The Shortcomings, Strategies and Approaches to BIM with Sarah Graham

By Karen Duffin on Monday 30 January 2017

In a recent interview with Leah Wimpenny of BIM Journal, IES’ Sarah Graham shared her latest thoughts and insight on the various shortcomings, strategies and approaches to BIM. Read on to see what she had to say…

Sarah Graham (Head of Global VE Sales) works for IES, a world leader in 3D performance analysis software used to design tens of thousands of energy efficient buildings across the globe. The technology IES uses is helping to create sustainable cities and is leading the way with its BIM4Analysis solutions.

Her expertise lies in the areas of BIM and the positive impact it can have on a design process, low energy efficiency, collaborative working, sustainable design, assessment and energy management. She provides her clients with expert knowledge and advice, specialist modelling and simulation on a diverse range of projects including archive buildings, schools, offices, hotels and leisure facilities.

Regarding the present BIM landscape, what do you feel are some of the shortcomings of traditional, closed BIM, and do you feel that a more open, transparent and collaborative approach based on open standards and workflows can resolve some of these concerns?

Many practitioners consider BIM to be a tool, an application, when in fact BIM refers to an environment within which various tools and processes are applied. It has been easier for organizations to invest in technology to ‘do BIM’ than to affect the sort of organizational change that true BIM exploitation requires.

Is there sufficient understanding, appetite and momentum within the industry for the scale of change required to fully exploit BIM? There is a mandate but few construction clients who understand their role in setting out their Information Requirements (EIR) in a BIM brief at the start of the project and are led by the industry and their suppliers into paying more for 3D models that are of very little value downstream, particularly from an FM perspective. What we see is ‘new’ technology shoehorned into existing process and that is the fundamental issue currently causing frustration amongst our customers.

A more open, transparent and collaborative approach based on open standards and workflows can certainly resolve some of these concerns, and it is something we’ve been pushing for some time now with our BIM4Analysis educational campaign. BIM4Analysis is a campaign designed to integrate analysis within the BIM process, this enables practitioners to take advantage of valuable information during design, commissioning and operation. The strategy is concerned with implementing BIM as a mechanism to deliver Value, Cost and Carbon Improvement on all projects.

What benefits can see you a transparent and collaborative workflow, with a common language and translation, bringing to construction projects, both in comparison to those already utilizing BIM and also those which are perhaps not.

The Holy Grail is a single workflow. From an engineering perspective this means engineers inputting information into a 3D model format to inform coordination. When the coordinated layout changes, the update is seamless and bi-directional, there is currently no robust solution on the market to facilitate this. Engineer’s use a mix of formats including spreadsheets and standalone analysis and some integrated analysis (eg MagiCAD).

At IES we consider the VE as a single platform for creation and capture of performance data useable and useful during design, commissioning and operational life of the building. Compliance (Part L, BREEAM, LEED) is a necessity on most projects. Currently this requires a separate workflow to Design. Our solution is to develop a single analysis model from the BIM model at the appropriate stages of the project and to run the calculations from that one ‘analysis’ model, thus ensuring that the designers are using the most up to date information.

When the design changes, the BIM model is again imported with the relevant data and the various calculations are run again with results sent back to the BIM models. When the project is set up for collaboration and the process is understood it becomes easier.

What limitations or challenges might you also see stemming from collaborative workflow, and can you see this means of working being one to stunt creativity and relationship development, or perhaps complement it in the alternative means of working, with clear controls over personal design data?

I think the benefits far outweigh the limitations, elsewhere we see exponential advantages when technology enables connection of different applications. Collaboration between project stakeholders facilitated by technology within a framework where roles, responsibilities and timescales are transparent is where we should already be.

How do you see openBIM altering the landscape with relevance to small and medium enterprises, the alteration or boundaries to entry, and potentially increased competition from smaller software vendors and the impacts of this on those already-established core brands?

Open BIM creating competition is healthy. Smaller firms can be more agile to respond quickly to market demands, accelerating change. Tech will move forward apace as we see in other walks of life. It’s the people and process change that takes time.

At which points of the project lifespan do you see the primary effects, be they negative or positive, of openBIM on any given project? This could include anything from initial concepts and plans all the way through to the asset management and planned renovation of structures in future years.

I think the ability to connect design to operation so that we can continuously improve operation or more intelligently answer questions based on real data from existing buildings is extremely powerful. Operational data to shape business outcomes is also powerful. As we move forward to BIM Level 3 – Digital Built Britain this is the vision: Akin to the concept of ‘wearable technology’ for buildings, cities and organizations, I have the data and I can ask questions which will help to improve performance.

In which areas, be they part of the lifespan or with regard to throughout the supply chain and partners, do you perceive challenges with regard to the implementation of openBIM, and how can you perhaps see these challenges being overcome?

At the moment the resistance is largely down to the fact that processes have not changed, contractual arrangements do not need to fundamentally change for Level 2 but as we move forward to Level 3 the contractual arrangements will have to change because it will force sharing of data. This is where the real transformation needs to happen to the industry. The understanding is that if we can track information right through the design process, construction process and operation, then we are in a better place to make the right decisions to achieve the desired outcomes so it is of benefit to us as individuals and organizations.

What experience have you personally had with openBIM? If this is somewhat limited, could you instead entail experiences with traditional BIM and purvey opinion on how the openBIM approach could have changed, be that positively or negatively, project outcomes or experiences? This could, and perhaps should, include any case studies you have on both notes.

We have been members of BuildingSMART and held a position on the Energy Sub Group for many years, Building SMART are the main proponents of openBIM in the UK and worldwide. As a vendor organization it is essential we stay up to date with what is happening in the market. As mentioned the technology of openBIM is only part of the shift to BIM adoption, people and process needs to change to and this is the most difficult change to effect.

The construction industry is traditionally adversarial, risk averse and the perception is that sharing data, information, which is the central tenet of openBIM is dangerous, opening individuals and organizations up to risk and exposure. This is where we see the current inertia in the uptake, however if we have a situation where the client is educated, understands how to ‘ask for’ what they want and is clear in setting out their requirements then we have a good basis for successful collaboration. On a Level 2 BIM project individuals and organizations can choose what information they want to share, in which format and for what purpose because a framework exists to manage this and there are exchange formats agreed to.

Where there is no framework and no agreement by participants as to what formats should be used, where we are trying to force design tools to talk to one another without adhering to any process, model or level of detail, which is a fairly regular occurrence at the moment, then we see limited benefit on projects. OpenBIM can facilitate collaboration, decision making and mutual success in the correct project environment. The reality is that we are still at the early stages of understanding how this is supposed to work and there are few success stories out there that practitioners can learn from.

How can you see the openBIM approach, methodology and philosophy being adapted in the given years? In which ways might you support this development with any given reasoning and purpose?

We are at the early stages of this phase of evolution of our industry. I think there will be a convergence of the natural progression of technology and greater understanding of the potential benefits. There may also be a bit of a realization that if we don’t move forward and embrace change, whether in the form of openBIM standards/philosophy or more generally, then there is a good chance we will be left behind.

The irony is that we adopt quite an ‘openBIM’ attitude when it comes to our personal data, we use smartphones therefore we are sharing data all the time, but when it comes to sharing data on a project, which arguably belongs to our client, we recoil. I’ve mentioned Digital Built Britain previously, I consider that vision very useful for putting what we are trying to achieve now with openBIM or BIM level 2 into perspective.

There are lots of examples in our everyday lives data is capturing and sharing amplifying the potential benefits. Over the next few years the Internet of things will see the amount of data available increase, everything will be producing data and we as designers will benefit from being able to capture and utilize that information. That is what openBIM is preparing us for.

This article was originally published by BIM Journal on January 11, 2017: http://www.bimjournal.com/digital-construction-news/bim-news/shortcomings-strategies-approaches-bim-sarah-graham