Bridging the Gap: Reconciling Strategy and Operations in BIM implementation

Posted on February 28, 2019 by Franck Murat and Vincent Carignan

Bridging the Gap: Reconciling Strategy and Operations in BIM implementation

The Quebec construction market’s digital transformation process is in full swing. Since the late 2000s, several digital transition initiatives have emerged, from the creation of the BIM Group in Quebec, to the establishment of the Pomerleau Chair at ÉTS. Initiatives continued in 2018 with the announcement of $ 1.4M in government funding to support innovation in the industry and the creation of the CPQ's construction industrial cluster.

Thanks in part to the publicity of these initiatives, more companies are beginning to invest in their digital transition. For a sector that is not used to investing more than 1% of its revenues in innovation or R&D, greater investments in innovation are very encouraging. However, effectively managing the implementation of a broad digital strategy can be intimidating.

One of the keys to a successful BIM deployment1 is a shared vision between the management and production teams. Identifying opportunities for optimization within an organization can come from either one of these teams, which leads to either a top-down or a bottom-up approach.

The so-called "top-down" approach is characterized by a drive for change from management, typically having a long-term vision focused on creating value within the organization. The second common case is "bottom-up" where the impulse comes typically from an employee who identified an opportunity to increase the efficiency of their work aka a vision focused on the production of deliverables.

Two approaches to BIM change: top-down vs bottom-up
Figure 1.0 Two approaches to change: top-down vs bottom-up.

In each case, the individual’s person’s vision is coloured by their own experiences. A strategic lens will help define a general direction towards one or more high-level objectives, while a technical lens will focus on the actions to be implemented to improve a particular process.

A significant gap exists between these two visions. The change agent lobbying for the deployment within the company will have to juggle this complex reality: succeed in setting up a logical sequence of concrete actions for an optimal deployment while communicating and adequately demonstrating the high-level merits of the strategy employed.

Identifying a mutual understanding of the goals and the way forward for a transition is therefore crucial.

Figure 2 - The lifecycle of an asset in a BIM context.
Figure 2 - The lifecycle of an asset in a BIM context.

Existing schemas, such as the famous wheel introduced by Autodesk, facilitates the understanding of the principles of a BIM-based digital transition, but it is oversimplified for use as a roadmap. It is therefore complex for a neophyte to map out and understand the actual interactions and dependencies between the various building lifecycle stages and related BIM uses.

Moreover, it represents a utopian state where everyone (already) produces deliverables in an adequate format ... with tools from a single software publisher! The information would, theoretically, flow smoothly and continuously through the lifecycle of the asset, forming a virtuous circle to which all stakeholders would want to contribute.

However, the reality is much more complex: digital maturity of the teams is seldom uniform and therefore the deliverables submitted by the partners are not all usable in the way we might need. The circle, a perfect canonical form for expressing the philosophy underlying BIM (collaboration based on the continuity of information) crystallizes the common conundrum of all BIM deployments: where to start?

The missing link between BIM objectives and deliverables.
Figure 3: The missing link between BIM objectives and deliverables.

We use a particular approach at BIM One which focuses mainly on the model uses (called thereafter “BIM uses” for simplicity’s sake). As mentioned by Succar:

“[BIM] Uses are intended to simplify human-to-human interactions, and human-to-computer interactions. [BIM] Uses main purpose and benefits [...] are not to improve software tools, but to facilitate communication between project stakeholders and link Client / Employer's requirements to project outcomes and team competencies.” Bilal Succar

BIM uses, therefore, make it possible to directly link the objectives to deliverables, which simplifies the understanding of a deployment.

BIM uses as a link between BIM objectives and deliverables
Figure 4: BIM uses as a link between BIM objectives and deliverables.

Diving down to the project-level, BIM uses represent the guiding principle for production and the use of information. “BIM uses” are " the interactions between a user and a modelling system to generate [BIM]-based deliverables ". They essentially link the client’s needs and required deliverables, which means you can translate the needs into measurable results directly in a project.

BIM uses as a link between project requirements and deliverables.
Figure 5: BIM uses as a link between project requirements and deliverables.

Each BIM use requires one or more inputs that can be generated by other BIM uses. In their simplest form, inputs are data. It then becomes obvious that one of the primary BIM uses is the creation of this data, with the help of laser scanning and 3D modeling. The availability of this data allows for further uses, such as 3D design coordination or production of models for prefabrication.

Foundational BIM uses in the BIM uses tree
Figure 7: Foundational BIM uses in the BIM uses tree

Fairly quickly, you can map the uses with respect to each other in the form of a logic tree:

Extract from the BIM uses tree.
Figure 8: Extract from the BIM uses tree.

This figure provides a better understanding of BIM uses, ordered as the implementation requires it. It illustrates why a strong modeling approach needs to be put in place before, let’s say, the deployment of model-based coordination. Attempting to set up certain BIM uses in a project that is not supported by sufficient information is much more perilous. For example, a contractor wishing to do estimation using the 2D plans of another professional must devote considerable effort to morph the input from a 2D format into a model. Although it is possible that the effort is worth it depending on the context, the accessibility of already modeled, already dynamic data facilitates the creation of a quality product.

We can also see the natural precedence2 of implementation between BIM uses mirroring an intrinsic characteristic of the industry: the creation of information in waves. Each stakeholder intervenes at a different time, uses different inputs and issues different outputs. This creation of asynchronous information must also be taken into account during implementation.

"Whatever is well conceived is clearly said"
N. Boileau

Thanks to the BIM uses tree, it becomes much easier to support the transition by identifying the critical path. It helps prioritize the actions to be taken to deploy the BIM by ensuring a value-added, realistic and sustainable transition. This simple (but far from simplistic) representation has allowed BIM One to dispel the uncertainty surrounding the deployment of BIM, which is too often presented as an impenetrable black box. Our experience tells us that providing a cross-sectional understanding of the ins and outs of BIM is essential to creating a synergy between customers' strategic and operational visions.

The BIM uses tree is the kind of tool that BIM One develops to proactively help our clients. In our opinion, this is the best way to guide you in your path!

1 We do not distinguish here corporate deployments in organizations of different sizes, but it is obviously easier to identify the uses required by smaller organizations since they usually have fewer divisions or different services..

2 Even if a constant logic diagram seems to emerge, it is still relevant to confront and adapt this figure to the reality of the companies concerned.

Franck Murat
BIM/VDC Technical Director

Vincent Carignan
BIM Specialist