into manufacture, particularly off site.
The improvement in laser scanning, now means point clouds enable design process, and this ventures into surveying territory. Add to this 3D printing capabilities, augmented reality for visualization, to mention just a few BIM growth points then we can see that the tools now becoming available to design and construction teams provide previously unimaginable capabilities. In addition the ability to achieve much more with less resources and smaller teams. BIM can be a big win for SMEs if they seize the opportunities that BIM presents.
"We must not underestimate the digital impact on our lives, communities and work. This has barely begun. "
The Third Industrial Revolution
Do you hear the clock ticking? Or the distant roar of the digital tidal wave approaching? It’s inevitable, irresistible and in a way, totally consuming. Analogue ways of living and working will be toast, and so will anyone who tries to resist! For some time I have believed and stated that this is a Darwinian moment for our industry. Those that refuse to get on board with this, or are too slow to adapt, will in time go out of business or just be left behind. Businesses and careers are at stake here.
The First and Second Industrial Revolutions were about the moves towards manufacturing, mass production, and the use of steam for powering factories, and travel. The Third Industrial Revolution – that we’re living in the middle of, right now – is about the information economy. How digital industries and information are changing our lives. It runs from the individual to the global and informs everything in between. We are all trading, consuming and using information and data all the time.
“We will see a blurring of roles, moving across the traditional silos and boundaries.“
‘For Generation Z... it’s as Natural as Breathing’
Of course as much as we talk about technology, it’s actually all about people. As a Baby Boomer I’m relatively digitally literate but I have my limits and I encounter them everyday! Looking to the younger folk around me, I can see those that have known this stuff all of their lives, because it has always been there for them. And now we have the Gen Z’s and beyond growing up in this digitally savvy information soup that we call life. They are the Makers and Coders. They will change our ways of living and working, and our industry as a consequence in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine. The whole digital information age thing is just part of their DNA. It’s as natural as breathing. Sharing information, trading information, collaborating online, networking, blurring the boundaries between private and public, work and social. It is literally all up for grabs.
Inevitably as a Baby Boomer, or even an ageing Gen Y, you might feel past it or be feeling the heat. Don’t give up. Keep up! Run faster! Get ahead!
Like I said I am getting old. But I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve experienced a more exciting time in my career. There is so much going on, our industry is under all sorts of pressures and influences to change in all sorts of ways; carbon, energy, technology, climate change, diversity, equality, skills, training, education, institutions and much more. BIM is an important ingredient in catalysing change. It’s just like a gripping thriller you can’t put down, you want to see how the story unfolds... at least I do anyway! There is so very much more to come, we have barely scratched the surface.
2016 and beyond
We must not underestimate the digital impact on our lives, communities and work. This has barely begun. As for BIM in the UK, the 2016 deadline approaches and whilst in theory the target might have been met for some of the leading government departments, outside of Whitehall the picture is very different.
Dropping down a level to Local Authorities, we have a mixed picture. Some forging ahead, building BIM requirements into their tenders and procurement, others have not even started the journey.
The private sector is even more patchy. Several major contractors now have in place BIM processes and teams. Although how much of this is media and PR, as opposed to real implementation, process change and resulting in real benefits remains to be seen. However, there are beacons of excellence out there, and many have at least started the journey.
Supply chain and upskilling SMEs remains high on the agenda, and this is where the action will be for several years to come, in achieving consistency of Level 2 adoption across the industry. If we are simply implementing the 3D aspects of BIM, plus some data transfer in a federated CDE as standard, then in itself this will represent a huge step forward, and the benefits will be obvious in terms of better assets, less waste, higher quality and profitably.
By the time this Paper is published:
2016 will be here or literally around the corner The guidance for UK BIM Level 3 will be published in draft, and we will begin to see how we take this forward and what integrated environments are going to look like. Arrangements for legacy post 2016, beyond the current Taskgroup lifetime will be settled providing certainty for the Regional BIM Hubs, the BIM4 Communities and other supporters, who are all critical to achieving Level 2 general adoption.
John Eynon is an enabler, writer and speaker, having qualified as an Architect in 1981, and has worked in the public and private sectors in architectural practice, main contracting and consulting. For the last 18 years John has been involved in design management and pre–construction process for major contractors, with responsibility for design management teams and also providing functional support and design leadership at all stages of the design and construction process. He now provides work winning, strategy and process, BIM, design management and training services through his company Open Water Consulting Ltd.