Excerpted from the Fridays with Vico Unplugged Edition webinar, Mark Sawyer discusses the current economy and the many shades of BIM available for the commercial construction market.
If you look just a few years back, it wasn't that long ago, Economy A ruled. And I would characterize our customers' business with these top bullets. The building industry was booming and our customers were pushing the boundaries. Things like alternate delivery systems, collaborative teamwork...new approaches with the goal of delivering a new owner experience. It's very exciting to see customers embrace this and owners benefit from it. In that environment, Vico is very focused on a couple of key things: delivering interoperable solutions and making those solutions "consumable one step at a time." So even though those things are very integrated and it's a closed loop, it's still that each one of the steps in implementing 5D Virtual Construction across a project team carries with it impacts on roles, responsibilities, and process. And so "consumable a step at a time" becomes an ingredient in a good solution.
An important half of our business is Virtual Construction Services and for that team we were pretty focused on high value pre-con services that then led over into integrated project controls and the operations build and production phase of these projects. Interestingly enough, during this time (as a lot of this technology was being deployed for the first and certainly less than the tenth time on a project) a lot of this was used in parallel with legacy systems. That was our focus in response to those conditions characterizing our customers business.
As we moved into economy B in the back half of 2008 and throughout 2009 our customers business has changed. The building industry is contracting in most parts of the world. That has brought with it a certain amount of retreating to old boundaries and old practices. Design/Bid/Build pretty much rules the day again. Hard bid with fierce competition and what were collaborative teams is still in place. I think the desire to make that work is still in place but the economic environment has created an every-man-for-himself atmosphere. And the owner experience suffers. I think owners specifically have kind of forgone the pursuit of a better experience and better project delivery in favor of the alluring competition and low cost bid that comes from it.
Our business has to respond to the change in the customer environment. Interoperable solutions remain the same in terms of the focus and so does consumable one step at a time. But at the bottom of the chart there are nuances we have to address. What use to be high value in the pre-con stage that then led to integrated project and production controls... that value is still there it can still be utilized. It's still intelligence that the general contractor needs on the project... but it has to all be compressed into a hard bid cycle. So we've had to adapt to that and on the services side that's a pretty big adjustment. A more subtle one is that on the technology and services side we have to be able to deliver to our customers something that can be used in place of legacy as opposed to just complementing legacy.
Second topic: the grayscale BIM topic... If BIM is a source of differentiation and project efficiency for our clients then one would hope that we could all define it. And as it turns out BIM is a big amorphous word. It's the best word we have so I'm not suggesting we substitute something but I think we have to understand what we mean by it. And it's pretty big spectrum. I've denoted these with the escalating ladder in terms of degree of sophistication. I would advertise going along with it the degree of ROI that comes from implementing some of these steps along the ladder. But the low hanging fruit I think everybody is pretty familiar with and that would be 3D modeling for visualization purposes or clash detection purposes. Interestingly enough for us, the goal at Vico is to partner with companies that help us fill in the boxes and to check the major boxes ourselves to deliver an integrated solution. And as I said before make it "consumable a step at a time" so our customers can move up the ladder a step at a time.
So the coverage is pretty extensive. I think the nuance I'd like to tell you about here is that ... (we carry into product planning and implementation planning for customers) ... Is that, below a certain point in this ladder a lot of what is done here is good for planning purposes and very useful in the planning stage. But if it's not an integrated approach...if a change in one place isn't updated everywhere, those plans can't be updated as fast as the project changes. Once the project is underway for our customers things happen pretty fast and they have to adapt pretty quickly. So a lot of planning goes out the door and a lot of production and reaction happens. In an integrated environment those same systems that built a good plan can continue to monitor the activity of the project and update the plan accordingly for forecasting in the schedule. Verifying subcontractor payment based on quantities in place, etc. So the examples abound but that's not to say that things used below like clash detection aren't used again in production... of course it is. But the overall system needs to be built according to the production timing and the production rhythm and the further we go up the ladder the more important that becomes. So as a vision and as an overall philosophy for us that becomes very important.
Finally, the third topic is what do we do about the multiple models? And not just models but also the disparate data coming from all sources on a project team. So I'd like to kind of break this down into two discussions. The first one and our first priority was: the general contractor is responsible for project quality, cost, schedule, and workers safety. Those are huge responsibilities. If we're going to make this work we can sort a bunch of stuff out later... Let's figure out how to take construction models from popular 3D BIM tools and make them useful for the general contractor. So going all the way back to 2004-2005 this team was focused on that.
The second priority for us and where we find ourselves now... and I think the industry finds its conversation centering on this topic quite a bit today... is now that we know how to make one model work that the GC had to build for himself how do we begin to actually leverage this? If I can eliminate steps for my customer I should. How can we make that happen becomes more of a best practice and process discussion now? Because the picture changes. There are architects and engineers with valuable data to contribute. There are subcontractors and fabricators with valuable data to contribute. How does the general contractor pull all that together and get what he needs out of it?
So for us this little bullet down at the bottom becomes key. We have to support multiple formats because that's how the information comes to my customer. Importantly, we have to understand not just the real analytical components of data that are coming together in a virtual construction model but we have to understand what the stage of that data is. What is it intended for? What is the appropriate use? It's not unusual, for example, for designers to put placeholders in their data for something that will be further engineered later. So the idea of communicating across the team the appropriate and intended use of the data is an important concept.
And then finally as I've said I think a couple of times this isn't a linear process. Certainly planning is iterative and then when it goes from planning production it remains iterative... There are a lot of changes that take place. How can our customer thoroughly detect those changes and incorporate them in his next or revised plan for the project? That becomes a key focus for us, it remains one today, and the fundamental strategy of our products and services are centered around making use of information from multiple sources and communicating across the project team the intended or appropriate use on that information. (We talk about things like the Model Progression Specification... you can find white papers and other webinars on our website regarding that topic.) And then thoroughly detecting and tracking changes which have a lot to do with Vico's contribution to that topic but also integration to project management system and the like to our customer.
I hope the point is pretty clear. There's an underlying Vision that doesn't change. But with the key focus on what the customer is going through and what the customer will experience next we can tune our product strategy, delivery, and our services to try to mitigate issues and accelerate the efficiency and the profitable outcomes that our customers are seeking on these projects.
For more information on grayscale BIM, please review The BIM Checklist.
To progress up the BIM ladder one rung at a time, please review The BIM Master Class Series.
For more thoughts on the "one model versus many" debate, please read: