Software Innovations, Improved Communication Take BIM to The Next Level

PME Magazine 2020
By Amanda Comunale

As building information modeling continues to impact our industry, its full value is predicated on the ability to extract, share and apply information across the entire construction process.

Much of this value can begin with today’s tools – specifically MEP software, which is changing the way teams communicate across a project’s lifespan.

Software companies have become savvier about what an optimal user experience should be. These companies are recognizing that ease of use is critical for adoption, and they are listening to customer feedback to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what improvements need to be made relative to the construction process. Fortunately, gathering insights has become easier with the emergence of online communities where users discuss programs and how those programs could be better and easier to use.

Lately, there seems to be a groundswell among estimating and drawing teams within construction and manufacturing companies, where a singular solution for information gathering or modeling may not exactly meet their needs. No longer is the “there’s an app for that” solution acceptable. Individual apps are great, but no one wants to navigate multiple apps to manage their project data. This sentiment is propelling organizations to explore ways to leverage programs internally to enhance information linkages.

The value of interoperability

Every organization has a wealth of information, but it needs a key to unlock it. The ease with which a software program interacts with others ultimately determines its value. Interoperability is critical, which is why investing in tools that improve the ability to interface between teams is so relevant today. Seamless communication opens the door to better collaboration, providing greater opportunities to find solutions.

Until recently, it was not unusual for estimating and drawing teams to sit next to one another yet rarely share information — in many cases because sharing was not easy. Today, program interoperability is facilitating data sharing, and employees are finding out “more is better” where data are concerned. As team members gain access to information that historically has been in the hands of other teams, they begin to experience the value of information sharing. Having programs that communicate seamlessly enables the entire team to use familiar software to access a much larger volume of data.

With broader access, BIM coordinators are enabled to talk to the estimator and the fabrication facility to see how a job is progressing. Now, when problems arise, cross-functional teams equipped with the same level of information, are able to examine issues holistically and collaborate on solutions. Alternatively, if things are going well, it is easy to see what is contributing to the project’s success. Seeing what goes right is as valuable as seeing what goes wrong when it comes to capturing efficiencies.

Rethinking the team approach

Advances in BIM workflows and software are also modifying the way teams are structured, which encourages employees to develop multiple skill sets and approach projects cross-functionally. Now, anyone on the team can “lead” the project by tackling a problem to ensure milestones are being met. If a BIM coordinator spots a bottleneck, he or she can offer to resolve it even if the problem is outside their purview.

This approach to project management is altering traditional processes and encouraging accountability with team members. With access to project data, multiple teams on a variety of software platforms can identify potential misses and issues with ease. As software becomes more powerful and connected, projects will benefit from cross platform integrations by providing visibility to all aspects of a project’s lifecycle, not to mention the time savings — with this level of visibility, a deep dive into a project can take place in the span of 30 minutes rather than several hours.

Improving data and skills

Tools employed in the past allowed a team member to track a single project. Today, as software affords teams accessibility to multiple jobs within a single source, individual project information is readily available. Such access to information provides employees opportunities to look for areas for improvement or potential problems across multiple projects.

Historically, sending drawing team members to a jobsite could be expensive and time consuming. It also meant departments often worked from plans that provided limited site information. In real life, environmental factors such as space limitations and clearance zones to determine proper configurations of air handling units, for example, can often wreak havoc on project timelines when not accounted for in original drawings. In these situations, adopting technologies such as 3D scanning and virtual reality modeling provide teams with precise field data which, when transferred to software programs such as Revit, Revizto and Navisworks, ensure models can be built to exact specifications.

While benefits of 3D scanning and modeling adoption can speak to time and cost savings, they also speak to opportunities for employees to expand their skill sets and gain onsite experience, which can prove invaluable to their careers. Embracing new software or techniques is not enough though. It is important for companies to also teach employees how to interpret data and use metrics to support decision-making in their daily tasks. It is by using metrics that we can often redefine project timelines, positively impacting both manpower and a customer’s bottom line.

Implementing change

While technical advancements are providing enhanced collaboration, it is understandable some employees can struggle with sharing data in a different way. For some, singular ownership of tasks or data was thought to provide a competitive edge for employees. Without proper understanding or appreciation for how valuable data can be when shared and examined from multiple perspectives, individuals can often impede efforts to implement software and modify processes across departments.

Companies can address the importance of data sharing by taking a step back and revisiting the basics of project management. To improve communication among teams, organizations can ask: “What information is available?” “How can that information be used from project inception to completion?” and “What can be improved to make it as easy as possible for people throughout the process, including customers, to share information efficiently among multiple software platforms?”

Every challenge can be evaluated in the context of product, process and project management. This approach broadens the outlook of every member of the team. In the past, a person who knew the product inside and out was an “expert.” In today’s market, an expert must understand both products and process.

As BIM continues to propel the construction industry forward, investment in redefining teamwork and individual skills to harness the power of interconnected software platforms could be the key to defining what total project partnership looks like in the age of BIM.