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Removing the Roadblocks to Sharing Model Data

Removing the Roadblocks to Sharing Model Data

By Peg Landry

Our new study, “Finding Common Ground: The Future of Project Information Management,” examines challenges related to sharing project information, including model data. The study included a survey fielded by the Dodge Construction Network and a closed-session roundtable panel discussion composed of architects, engineers, and contractors. 

The study uncovered both technological and human obstacles to effectively sharing model data.  Although the industry has evolved in this area with the introduction of BIM, our study revealed some inconsistencies related to adoption and use. 

What is BIM – Building Information Modeling? 

According to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), “BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. As such it serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its lifecycle from inception onward.” 

BIM goes beyond traditional 3D modeling by providing extended information such as component relationships, standards, specifications, information about size, square footage, material makeup, fire rating, finishes, manufacturer, and performance data. 

Given that all stakeholders share a common goal of delivering successful projects, it is surprising that BIM is not widespread. We asked some key questions in our study to try and understand where the roadblocks are with BIM adoption. 

Who has a BIM process?

We asked several questions related to the state of BIM, starting with a question regarding the use of a BIM process. There is some good news. Many of our survey respondents (67 percent) indicated that they do have a BIM process. However, it was surprising to learn that only one-third of engineers do. In addition, less than half of general contractors deploy a BIM process. 

Our study reveals that most architects (88 percent) have a BIM process, but other stakeholders lag. So how is information being shared, and is it being shared effectively?

It may be that each stakeholder has their own BIM silos.  In our roundtable discussion, Nathan Wood from the Construction Progress Coalition shared “The big question is, whose model is it and at what point in time? And is there one model or are there different copies of the model where we think it’s one copy but it’s not? Who has the contractual obligation to maintain that model? There are still a lot of unknowns.”

Who’s using a BIM platform? 

In addition to asking survey participants if they have a BIM process, we also asked if they have a BIM Coordination Platform.  Although most architects (66 percent) have a BIM coordination platform, only one-third of engineering and general contractors have this type of technology in place. 

How is model data shared?

If many project stakeholders do not have a BIM coordination platform, how is model data being shared?  We asked survey participants to tell us how design-related documents are being shared in the handover phase. File transfer software was the top answer. Surprisingly, some respondents are also emailing.  

Top challenges managing BIM

The highest-ranking net top three challenge was getting non-BIM stakeholders to participate and provide input on models. Given that non-BIM stakeholders most likely do not have a BIM process or a collaboration platform, it’s not surprising that it is difficult to get them to participate in BIM. Architects ranked this higher than their engineering and contractor counterparts (39 percent vs. 18 percent and 28 percent, respectively).  Another challenge that also ranked high in the net top three is collaborating and sharing information with people outside their organization. 

Participation from non-BIM stakeholders

Sixty-two percent of respondents from this year’s survey (net top three ranking) say the key obstacle to managing BIM information is convincing non-BIM stakeholders to take part and provide input. Our roundtable panel provided some insight as to why this may be a problem. Access and security were two major themes.  

Participation in the BIM process requires access to information. Information that is housed in software applications that require a license to access may be an issue. 

“As the industry moves into more user-type licensing, assigned licensing, or cloud-based licensing, it becomes more problematic because companies are having to purchase licenses in order to collaborate with the system that we use,” said a roundtable participant from a leading architecture and engineering firm.

In addition to licensing, access related to security also remains a barrier. 

“We often must go through our IT group or some sort of security protocols to make sure that everybody has the right access,” explained another roundtable participant. “As project teams change throughout the longer projects, we have to update that access. It is constantly changing and it’s hard to keep up with it. When we are talking about real-time collaboration with people outside of our company, it gets a lot more complicated.” 

Sharing model data outside the organization

Many of the issues related to sharing model data are related to participation and sharing with stakeholders outside the four walls of an organization. This is where the “WHY” and “WHEN” components of sharing model data may come into play. Our roundtable panel uncovered obstacles related to expectation-setting around how the model data will be used. Determining what model information is needed, by who, and why, is key.  

“When we look back at how BIM has evolved, 3D really helped us start to visualize spaces and visualize volumes, and that helped us improve our deliverables,” said a roundtable participant from an architecture firm. “And then we start to load up on more content and data to make our production quicker, easier, faster, and more accurate. But at the same time, we have a contractor and owner running alongside, looking at our model, going, ‘Hey, that’s valuable information. Can we look at that? Can we have that? Can we use that?’ And now we find ourselves handing over the model, which at one time was just basically our production tool.”

He also explained that setting expectations up front on how the model information will be used is key. “It is not only trust, but also expectations. If you know at the beginning of the job that I’m handing this over to the contractor and I’m handing it over to the owner, you know that there are certain aspects that have to be in alignment with their expectations of how they’re going to use it.”

Liability concerns also continue to stand in the way.

“One of the challenges is the transparency issue between designers and builders,” said a roundtable participant from a major general contractor firm. “Whenever we go into the modeling component, it’s, ‘Here’s our model, and your assets, and you are liable for anything that’s wrong in the model that we might have messed up.’ Which is fine. We’ll take on that risk.” 

Removing the roadblocks

Companies often focus on the technology before a comprehensive project information management strategy has been developed. By developing the strategy first, companies identify what information needs to be accessed and shared, along with how it needs to be accessed. Not all information needs to be shared. This provides an opportunity to eliminate outdated workflows and organize information that is more accessible and useful for the organization.

Technology and automation do play a key role. Although some suggest that having everyone use the same platform and same set of tools will resolve issues, it may not be practical. Integration of applications does not necessarily require all project stakeholders to use the same centralized system. There are industry initiatives to develop standards and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) with the main goal of identifying workflow pain points and automating the flow of information between software applications. This strategy enables teams to use the applications that are best suited for their work while automating the sharing of common information.

However, incorporating best practices for sharing BIM information starts with talking to each other.

Peg Landry is content marketing strategist at Newforma, the leading provider of project information management (PIM) software for architects, engineers, contractors, and owners worldwide.