Sunday, 13 May 2012

BIM & Construction Part 1 - Introduction

BIM & Construction


While working as an Architect Technologist and Software Engineer within the Construction Industry for the past 20 years, I have become aware of the many problems that can be improved with Information Technology. I wrote a paper for my final year project for Computer Science degree while at Trinity on how loosely couples distributed database systems might put some manners on the industry which was great in theory but a little ahead of it’s time in trying to tame an industry that has many players, is full of risk and extremely competitive. I decided to look back after 10 years to see if some of my ideas still held any water for BIM as it also is a database system although not loosely tied. ‘Loosely coupled’ which means that one organisations database system or system for managing information can be independently different to another but by placing intermediary systems between which are based on standards, each system could talk to the other and perhaps in the long run would start to merge. I then began to realize that what BIM is offering is not too dissimilar.

So, I have started to dust off my project and update it in a number of posts over the next few weeks, focusing on how BIM can solve problems within the industry. I hope it will be of interest.

Construction Industry

The construction of the homes and buildings in which men and women live and work has been a major industry, ever since early man left their cave dwellings and made huts of sticks, mud and rocks. Methods of building construction have been constantly improving since the first crude structures. Office buildings have been built with a floor area in excess of 90 acres. India’s Taj Mahal required 20,000 workers and took from 1632 until 1653 to complete. Modern skyscrapers can be built within a year or two. Prefabrication and standardisation has contributed enormously to reducing costs and construction periods.

Construction projects range from the very functional to the very aesthetic and sometimes meet a correct balance. Construction projects are generally investments with a measured risk involved. The construction industry, represent about a sixth of industrial activity in modern economies and includes a diverse range of project types including public buildings, homes, bridges, canals, harbours, railways, reservoirs, streets, sewers and subways. Although the industry has improved gradually over the years, it is not yet an exact science. Construction projects are a medium or long term large-scale financial undertaking and continually becoming more complex.

The number of participants and information transactions is quite large, particularly when plotted over the project life cycle. Many participants are independent small to medium-sized companies that are only involved in small roles in a project. The independence of each organisation ensures flexibility, competitiveness and innovation in the marketplace. These have been and are still important for the following reasons:

  • Flexibility - Projects are less likely to fail if one small organisation fails or cannot perform thus reducing risk. Vice versa, if a project fails, an organisation is unlikely to fail if they have other projects on the go.
  • Competitiveness - When many organisations are bidding for the same role in a project, the lowest bidder that meets the specified criteria gets the project.
  • Innovation - Organisations that don’t innovate tend to get left behind or suffer from age old supply and demand constraints whereby the market for a particular product or service becomes saturated as too many other organisations start to compete.

At present, it can be argued that innovation is currently stifled. The construction marketplace is currently very strained due to one of the largest downturns in recent history and many organisations are prioritising competitiveness over innovation. There is no place for an innovative business which cannot compete. Construction is a cyclic process and as has happened before, those who are innovating now will be the first off the mark when the industry picks up.

Given the diversity of the participants, and the magnitude of the data, it is not surprising to find a wide variety of software systems and users with varying degrees of computer expertise on the same project. As in most industries, the practices, procedures and processes used by the worldwide AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) community have evolved over the past two decades from pure paper, to what many refer to today as “computer-automated paper.” This evolution has been gradual, the result of many small, disjointed, incremental steps rather than any one abrupt change. As a result, little attention has been paid to an overall strategy for information integration. 

This is natural, since if anyone had ever attempted to plot a cohesive master plan for the industry, it's magnitude would have surely guaranteed failure. The construction industry is a diverse and complex industry with varied workflow processes and practices that vary from trade to trade, company to company, and project to project. Meeting its specific requirements requires a flexible architecture that is interoperable with solutions that address the complete spectrum of construction industry needs.

Necessary Disclaimer:
While I strive to make the content as accurate as possible, I make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of the information in this post. Following any advice here is done entirely at your own risk, with no liability to this site, or the site owner.


Michael Earley is a Computer Applications Developer and an Architectural Technologist. I currently maintain blogs on both of my professional interests, and

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