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Richard Shennan: Embracing a new way of thinking

BIM exploded onto the scene in 2011. It was a year of excitement about the potential benefits - better solutions through collaboration, enhanced performance, greater predictability, faster project delivery, reduced risk, less waste, whole life asset management and opportunities for continual improvement.

Now 2012 is the time to tackle the practical and economic application of BIM, focusing on process, rules of engagement, management and content.

The government’s BIM strategy defines a number of stages of “BIM maturity”. Right now, the industry is grappling with the issues involved in reaching Level 2, which involves the design inputs of many different disciplines being made through a series of interconnected models.


A key challenge is presented by interoperability between the different tools being used. Frequently there is a choice of similar software for a given job.

Although ease of use and familiarity remain important considerations, unless the tools we use “speak the same language” we’re going to hit a barrier. Some interoperability issues are being overcome by writing bespoke solutions and the major software providers are responding with better integrated packages - but there’s work still to do on this.

A simple but rigorous set of rules for collaborative working is key. BS1192 provides a great foundation for interoperability between the tools we use. In parallel, we need an effective architecture for managing cross-disciplinary workflows and file sharing, underpinning the visibility of information inputs, updates and exchanges.

At my company, Mott MacDonald, we’re using Bentley’s ProjectWise file management package - the package being rolled out across the £14.5bn Crossrail project. The key is to establish simple, standardised protocols for working, making them applicable and easy to use on every project.

Moving forward, there’s a debate as to whether BIM requires a single all-encompassing model in order to deliver the full potential benefits.

Mott MacDonald and others in the industry believe that the same functionality can be achieved using a “federated model structure” in which full interoperability and collaborative data exchange allow a number of coordinated models to behave as if they’re a single entity.

Risk distribution

The legal and insurance industry had expressed anxiety about the apportioning of risk and liability when everyone is working on a single all-encompassing model. However, with the federated model structure and with the right standards and procedures in place, their concerns now appear to have been laid to rest.

BIM is often thought of in terms of design. But because BIM is all about information management, in parallel with the standardisation and integration of design tools, 2012 should see further progress in creating platforms enabling data to be used throughout the project lifecycle, contributing to faster, safer, less wasteful construction, and more cost-effective, sustainable operation, maintenance and eventual decommissioning.

We’re already seeing BIM being pushed out to include contractors, who are using it to achieve risk, time and cost management benefits.

  • Richard Shennan is a Mott MacDonald director with responsibility for implementing BIM across the company worldwide

Readers' comments (1)

  • Aye right ... shared information management.

    Will someone please go and read ISO9001 and see what it says about contracts and the responsibility for dissemination of information.

    Simply put it is is, in my view, IMPOSSIBLE for an open portal to meet its requirements; and a closed portal is not a portal.

    My opinion is that the contract claims merchants [of which I am also one] are set for a field day.

    Last thing is will some one list the SUCCESSFUL COMPLEX projects managed by Mark Bew. My experience of him when he ran the CITE was two fold: that of enthusiastic amateur, and of a competent salesman in selling his ideas for grants.

    Not a nice thing to say, but my firm did actually manage to get the process management for a technical query [google those two words] to operate over the internet [my thanks to Mike Grice of Heery International]. It has been proven on a number of major [£50m plus] projects. Plus of course the more complex stuff of technical document distribution and management ...

    Happy Days guys.

    And pissed off document controllers forced to use inadequate systems ... please keep the comments coming. Even tho i am about to retire, i remain passionate about reducing the costs of construction by improving management techniques ... of course we all say that don't we ....

    and last but not least, will some one please publish a simple explanation of BIM. If you want to be a missionary, you have to give out free copies of the bible / koran / bim manual / ?????

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