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Revealing the True Power of BIM

 

Originally aired on 5/25/2021

54 Min

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Chris Johnson:

Welcome, everyone, to our discussion today, where we will be revealing the true power of BIM. We are joined today by our special guest, Doctor Steven Ayer, from the Del E Webb School of Construction at Arizona State University. We’ll get into introductions here shortly, but wanted to remind you of a few items before we begin.

Chris Johnson:

Ask us questions or leave comments at any time, and we’ll be sure to address them during the webinar. Also, don’t forget to rate the webinar and give us feedback. You can rate the webinar at any time using the heart scale rating above the broadcast screen. I’d now like to introduce our guests. We have Doctor Steven Ayer and Dale Dutton. Steven, would you like to introduce yourself and give us a little bit of a background about your BIM history and some of the work that you do at the Arizona State University?

Steven Ayer:

Sure. I’m really exciting to be here. Steven Ayer at Arizona State University. I like to introduce myself by saying I’m a technology geek, but my work starts with a very simple philosophy that technology is here to support us, the human. What that means from a research perspective is, all of the new technologies I study, augmented reality, virtual reality, sometimes some simulation games, these technologies interest me in the ways that they impact the human, which means the metrics I collect relate to human performance.

Steven Ayer:

The analysis approaches I implement relate to human performance. How fast can we complete construction tasks? What kind of decisions are we able to make perhaps better with technologies? What types of learning benefits can we demonstrate with technologies? We’re focused on the human more than how I advance the technology. This may influence some of the discussion today. I suspect I’ll bring a lens through the discussion of often focusing on what’s the problem that we’re solving, or how are we supporting the human user in the different BIM workflows that we discuss? Because, again, that’s really the focus of a lot of my work, so technology, but a focus on the human.

Chris Johnson:

Awesome. Very happy to have you here with us today. Dale, would you like to introduce yourself and a little bit of your background as well?

Dale Dutton:

Absolutely. Thanks Chris. My background, I spent 30 years in a construction engineering firm, and in that timeframe I not only designed, I managed design, I also managed technology. Halfway through my career I realized that my engineers were taking design and regurgitating that information into Excel and utilizing that in Excel. It really led me to go get a more intelligent design system, so we can all share in that one unique area of data, opposed to regurgitating it in different areas. That really grew my passion for the data behind everything that’s connected to those models, and to those drawings.

Dale Dutton:

The last three to four years there, I was really trying to figure out how do I get these intelligent models out into the field, into the hand of the contractor, and then on over to the owner? That really drove my passion to join InEight. I’ve been with InEight for about six years on the technology side. I’ve been able to reach out to a plethora of companies out there that are looking for a better system.

Dale Dutton:

My passion is really intelligent models, getting those transformed into construction models, and then handing those over to the owner to be able to utilize those the way they need to manage their assets, and facility management, if you will.

Chris Johnson:

Awesome. Thank you. Really appreciate you being here as well today, Dale. I guess I’ll introduce myself as well. My name is Chris Johnson. I’m a digital engineering specialist, in other words a BIM specialist, I guess, as well. I have got 10 years experience in the design and construction sector, working with that data as well. Like you have both mentioned, my main focus has not necessarily been on technology or software, but it’s the process behind that and getting people to leverage the data, the 3D content, and then help them in the physical world as well. I think we’re all on a good page here.

Chris Johnson:

I guess we’re just going to kick off today. We’re going to have some general themes that we’ll be talking about. I guess the best way to kick this off is talking about what is BIM, and how would you define it. I might throw this over to you first, Dale. When somebody says what is BIM, and I know we’re talking about a spectrum here, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to get down into the weeds here, but how do you define BIM? What is BIM to you?

Dale Dutton:

Thanks Chris. BIM, first we have to realize that it’s a process of sharing data. That data generally starts in the design. It can be represented in the form of a 3D model, and then associated with metadata. Then during construction, you add additional metadata that is needed to execute the work, transforming that design model, as I mentioned before with my passion, into a construction model.

Dale Dutton:

Now, some people reference that part as VDC, a virtual design and construction. I’ll probably flip flop on that BIM/VDC through our conversation here. Then with that construction model and all of those digital threads, if you will, that is information that can be turned over to the owner, allowing the model to represent that digital twin, and to participate in the asset management or facilities management.

Chris Johnson:

Steven, what’s your definition of BIM, and how does BIM fit into your professional workflow?

Steven Ayer:

I think I would agree with a lot of what Dale had mentioned in his definition of it. The way I typically will describe it to my students is describing BIM as CAD meets database. It’s now the geometry or the model content that we’ve historically had some version of, whether it be 3D or 2D, but now we’re taking that content and embedding information within it, so a door or a concrete slab or whatever the element is, knows what it is. I can actually embed additional database information into those elements, so I can model physical and functional attributes into that digital asset.

Chris Johnson:

Some really good points there made by both of you. We really see how BIM evolves throughout the project through that design, the construction, and then that operation phase where you’re seeing the model evolve, but also the database behind it as well. A common theme and one that I like to particularly focus on at the start of a project is how do we set up projects for success, and how important is that connected data environment to make sure that we have an environment to share that information and progress it to the next step, so information isn’t lost. What are your thoughts on that, Dale?

Dale Dutton:

I think it’s really important for that data to be connected. Just as an example of how that can be connected through a project is you can start with a 3D model. That model has quantities, and it can be pushed into an estimate. Then you may get awarded that project. Well, that project is going to utilize that estimate, and then possibly even create a design model, if you will. Then you can compare those two models together to see what the differences are, still with that data connected there.

Dale Dutton:

Those quantities actually turn into dollars, and then into a control budget, if you will. Then if you think about that control budget, so some of that control budget came from the BIM/VDC which has materials and quantities within there. That will turn into some work which is chunks of work, if you will, broken down in packages of work. Then that can be progressed through the construction phases. Again, all of that data connected as it flows through there, and then over into the QA/QC and the turnover to be able to visualize that in the model as well.

Dale Dutton:

Then at the end, you’re handing over this data-rich model so they can actually utilize that in the life cycle. All that data’s connected from the start to the end, and so the owner could utilize a very rich model of information to manage what they need to.

Chris Johnson:

Really good points. One of the particular things, and we’ve mentioned it there, like how it develops and when it develops is a crucial part of BIM, I think. I think sometimes we get lost in the technology side of things, and we forget to stop and ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this? Does it have a purpose?” I guess, Steven, when you have students, do you instill that in them, and create that understanding of you don’t do something just because you can do it, you do it for a reason?

Steven Ayer:

I think that’s really important. That does two things. Part of it is just intuitively we all have some understanding that technology should be supporting us. Starting with that is just good planning. The other thing it does, I suspect for some folks listening right now, they’re debating, “Do I want to invest in BIM? Is it worth my time? Should I buy these technologies? Should I do this?” Some of the discussions they’ll be having, whether it be externally or internally, is, “Is it worth it? Am I going to see return on investment?”

Steven Ayer:

The answer to that question is so highly dependent on what problem are you solving. If you have no idea how or why you’re doing this, don’t expect to get a return on investment, because you’ll have no idea if you were successful. If you know the problem you’re solving, you understand where inefficiencies are, rework reoccurs, maybe slow schedules happen, congestion happens, what are the problems that you have observed where you know that you are currently experiencing issues? Then you’ve got a chance of proving empirically beyond just a feel-good situation, “We actually save money on this. We found some value.”

Steven Ayer:

Starting with that problem is not just about good management, but it actually helps you make smarter decisions from your initial successes and failures. What worked? What didn’t? Let’s invest in the things that worked, and then make evidence-based decisions.

Chris Johnson:

I agree. Particularly clients that I’ve worked with over a long span of time, they find those value adds that are important to them. I guess, a natural progression I’ve seen in the Australian Pacific region is those clients after a number of years of understanding and projects, they start to create their own documentation and framework of their BIM requirements, and what they want to see on projects.

Chris Johnson:

That could be as simple as they want their project to have particular cost savings throughout the construction phase. They want their project delivered fast, or they have a vision that they want to use this spatial foundation that’s handed over at the end of the day to help them operate, as well. David. David. Dale, sorry, have you had some of those similar experiences with clients particularly in this area, or do you see this as a progression at the moment around North America, where we’re starting to have more savvy clients finding out what they particularly want on projects?

Dale Dutton:

I would say both. I certainly agree with Steven’s comments. Some of that is that they see, they hear about this BIM stuff, but how do I get into it? Do I want to get into it? To Steven’s point, you have to understand what is your current workflow, and how do you pass information not only from discipline to discipline, but department to department. How are you sharing datas between those departments? Are you getting 3D models? What information do you wish we had with a 3D model?

Dale Dutton:

Understanding where you’re at today can really paint a clear picture of where you want to be, to be able to make those decisions.

Steven Ayer:

I know sometimes I’ll talk to people, I’m in the academic realm, so I get to experiment with some out-of-the-box ideas. Sometimes I’ll talk to people that’ll come up to me at a conference, back when we used to be in-person, and say, “This is never going to work.” I’ve found myself saying, “You’re probably right. Within your organization, if you already know your workflow doesn’t support this, the people won’t use it. They don’t trust this. They don’t this.” Then that’s a bad technology to use. The point is not to force everything just because we can.

Steven Ayer:

I think that’s so important, Dale, what you’re saying. I often think though this is sometimes maybe challenging or overlooked by companies. They’ll know that they should be looking at their current workflows, but we sometimes have this tendency to be like, “I just need the fix. What’s the magic technology? Just buy this.” When the technology doesn’t fix it, you say, “Well, it was never really the technology issue. It was an underlying process that you had there.” That sometimes is harder to look at.

Steven Ayer:

Again, if you start with that problem, define where the inefficiencies are, rework, data entry, like you talked about, Dale, where I’m going to regurgitate and rewrite the same data. Those are your opportunities right there. Target those, then you find your ROI.

Chris Johnson:

It’s a lot easier said than done, a lot of these times. What I find sometimes, as well, with clients is they’re like, “I heard about this BIM. I’ve heard about digital twins. It’s a lot of investment.” What I find some of the times is they’re 50% of the way there. They are working with these digital workflows. They are managing 3D models and data that’s linked behind them.

Chris Johnson:

I think that often brings up a misconception that you need these BIM specialists, BIM managers particularly to sit on your project and manage these. I think a lot of the day, it comes down to that workflow, that documentation, having a process written about that. How important, Dale, is that on a project to have not only an overall outstanding framework of what you want to achieve with BIM, but on detailed on a project, like having those workflows and processes written out so it’s an understanding, and it’s a baseline for everybody on the project to work to?

Dale Dutton:

Well, just to your point of your question, it does give you a baseline of information that you need. That documentation will highlight what kind of metadata, what kind of workflow, who’s going to be touching what as it goes through that process? The whole project, and when I say the project team I’m talking the A&E firms, the contractor, and the owner, they all have to be on that same page to understand what data and what model, what documents, whatever that is, is going to get passed through the whole process of design, construction, and then for the owner to utilize it the way they want.

Chris Johnson:

Accountability and visibility, as well, I think a lot of the time it doesn’t just have to be the owner. The owner has a vision, and we should deliver to that owner’s vision. If I want to benefit internally and let’s just say I’m an architect, and I want to benefit from BIM, that might look like some automation or some computational design inside my workflow practices to get that benefit.

Chris Johnson:

There’s nothing stopping that particular firm, whether they be an architect or an engineering consultant, to achieve that. Steven, what are your thoughts on the whole idea around project documentation, or a client framework, or a framework inside an organization like an architect or an engineering consultant?

Steven Ayer:

I think there are points all around, but at least what I’ve seen, I like the way you framed it, Chris, in that I think if companies are able to produce value of BIM internally, that can be value right there, even if another consultant on the project is not on board, even if someone else is not on board. Admittedly, if you do that, you’re still going to have some of the challenges, that Dale talked about earlier, of rewriting data. Because once we go communicate, if they’re not on the same page, you will have some inefficiencies.

Steven Ayer:

If a company’s out there and they’re trying to dip their toes into the BIM waters, I know of companies that do this. For example, we’ve got a couple of subcontractors in the southwest region that will do BIM even on non-BIM projects, because it enables their prefabrication efforts. Now, someone would say, “How do you coordinate it if others aren’t going to work with them?” Well, they’ll work within the areas that they don’t have to worry as much about other contractors.

Steven Ayer:

If an electrical contractor, for example, they may do electrical rooms where they’re going to get priority, and they don’t have to worry about what if the mechanical ducts collide with my systems? They’re not worried about it in those spaces. They’ll BIM out and prefab those areas even if the rest of the crews don’t. Long term, hopefully we will get to a point where everyone will do BIM, and we can have that one source of truth, the digital twin.

Steven Ayer:

In the near term, I think I’m a believer of start small, fail quickly, and learn from your mistakes. If there is potential value, and listeners are seeing workflows in their organizations that they can do, I think that’s a helpful thing to start there. The other thing I would comment on, Chris, you mentioned in your lead up question, talking about a BIM guru, or do you need a BIM geek for this? I don’t think you do. I think you need someone that can help to manage the BIM.

Steven Ayer:

There are some practical needs if you’ve got a digital asset that will need to be used. I think the idea of having someone say, “I won’t do BIM because I don’t have a BIM specialist,” in 10 or 20 years will be as crazy as saying, “I won’t do Excel because I don’t have an Excel specialist, or an email specialist.” It will become just the way it’s delivered. Even more on the nose, saying something like, “Well, we won’t use drawings, because I don’t have a drawing specialist.” We all use the drawings. It’s just a source of information.

Steven Ayer:

BIM is a different package, but it’s still communicating the same vision. I think it’s important that people understand the process. The points and clicks on where to go in BIM, that’s the easy part to learn. If someone’s committed, that part they can pick up faster than the underlying processes that BIM supports.

Chris Johnson:

Really good point.

Dale Dutton:

Chris, if I can just jump on that BIM guru. I totally agree with Steven. I look at this that sometimes when I talk with customers they’re like, “Well, who should do what? Do I need to hire a BIM guru?” My response is everybody is already doing their project and their job today. You’re just introducing a model to help visualize some of that information, and not, again, regurgitating some of that information.

Dale Dutton:

I think of a document management person that’s out on site. They receive drawings from vendors, and documents. Why not extend their responsibility of connecting those documents to the model, so then everybody else utilizing that model downstream has that added benefit, easily finding documents that they need quickly connected to that model. Then the estimator, they’re already taking data dumps, if you will, today, and utilizing that in Excel before they push it up into estimate. Why not just give them the model where that data is coming from and let them push it directly into their estimate?

Dale Dutton:

Then I can go to field engineer. I can just continue to go on. Everybody’s already doing this work already, just allow them to have that access to that one project model, if you will, that everybody’s sharing. Then that just becomes a very rich model for the project as they execute work.

Chris Johnson:

I agree. We’ve hit on some really good points here. I know we haven’t made it sound easy, or at some points we’ve said, “Oh, it’s easy. You can do this.” What have in both your, and I’ll point this to Steven first, what’s been some of the reasons that BIM’s been hampered in adoption on particular clients or projects in your experience?

Steven Ayer:

I think part of the challenge stems from a comment that we discussed earlier, of starting with defining inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. I will sometimes hear someone say, “We tried BIM. It didn’t work.” That’s interesting. Well, how’d you do it? What happened? What I hear from them is, “I applied a technology that could never have solved this problem. I tried it. It didn’t solve the problem, so the technology’s flawed.” That’s the same issue that I said earlier. We’re starting with the solution and searching for a problem.

Steven Ayer:

If we start by understanding the inefficiencies we have, I think it is harder to deny the value that we can provide. The question’s about what’s hampering success here. I think using BIM in a way that is not conducive to providing the solutions we need. I’ll add one further thought maybe for the listeners, and I tell my students this and it’s a weird way of thinking about BIM.

Steven Ayer:

When you think about what we do in our domain, we’re building buildings or infrastructure, unlike a lot of other domains the thing we build, a building, has never been built before. It’s never been worked on by the team of individuals, generally. It’s usually a new team from projects to projects. We expect the output of our efforts to work properly the first time we build. I don’t build three hospitals so I make money on the fourth. I want to make money on the first one.

Steven Ayer:

What I’m getting at here is that’s a really challenging workflow, especially compared to manufacturing. BIM all of a sudden provides a virtual version of that thing we’ve never done before to communicate with the people we’ve never worked with before, to actually allow us to fail in BIM, so we succeed in the real building. What I mean by this is, I tell my students we don’t do BIM to succeed, we do it to fail. We just do it to fail really early and really cheaply.

Steven Ayer:

Case in point, we’re going to hit clashes in the field, or we could hit them in the model. Either way, we’re going to have problems with mechanical systems here, plumbing systems going through it. We’re going to have to fix that problem. It’s way cheaper, way faster to do it in BIM. Schedule congestion, because I realized I’ve crashed my schedule and no one can get anything done because they’re on top of each other. I could realize that in the field, or realize that early on in scheduling by visually seeing, “Oh, there’s a lot of trades on top of one another.”

Steven Ayer:

Those failures that I’m talking about, I think that’s a good way to enable success and avoid, Chris, your point of why does BIM fail, or why do efforts get hampered? Because, again, you’ve used BIM in a way where it identifies those opportunities to fail quickly and cheaply in BIM, so you succeed in the field where it’s really expensive. I think a couple of successes in the field is probably what’s going to help to avoid those situations where people fail to use it. Because once it becomes an asset, it would be like telling someone now, “Can you do a project without Excel or without email?” They’d say, “Absolutely not.” I think that’s where we need to get with BIM.

Steven Ayer:

Some companies are getting there, but I think that the use of the technology where it couldn’t possibly address the problem, those bad experiences, I think that’s hampering a lot of the use.

Chris Johnson:

We love to blame technology, don’t we? Particularly in those circumstances where there is a fail sometimes. You mentioned something before, and, Dale, I’m going to refer this question back to you, as well. You really hit on some good points then, and you mentioned it before about pin point success on project and running with that. One thing I always tell my clients is, it’s a bit of a cliché, but you’re going on a journey with this. It’s not something that will resolve, like, “On this project, we’re going to find our successes and then multiply that next time. Find new successes, bring those into the fold.”

Chris Johnson:

That idea of finding pin point success or pin point BIM, particularly in my personal journey and bringing a lot of general contractors on that BIM journey, is those small areas where you don’t have BIM models, but we’ve created them around complex points where we know there’s going to be issues, and focusing our energy on creating BIMs, whether it’s either simulating that design coming in, simulating the construction process to find some of those clashes, find where there’s going to be issues. Then that’s the start of that BIM journey to realize, “This actually proved real successful on this project. This is what we want to multiply next time.”

Chris Johnson:

Over to you, I guess, Dale, and some of your experiences. How have you seen BIM hampered? What’s stopping the success of BIM on projects?

Dale Dutton:

I really like your guys’ comments and the way you looked at that. I’ll take a little bit different spin as to that, “I’m not really into BIM yet, but I’m thinking about it,” kind of thing. Change is hard, for people just to change their processes of what they’re doing. They already have current processes that are proven. They’re effective. They just don’t understand what that ROI, as Steven mentioned earlier, that might be.

Dale Dutton:

Time and resources could be a challenge. Implementing new systems or processes is not generally received very well. They don’t receive intelligent models, or there’s no requirements that is required to deliver a model with the right detail, if you will. Some companies feel that they need to hire a BIM or model expert to execute that and to get into there. I guess my point is there may be obstacles that you need to address and bridge that gap, but those are the things that I hear of people maybe not getting into BIM yet.

Chris Johnson:

Some really good points here. I guess we might regurgitate some of this, but I want to frame this in a different way. If I was a client or an owner and I wanted to get into BIM, what are my first processes? Where do I start, and then where do I evolve in this starting point? Dale, you can probably continue here.

Dale Dutton:

We’ve touched a little bit on this already. Understand what your current workflows are. You’re already today passing information throughout your organization, and from company to company, from design to construction to owner. You’re doing that today, whether you have a model or not. Then if you really think about the BIM aspect of it, having that 3D model, having that access, how are you using that today or are you not?

Dale Dutton:

I really like Steven’s point earlier that there’s a subcontractor that uses it, whether the project requires it or not, and they’re not passing it. Because they’ve already seen the benefits to themselves of, “Hey, I’m going to go create this 3D model that didn’t come from the designer, because I know it’s going to help me in my execution process.” There’s an ROI that they realize that, “I’ll spend a little bit more time developing this model, because it’s going to help everything else down the system.”

Chris Johnson:

Good points. Steven, on that, do you have anything to add as well? I know that we’re talking a lot about that process-driven. It is a lot of what BIM is. It really is process-driven. Do you have anything to add around that for a company starting their BIM journey? Is it that look at that process workflow first? Is that their first step?

Steven Ayer:

I think so. I think that’s an important first step. The other thing that I think, even though I’m an academic, if I were thinking more like someone in industry, I would be thinking about is how long will it take to see an ROI. Sometimes, and I’m going to critique myself and people like me in academia and sometimes industry, we will sometimes critique BIM where we talk about it’s making a pretty picture, which is to say it’s a nice model but we don’t use it for anything.

Steven Ayer:

We’ll sometimes critique that, because we’ll say, “Well, they’re only using this to make some kind of cool presentation, and that’s it.” If, however, for your company you’re finding that you’re losing work, you’re a GC and you’re not getting proposals to go with your company because you’re losing work because the competition is illustrating, “Here’s our site plan. Here’s our schedule. Here’s our approach for this project,” that intuitively communicates to an owner in a model “here’s what we’re going to do,” and you’re showing a hand drawn PowerPoint thing and you lose it, there actually can be some value to the pretty picture that we sometimes critique.

Steven Ayer:

I’m not actually advocating that this is a long-term way of getting into BIM. The question’s about how does one start or what might we think about initially. I think processes has to be the first thing you look at, or you just won’t know if you’ve found value. I would also look at speed of a return on that investment.

Steven Ayer:

If for something like the example I just mentioned, you’re not getting work where you think you are just as qualified as the company that is getting work, maybe that’s where you say, “Look, this is a pretty quick turnaround. I put in a couple of weeks of effort to model out my site plan, or my 4D schedule, or illustrate a 5D schedule of when the owner will be expected to pay money on this project according to the evidence I’m showing,” and that leads to you winning a job that you wouldn’t have won, that can also be, I think, a compelling way to get a foot in the door to the BIM process is, win that job that you wouldn’t have won otherwise. That’s a pretty good sales point.

Chris Johnson:

I think that is a really good sales point. That idea of that data visibility is [inaudible 00:30:30]. It’s a big topic. What are the key factors driving a change in attitude and behavior, really, towards that full data visibility on a project? Dale, what are your thoughts?

Dale Dutton:

I think understanding that change is a challenge. I think that’s the very first thing. Making sure everyone understands the return on investment that we’ve mentioned a couple of times. Communicating that process and workflows may change. Some processes actually may take additional steps, but the benefit downstream is exponentially better for everything else that happens. Change should improve quality, efficiency and dollars. You have to be able to measure it some way for that change to be effective.

Chris Johnson:

What are some of the ways that you measure that, I guess, on a project? How would you see that being measured? Dale.

Dale Dutton:

Say that again. What was your question?

Chris Johnson:

What are some of the ways that you measure that, and you see that as a point of success on a project?

Dale Dutton:

What I’ve seen before in change, and I’m going to go to a company I know pretty well, that they were challenged to reduce their estimating time by 50%. They started actually drawing 3D models and taking quantities from that model to create their estimate. By the time they went through that change, they actually killed that 50%. It was like 30%, or 70% better, if you will, on timeframes of turning around estimates.

Dale Dutton:

By being able to turn estimates around much quicker, then you have more opportunities to win projects, which brings in dollars into the company and what you can execute [inaudible 00:32:23]. That’s one example of that.

Chris Johnson:

Steven, what are the key factors driving change in attitude and behavior towards full data visibility or success on projects?

Steven Ayer:

I think a lot of what Dale said is true about measuring the value. He talked about an example of estimating, and how by measuring the time estimators spend in doing their processes, that is one approach to proving this value of data visibility in this case. I think that’s a really powerful approach. I think when you have good data like this, it becomes challenging for resistors to continue to resist.

Steven Ayer:

An example he gave with the estimators, we could theoretically have estimators go do their more traditional processes. Not only is it slower to do that, but what we’re asking these really experienced, really knowledgeable people to do are administrative tasks like figure out how much stuff you have to estimate, the quantity takeoffs. Instead, we’re taking that grunt work, so to speak, and giving it to BIM to do, and enabling the experienced human, the estimator, to do what he or she has spent years of their lives preparing to do, and are uniquely qualified to deliver, which is apply an appropriate number based on the unique conditions of a project. I think that’s a really good approach.

Steven Ayer:

When people decide to, again, try to assess the value of data visibility or BIM in the future, my only caution is to make sure you apply metrics to track that value that are related to the BIM. What was good about the example that Dale mentioned there is the time savings using BIM for estimating is directly related to the function of BIM. I no longer need to do manual takeoffs, because they’re automated. It immediately has that sense of, “I can see where there’s value to BIM.” By measuring it, we can then make a strategic plan to invest or not based on our results that we get.

Chris Johnson:

Some really good points there, Steven. It just reminded me of something actually that I’ve found in my professional career, as well, is the hidden advantages and the hidden markers, as well, of success of BIM that come out of it. In particular, on one project, a project outcome was we wanted to do 4D BIM. We wanted to simulate our design and our schedule. That’s all good. They did that part of the project well. They found this hidden side of it where when they were showing these simulations in design meetings, and they were just videos really. It was more just a contextual way of explaining that to a client, and then also, not only the client, but council members, and such, who were there. We were seeking permits.

Chris Johnson:

That was giving them a contextual way to instead of getting a permit for one crane on a street, getting two, and then bringing down street closures for a week, and being able to simulate that, show that, get the permit, so people that don’t really understand design documentation and they can see it in a video, and they can see it in context. There was a win there that really helped them tighten up that schedule, and get a win on the project, without that necessarily being one of the things that they had as an outcome for success for BIM on the project.

Chris Johnson:

There’s a lot of these hidden benefits as well that will pop up, I’m sure, in people’s journey as well. Collaboration on projects, how important is this? We talked about the common data environment before, but that environment when it’s spread out, and particularly something that we’ve noticed now in COVID and working remotely, how important is that common data environment on projects for that collaboration aspect? Dale.

Dale Dutton:

I think the collaboration is key to success, especially during a COVID pandemic, if you will, and people have to be separated but work has to go on. Construction still has to be done. You need better tools and ways to be able to collaborate information back and forth to get that project executed through the process. With that, a lot of 3D models could easily be passed back and forth, and the data utilized in some of that.

Dale Dutton:

Then I’d just go back to one of Steven’s comment earlier, that construction companies have realized the benefit of 3D models, and when they don’t get one or one with enough metadata, then they will go and actually create their own with the metadata that’s going to help them succeed in that. The enabling tools that allow people to collaborate in different locations, and even the one project model. I have collaborated people throughout the whole country or even different countries collaborating on one model, it’s very important.

Chris Johnson:

I agree. I often call it the spine of a project really, the common data environment, because it’s so crucial. I think we’ve had a bit of a rude awakening in the last 12 months of the importance of that. Not sitting in the same office, but being able to share that information, I think it’s really brought the industry, where it needs to be, up a year or two, because we’re learning about new ways of sharing that information.

Chris Johnson:

This is a really good place where I think the technology and software has been a benefit, particularly for the companies that were ahead of this curve ball on BIM. Because they’ve seen success because they had processes in place to ingest this data, ingest large models, ingest new technology into their workflows. Steven, the companies that don’t have this documentation, they’re in a pretty unique position because there’s a lot of information out there, a lot of processes that are documented. They’re in a unique position where they can catch up to the competition quite fast. What are your thoughts on that?

Steven Ayer:

I think you’re right. It’s a challenging time, and so it’s an opportunity for them to catch up and to embody or embrace some of these technologies. I hope that’s what happens. I think for some, they won’t, and I think they will continue to experience challenges with workforce, which we don’t have enough people already to build a lot of our projects, at least in the States.

Steven Ayer:

Older, more inefficient processes that don’t take advantage of communicating one consistent vision, that we’re all on the same page, I think will have more needs for rework, and things like that in the field. They just won’t have access to enough people. I think broadly speaking this challenging time we’re in will have good outcomes for the industry. I think for a lot of companies this is an opportunity to innovate.

Steven Ayer:

I think for some, this will be an opportunity for them to realize we’re not going to innovate, and this may be the start of the company saying, “We’re going to go a different route. We’re going to close up shop.” Because they just think, “At a certain point we don’t have the option not to build.” I think, Dale, that was your point. It’s a challenging time. We still need roads. We still need bridges. We still need schools, whatever.

Steven Ayer:

I think this is a time where innovation can enable that consistent vision that you’ve all talked about in a remote environment. The lack of it, I think, will be especially challenging for the companies that absolutely refuse to. I think when we get more out of this, I don’t think they will have the margins in their workflows to cut costs and compete with those who have gained efficiencies and who could theoretically cut costs and still be profitable. I think at a certain point, I don’t know that economically they will be as viable. That’s a little more doom and gloom. I don’t mean to be dark in this, but I just think [crosstalk 00:40:28] practical outcome of if you don’t innovate.

Chris Johnson:

It is a bit sink and swim. I know particularly in my region, as well, with the client standards that we need to perform to, I couldn’t be a general contractor five years ago and then deliver to this. It’s a new level. You have the complexities of building these buildings or infrastructure, and then in a lot of places you have this added complexity, if you don’t have the workflows and processes on top, to be able to deliver to these standards.

Chris Johnson:

You are right, that is a bit of a sink and swim situation, where it might be doom and gloom. I think also the opportunity and the learning pathways that are out there, particularly around software and technology, and the partnerships you get with these companies, that does give you a chance to also catch up to the market. It might not be straight away, but I think there is an opportunity as well. I think a little bit of both ways on that.

Steven Ayer:

Maybe I should say, my intent, too, I don’t want to come across as saying, “Just use technology, otherwise you’re going out of business.” That still doesn’t undermine what I started with. Start with the workflow, start with the processes. I guess I’m just trying to say we don’t have an undo button as a society, as a people. We’re not going to get out of the COVID realm and say, “Go back to the way things were.” We’re going to adopt a lot of the strategies and technologies we’ve done.

Steven Ayer:

If a company is listening and they’re saying, “Nah. I’m not going to do BIM. I haven’t needed it in the past. Once we go back to normal, it’ll be just like it was.” I think I’m stating the obvious, but no, it won’t. There is no undo button on this.

Chris Johnson:

I’ll pass this to you first, Dale, I guess. With this challenging year that we’ve had, what have been some of the technological advancements that you’ve seen work with particular clients that have been in that position to be able to succeed with some of these technological advancements?

Dale Dutton:

Well, I think there’s already been a lot of solutions built out there to address specifically BIM opportunities, and letting them to be able to connect to other systems. I think the connection and being able to pass data between systems is one thing that’s been improved on. Another area is digital twins. We’ve heard this around for a few years. I believe the products are improving to provide a better turnover to the owner at the end of the job.

Dale Dutton:

Then I think of laser scanning, whether you’re doing that via drones or handheld or tripods, this technology is getting more and more on projects to communicate current project conditions, or even reducing manpower, if you will, to do that drone. Some of these are done at night after everybody’s left the site, that they have drones going through there. One thing about the drones though, even to reduce risk of safety, is that they use drones to fly transmission lines to do their inspections and things like that. I think we’re getting there.

Dale Dutton:

I think some of the tools are already in place, and we weren’t just taking advantage of all of those. I see more advantage taken of the software that’s available. One thing that really sticks in my mind, too, is once you get into this world, you will find diamond-in-the-rough benefits from it that wasn’t part of it. Like Steven mentioned, “What is your plan?” Make sure you have that going forward. You’re going to realize some diamond-in-the-rough benefits that come from that, that better your processes, that you just can’t plan on.

Chris Johnson:

I agree. Steven, what are some of those advancements in technology that you’ve seen, or what do you see as the next evolution of BIM?

Steven Ayer:

I think the frontier that we have not really mastered yet, well, maybe all of it, but I think the one that really is the most opportunity is in operation. I think most people in the BIM realm recognize there are lots of values and opportunities for BIM for facility management, or building operation in general, or efficiency, or continued commissioning, or various kind of owner-phase activities.

Steven Ayer:

I don’t know that we’ve really figured out the exact way of enabling this. I think, Dale, you mentioned, or maybe, Chris, you brought up, too, some companies once they get into BIM, some owner organizations will define their own processes and workflows. They may have figured out some workflows. I think some of the really exciting opportunities will come for the owners.

Steven Ayer:

In terms of technologies that are enabling it, I’m not sure most owners want to take on responsibilities associated with modeling. They’ll get a model at the end of the project. I think for a lot of them the idea of saying, “How do I update it when I change something,” I think is unappealing, bordering on even scary, because they don’t trust the model to get updated. I think what could be a very non-trivial change that is coming out are the abilities of mobile phones now to be able to capture either photogrammetry-based data, or actually LIDAR or scanning data.

Steven Ayer:

If we put a scanner in everyone’s pocket just because they’re going to choose to do it with the phone they buy anyway, all of a sudden that updating a model may become a lot less daunting of a task. I may be wrong, but I mean we’re just hypothesizing, but I think that’s something that could have a really big impact on the owner’s use of BIM downstream. Most of the owners I’ve talked to thus far say, “I don’t have people that know how to model it. If I don’t trust what I have as a model, I’m not going to use it ever.”

Steven Ayer:

If we could remove that concern by saying, “Your digital twin really is a digital twin, because the work orders, you are going to process anyway, you’re just going to process now via your phone, and you upload a scan rather than a photo,” or whatever it may be. I think that may be, I don’t know, 10, 20 years from now, a major breakthrough that we will all see a lot smarter buildings being used and operated based on data, and based on evidence from what we have in our BIM.

Chris Johnson:

Something that’s very common for me in that handover phase is we’re handing over, and I always call it the spatial foundation at that point, you’re giving them the tools to build their digital twin, if that’s where they want to go. When you hand over the spatial foundation, it can be daunting for some clients to have this and be like, “Do I have to keep this up to date?” Like I said before, where you don’t necessarily need a BIM guru, you’re finding that through your data and what your facilities manager and asset managers are actually doing is they’re upkeeping that data, the data itself, all the time, as they’re doing work orders. You’re giving them a foundation to plant that information on.

Chris Johnson:

The bit about the photos and the LIDAR is something that I’m starting to see a lot more, particularly in the Australian Pacific region where instead of updating it. I’ll just use an example where there was a building and it was getting fitted out. They did the core building. We handed over that model. At this point, what they’ve done is they’ve used photos and 360 photo tours to actually use that as their information, their upkeep tool, where they’re taking photos constantly and then putting pins on the photos and adding information as needed.

Chris Johnson:

They have their foundation, and now they’re building on it with their live data. They’re tracking it in some way. At any point when they do some more capital works, they have that foundation to build on. They have a record to come back and use that information to build from, as well. Very interesting times. We’ve talked a little bit about that LIDAR and the drone side, and something I’m very passionate about. I love LIDAR. I love using my laser scanner whenever I get a chance. Any home renovation, I’m laser scanning it, modeling, and then building from.

Chris Johnson:

That comes with some disadvantages as well. We’re dealing with this enormous amount of data on projects we’ve never had before really. Does that really hinder some of these projects, Dale, or do you think it’s more that we’re evolving fast enough that we can keep up with it? Probably a good point that I might just add in as well, it’s having a point of realization knowing what you want to get out of that LIDAR or that point cloud and just utilizing that part. What are your thoughts around utilizing this large data on projects?

Dale Dutton:

That LIDAR or laser scanning, turning it into points, thousands and hundreds and thousands of points into a model so you can actually see what’s out there. It looks really cool. Brings a lot of value, especially when you’re working on projects that are what you call a brownfield site, and you want to be able to see, even in the design side you want to be able to see what’s out there so you can really connect to the right pieces, and validate compared to the drawings that you received, “Is this really in the right spot that the drawings are telling me that I got to connect to?”

Dale Dutton:

The disadvantages, if you will, it’s a lot of data to try to manage. Not only that, even collecting it from the scanner itself and then getting it into the hands of the designers, and then into the hands of the owners. The disadvantage, and I think we’re getting better, is just that it’s a huge file. How do I manage that huge file? How do I pass that around effectively? Can I really get it in the cloud and share that effectively to be able to use models without them being very sluggish, and not being able to get around? I think those will increase in benefit.

Dale Dutton:

The other thing is generally today you’ve got X, Y, and Z and RGB with each one of those dots. I think everybody really wants real data with that. How do I take that laser scan and make it intelligent with more data that’s going to benefit me from that scan itself, opposed to manually going in and adding data as well?

Chris Johnson:

Really good points there, Dale. I’ll just get maybe your final thoughts on this, Steven, before we wrap this up. We’re talking about the evolution of BIM and, something that I know you know a fair bit about, is virtual reality. For a long time, it’s used as an entertainment purposes. As we’re moving forward creating these digital representations of our construction sites, or our buildings, or our infrastructure projects, how do you see virtual reality or AR in that instance being utilized on a project?

Steven Ayer:

I think there are a lot of ways. I will say, I think augmented reality, in case anyone is not as familiar, augmented reality is the blending of the real world and the virtual world. Think if you’re in the US when you’re listening to this and you watch American football, and you see the yellow first down line on the field, that’s a virtual representation on a physical view. That’s what we’re talking about, but here I can see what’s behind my wall, and that kind of thing.

Steven Ayer:

I think AR, augmented reality, this is what I’m talking about, will be very valuable when we are looking at verifying what has been built as it relates to what was supposed to be built, and doing that verification of accuracy and those kind of things. I think that will be very valuable there for those kind of quality checks of comparing the model to the built space, because it quite literally blends both.

Steven Ayer:

Think virtual reality, and just think video game. This is purely synthetic. We’re just in a video game realm. It can be on your face, or on a screen, or in a big room. I think that will be very valuable for instances when we need to make decisions or fail, like I said earlier, identify problems in a process or design early. I need to know what about this design needs to change upfront.

Steven Ayer:

I think that’s where virtual reality will be really effective, because it communicates content intuitively enough that generally owners or engineers or contractors can recognize problems with the design, or the finishes, or the constructability of a given environment, and voice those concerns, again, early where it’s quick, and cheap to fail, like I said, so we can make smarter decisions in the field.

Chris Johnson:

Fantastic. Thank you very much both of you, both Dale and Doctor Steven Ayer today for the discussion on BIM. I think we can reflect mainly on the process side of it and how much it is driven by process and workflow, but also how much there is that you can benefit from BIM as well. Appreciate you both today for the discussion. Thank you all.

Dale Dutton:

Thanks Chris.

Steven Ayer:

Thanks. This was fun.