BIM Collaboration can be a Clouded Process

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

Consider for a moment a typical client (I know there is no such beast, but just indulge me, if you will). They are not particularly versed in the detail of design and construction, but they do understand their business and what’s good for them. They have carried out small development works in the past, so whilst being used to the processes involved, they do not have a design team to call their own. They have employed two architectural practices on previous projects, but now wish to relocate to new larger premises with a bespoke designed building to suit their needs both now and into the future.

Knowing a little, but not quite enough, our client’s CEO sensibly appoints a project manager to coordinate the works with a request to initially tender the design to the two architectural practices previously used. Both seem to be equally up to the job in terms of experience, resources and a degree of innovation. But what sets them apart is their proposals for execution of the design and construct.

Both practices carry out all design work using computer aided design packages. One works in 2D – the original electronic drawing board. The other has stepped up to the 3D challenge. But they didn’t go out and buy or lease a lot of new powerful hardware and expensive software, they took the decision to point their workstations down the ‘Cloud Computing’ super-highway.

So what is ‘Cloud Computing’?
The principles have been long established. Like many organisations that run network based applications from a central server that might be located in a nice air-conditioned room in a basement, the CC provider hosts the applications on their own server which are accessed via a ‘secure’ internet connection. I know; ‘secure internet connection’!? I’m still craving indulgence here.

The practice has not purchased any expensive licences for Revit or ArchiCAD, or any super-fast state of the art  PCs on which to run such software. Instead they have upgraded their internet access, and building designers log into the cloud computing site. All the software they need is there waiting to be used. The building is conceived, created and stored on a computer server that could be a few streets away, or on the next continent.

We are now designing on the internet!

Back to our typical client and their company relocation project. – So who would you choose? It’s a simple choice, one of two. You trust both of them. You like them both. They have performed well on their previous respective appointments. But there is a difference. This time the fees proposed by the practice offering their design based upon a 3-Dimensional computer model and noticeably more than the other. So is that a deal breaker?

Building Information Modelling – BIM
The argument is somewhat compelling. The architectural practice has put together their tender submission identifying key design stages, all of which identify 3-dimensional presentation and a high level of detail that may begin simply with perhaps a non dusting finish to a floor slab on the production floor, and escalate to a particular type of thread attributable to a fixing bolt for a robot arm supporting bracket.

The promise to the client is that at any stage after completion of the project, and even without a design consultant in attendance, they will be able to access their own building model and obtain information from original concrete specification, type, size and depth. Who supplied it. Where they obtained the sand and aggregate from and the date it was cast. To the batch number of the wall covering in the CEO’s office.

The client is appreciative of the overwhelming weight of advantage that the BIM process offers; not only in the design and procurement stages ensuring that the building and facilities that are required, are the those that are received, but thereafter the inevitable programme of building and infrastructure maintenance can be readily executed – efficiently on a just in time bais. Any alterations can easily be recorded on the virtual model, so at any given time its interrogation will yield the the status quo.

Who has had to sell their soul?
The architectural practice has pulled off no mean feat in their tender presentation. They must, like any significant building project, put together a design team to include structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, QS and CDMC. All of who have had to agree to work ‘collaboratively’ on a ‘cloud based’ model. A virtual model that resides in no-one’s office, and access to which is controlled by a password – “Joe sent me”!!

Cloud Computing purveyors will sell you the idea that All data is controlled under absolute security. The connection to their site is secure. The virtual model is impregnable to all but those authorised, – a bit like your bank account.

One may argue that in subscribing to this idea you have sold your soul. Ultimate control is not yours – design team or client’s. Will we be designing the next batch of nuclear power installations this way? Yes, probably. Does that, should that worry anyone? Yes, maybe.

Cloud Computing – Is it for everyone?
As we have said, the arguments for adopting BIM as the process of project design and procurement are indeed compelling. In fact, when you consider the advantages and their sheer mass, compared to the slenderness of disadvantages. You can begin to understand the edict at the forefront of government’s chief construction advisor Paul Morrell’s  push to have all public sector work carried out under the BIM banner by 2016.

So that leaves the private sector then, and our typical client facing whether to carry on stumbling down the familiar route of project design and procurement. Nothing wrong with that is there? After all we have been doing it for some considerable time, and we know and have come to accept it’s strengths and weaknesses. There’s something comforting about familiarity.

The architectural practice tendering on the BIM ticket has indeed taken a bold step. Perhaps there should be more like them, and that would give reasonable excuse for the building design industry to swap the ‘Traditional’ tag for one of ‘Innovative’ or ‘Progressive’.

BIM is certainly where the future of building design must head. But I fear still that cost and accessibility for all is some way off. Cloud computing could provide an option for possibly the medium sized practices, maybe as small as ten persons, to pursue the BIM adventure. However, cost and the lack of continuity of work will be the chief dissuaders of the smaller guys, and almost certainly the one-man-bands.

Cloud computing could ultimately be for everyone. It will depend on continuing innovation, marketing and price structuring. I suspect the price structure that may attract the smaller practices will not yield the level of profit margin sought by the CC providers, and so delivery may be more ‘second class’, rather than ‘guaranteed next day’.

BIM needs more marketing to the masses. Practices are understandably wary, even scared of the cap-ex they are being asked to make by the software manufacturers in terms of licensing, and then for hardware capable of executing. I’m sure it seems like a dead end for some. Cloud Computing could throw a lifeline here, but the entire design team needs to commit, and that’s a big ask.

Those that peddle the cloud computing super-bike will tell you that CC can work for everyone, and it probably can – on different levels. The principle is simple enough. All one has to do is take a deep breath before taking a racing dive into the fast flowing digital stream. Thereafter BIM collaboration can be a clouded process.

But don’t take my word for it; take a look at the following video from NBS that may clarify the potential of ‘Cloud Computing’ –


Video courtesy of NBS http://www.thenbs.com/

BIM in the cloud is an inherrantly ‘Green’ process. Want to know more about Green BIM?