The impact of BIM

Editorial Type: Date: 12-2020 Views: 399 Tags: Software, Construction, BIM, Collaboration, ERP , BIM
Construction accounting is now a real time process, with instant access to unlimited data, enabling project managers to make the savings we were promised when BIM was launched

It is now 10 years or so since the Government launched its BIM construction strategy, originally aimed at reducing the burgeoning costs of constructing and occupying public buildings by between 15% to 20%. You have to concede that, whilst BIM has been successfully adopted in all sectors of the commercial and infrastructure markets - and has even been used for private housing projects - it is taking a bit longer for it to be adopted in the post-construction/occupancy end of the market which, reportedly, accounts for around 70% of a building's lifetime costs.

Which means, logically, that the construction stages of a project need to shoulder a greater degree of the responsibility for reducing costs, if they are to achieve their aims. There is no doubt that projects are run on a much more collaborative basis, and that we have a wealth of new digital tools at our disposal producing an over-abundance of information - but have we been carried away by our new capabilities and diverted from BIM's original purpose?

Are such savings achievable with the construction sector, alone, manning the fort? Even with those 10 years of BIM experience behind us, are we still asking the same questions and making similar assumptions, or has technology enabled really revolutionise the industry?

The 1998 Egan report, which also aimed to make significant savings in the 40% -50% public sector slice of the construction market, focused on attitudes, rather than practical measures. It suggested bringing forward announcements of public projects to entice more and keener tenders, thereby providing more certainty over funding. This would then enable departments to negotiate better deals with contractors and supply chains. It also advocated for a greater use of value engineering and lean procurement, and the increased use of standardisation to encourage efficiency and procurement savings.

Technology and collaboration were not entirely disregarded though, and were a significant factor in the Avanti project, the precursor to BIM. Now however they are the key drivers for the initiative. In fact the technology needed to advance the BIM project has not just kept pace with its requirements, but in a number of areas has acted as both stimuli and catalyst towards more advanced processes and collaboration.

It's in these areas that most savings can be found - and mostly with ongoing project costs, rather than the initial budget. Effective utilisation of BIM enables teams to reduce the scale and variety of issues that occur during a typical project and which cause inevitable cost over-runs. Integrating project accounting with BIM processes provides real-time access to costs wherever raised, and their effect on the project's cashflow and its future profitability, or loss.

Integrating accounting doesn’t do the principal justice. It is instead a key object of BIM - the creation of a single BIM model shared by the entire project team, including designers, engineers and contractors, so that issues are identified early. This reduces rework, clashes, waste and delays, and should be supported by a BIM implementation plan that coordinates the processes and manages its supporting information and documentation.

Taking BIM further, project management tools can use 3D and 4D simulations to schedule the most efficient construction sequences, and even to locate cranes or simulate site access for deliveries and waste disposal. 5D simulations add cost elements to each activity and 3D visualisations help engineers and designers explore spatial requirements, allowing project managers to utiliise available space more efficiently and save time.

BIM has also been quick to harness the latest technology, such as reality capture devices and 3D laser scanners, mounted on drones or even hardhats. It can allow contractors to create digital models that can be compared to the projected state of the original model in real time (its Digital Twin), so that errors in construction and model changes are captured on-site and remedied earlier.

Underpinning all of this are new standards and protocols that accompany materials and components, reducing the numbers of errors that filter through the system, and identifying those that can be fixed at an early stage when it is cheapest to do so.

And there is the crux of the matter. Every action has a cost implication and a risk. The ability to identify problems and make decisions in real time enables potentially expensive mistakes to be rectified earlier at least cost. Whilst that is not the responsibility of the accounts department the ramifications are felt there, and the costs apportioned throughout the project - extra labour costs for overtime, replacement equipment, delayed schedules - all affect the bottom line, the profitability of the project.

Construction accounting systems should therefore be flexible enough to react in real-time to changes within a project and signal any significant diversion from an evolving budget. I was tempted to put original budget there, but I am sure you'll agree that, like opinions, budgets should be subject to change as new facts, major changes or issues emerge.

There is another area where closer collaboration afforded by BIM contributes to the savings we aspire to, and that is a recognition by insurance companies and banks, etc. that we are operating much tighter financial outfits, which should lead to reductions in tender risk premiums, lower insurance costs, fewer expensive variations in construction costs and fewer opportunities for litigation and claims.