Think BIG (DATA)

By Benedict Wallbank RIBA, SmartBIM Solutions



The exponential growth of storage capacity allied to plummeting costs mean data capture and analysis is possible in a way not thought of 5 – 10 years ago

These are exciting times for the construction industry as we take our first faltering steps to provide non-proprietary sharable structured digital data for our projects.  Government has understood that for the UK construction industry to compete on a global scale we must acquire data management skills, which add value to our services.  If we fail to do so, it is inevitable that competition from other parts of the world, who have lower labour rates or who successfully move to digital processes, will see our industry shrink.  

Each time we drop an object into our BIM authoring tool, it is given a Globally Unique Identifying number (a GUID).  It is that number, which allows us to attach data to an object in the same way that the bar code has allowed data to be added to the elements of retail.  The data added, however, only has limited use if it is in a format unique to that project or project team.  

In the UK, the industry’s “trainer wheels” for sharable structured data is COBie .  COBie is a sub-set of ISO 16739, known to most as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), namely those parts of IFC, which relate to FM and O&M.  80% of the cost of a building lies beyond construction and COBie seeks to offer savings and efficiencies to built assets (be they buildings or infrastructure).  

There is already a vocal COBie backlash.  Early adopter projects, have struggled to provide COBie data (much of which has had to be entered manually). Inevitably there is a learning curve for new skill sets and changed working methodologies adding cost to COBie adoption.  People ask why not go straight from proprietary BIM system to proprietary CAFM  system.  Clients are also asking for COBie without defining what they require in the form of a COBie spread sheet issued as part of the EIR  or knowing how they wish to utilise the data.

Don’t judge COBie yet and don’t lose sight of the end objective of an industry capable of producing and using sharable structured data.  By adopting COBie Government will be able to compare the data on say a school in John O’Groats and a school in Land’s End developed by different teams using different software.  We still lack PAS (BS) 1192-4, which will document COBie as part of Level 2 BIM (due this year). We also lack a standard classification system (Uniclass 2?).  Software providers are only just starting to provide easier ways of generating and checking COBie data.  All of these will come with time and costs will reduce as staff learns the necessary skill sets.  

If we can master sharable structured data on an individual project, beyond 2016 and level 2 BIM the really exciting use of data will start.  Full IFC will be at the heart sharable structured data for the construction industry . Cross sector “big” data (for example social data related to housing) will be able to be used not just on a single building or facility but on


As the network is replaced by the cloud, closer collaboration and the move to BIM Level 3 becomes increasingly possible

whole neighbourhoods and cities.  

Nobody said this would be easy, and there will be short term pain, but the potential benefits in the longer term are enormous.


The Machine Age 2.0


Cezanne’s 19th card players – waiting for progress through technology

Mechanisation and automation are two processes that have affected all our lives since the start of the industrial revolution. A new book charting the effects, ‘The Second Machine Age’ by two MIT professors is causing a real stir amongst the chattering classes worldwide. It notes an uncomfortable truth about industrial progress, sometimes technology and a better life don’t go hand in hand (at the same time). In the 19th century great gains were made in productivity in the early Victorian period but significant rises in wages and living standards only happened 40 – 50 years later.
This trend might be repeated today – we’re enduring a period of little jobs growth and no real wage rises, but automation marches on apace. How is technology changing the labour market dynamic at the moment? Recently the CITB forecast that 182,000 new construction jobs would be created by the recovery expected over the next five years. Within that, only 1,000 new architect jobs are needed. Is it really the case that roughly one in 200 people working on a project will be an architect in the future?  Anecdotal evidence for this is mixed – senior partners and directors in large firms tell me that BIM software is helping to reduce headcounts on individual jobs by between 50% and 66%. In contrast to this labour saving efficiency, I’m told by others that new graduates that are BIM proficient are entering the London workforce and earning £29 a hour – a surefire sign of a chronic labour shortage. For now the main conclusion you can draw is that if your BIM/CAD skills are good you won’t be a victim of what John Maynard Keynes dubbed ‘technological unemployment’ – but if you’ve steered clear of BIM software until now perhaps it’s time to start worrying.
The Second Machine Age notes that invariably when technology improves it’s the least skilled, most boring and repetitive tasks that are eliminated first. BIM is doing exactly this with its automatic inventory updates, eliminating a lot of tedious admin and cross checking. Perhaps architecture is evolving to a position where a smaller number of designers add more value and are therefore more highly paid.
Often the construction industry agonises over its lack of innovation. Working practices on site haven’t changed radically in 30/40 years and the type of buildings being delivered, especially in the housing sector, don’t change much either. There are good reasons for this – the construction industry constantly deals with the bespoke – different shaped sites, different client briefs. If you look at certain sectors such as building schools the volatility of policy means steady progress through learning and repetition is impossible.
Perhaps it’s useful to look at other sectors where physical products are tech-heavy – where innovation occurs within the context of certain constants. The aviation industry is extremely risk-averse due to a stringent safety culture. Change goes down certain paths however and the industry is abuzz due to new materials, carbon fibre composites could replace aluminium as the main exterior to passenger jets. Why is this innovation set to succeed? It costs airlines $1m for every Kg of weight during the lifetime of a plane, carbon fibre could reduce weight by 20%.
The car industry is in a similar position – there are exciting changes taking place – self-driving cars, electric or hybrid engines.

WWII England Morris Van Assembly Line

Assembling Morris Vans at Cowley in WWII – the auto industry has benefited from constant changes in production processes, benefiting from a highly-controlled environment

The automotive and aviation industries will find it easier to improve on processes as these are standardised and in a highly controlled factory environment. The construction industry doesn’t have this luxury on site, every job is different and improvised solutions aren’t shared industry-wide. In this context the progress wrought by BIM is more important as it’s not happening in parallel with other product innovation.

Next year’s model – same as this year but with more detail

By Matt Pennell, BSL 2014 Conference producer

Hello and welcome back to BIM Show Live. This year’s event will take place in late April at Manchester Central. Preparations for the event are well underway and we’ll fill you in on what’s in store later. Many of you will have noticed that 2014 has started with a splurge of commentary on BIM in our sister title Building. Everyone in project teams now has a perspective on BIM, how it relates to their job or indeed the wider world. So it’s subject more talked about than ever.

We know that Government policy is a driver of BIM use, but on top of the Morrell mandate a fast evolution in software and hardware is changing BIM too. Two technology trends are set to have a major impact on BIM. The New Scientist recently ran a piece on the next generation of TV – Ultra High Definition TV, otherwise known as 4KTV as it uses 4,000 lines. UHD is four times sharper and clearer than current HD TV. As with most new technologies the price of a brand new UHD TV is high and sales are only expected to be in the tens of thousands this year, however observers predict that UHD TV will be standard across the industrial world by 2020. Where TV leads computer monitors will follow.


Ultimate Play the Game led the way with 3D computer games in the 80s

At the moment software allows for rendering of surfaces to a respectable degree, and is a good way of presenting exteriors to clients. UBM’s own internal research shows that when it comes to interiors however, most people look at intricate FF & E products in a showroom first, even if they buy online later. UHD could be a game changer for architects presenting high-end design rich environments to clients, such as luxury retail, high end resi and 4/5* hotels. Producing a 3D model with a complicated interior layout will be possible, and the image quality should be credible.

Distributing large files with UHD images should be straightforward by 2020 as broadband speeds are set to make a quantum leap. A recent test by BT successfully transferred data between London and Ipswich at a rate of 1.4 terrabits per second – that’s roughly 14,000 times faster than the average Virgin Media broadband rate of 120 megabits per second. We keep hearing about big data, usually in the context of storage, but it won’t be static – soon capacity will be in place to move data around in a way we never imagined before.

3D Modelling is still seen as a bit of a luxury by some sections of the construction industry. I traded office gossip with a Revit technician recently, his civil structural practice hired a young graduate who was in and out of the doors within a few weeks – a 3D modeller who refused to do anything else. My friend observed that this wasn’t a good career move considering most images used by construction managers on site were still in 2D.


Oscar-nominated Gravity was shot at Shepperton but the CGI was created in Soho – part of a £1Bn hi-tech post production industry in London that has grown exponentially since the first Harry Potter films were digitally enhanced in the UK

How are we to view 3D images? The UK is a world leader in producing 3D images for entertainment – Grand Theft Auto V (made in Edinburgh) and Oscar-nominated Gravity (all CGI produced in London) are prime examples. If UK architects take a lead with 3D modelling will this give them an edge in international markets, or is it a nice cherry on top to present to clients after winning a bid? Opinion will vary on this but at least it’s a technology trend we can see coming.

BIM: The bigger picture

Matt Pennell, UBM

Written by Matt Pennell, UBM

Is BIM better for certain types of projects than others? The BIM community sometimes sees it as a cure-all – not merely good for buildings but also for the built environment as a whole. Last year some senior managers at a multi-billion £ major contractor explained how BIM was now becoming a major civils tool. BIM software was guiding earthworking machines via GPS to do the groundworks for the M25 widening. I guess in practice you can use BIM for just about any feature of the built environment, no job too small or large.

This week the potential of BIM at the micro level was flagged up in Building, 3D printing has widely been used in the world of industrial product design but hardly in the construction industry. Advocates of 3D printing claim that the construction industry will adopt it in time and that very complicated bits of kit such as HVAC systems can already be manufactured by printers allied to BIM. That is perhaps the next great evolution of BIM. For now BIM comes into its own at a macro level – the bigger the project, the greater the benefit of using BIM. The potential to save time (during the design phase and with logistics) and maintain integrity of inventories makes BIM very attractive for large scale projects.

It’s for this reason that clients, architects and contractors that wrestle habitually with large scale projects are coming to BSL. KPF, for example is renowned for designing skyscrapers and have been responsible for a large chunk of the blueprints behind London’s tallest buildings this century. Ferrovial Agroman is a large European contractor, chiefly known in the UK for owning a portfolio of airports including Heathrow. While a new runway is not on the drawing board for Heathrow, the small matter of a £3Bn development plan is. Populous is arguably the world’s leading stadium designer, and its extensive UK portfolio includes the Olympic Stadium (and conversion works for post-Olympics usage). These grand project specialists will be joined at BSL by major contractors such as Laing O’Rourke, Morgan Sindall, Willmott Dixon, ISG, Mott MacDonald, and Hochtief. All of these are multi-sector operators that have interests in large scale office and resi schemes, and civils projects such as roads, rail and bridges.

Understandably, grand project clients are buying into BIM in a major way too, and BSL has a particular appeal to big retailers, with Sainsbury’s, Asda and John Lewis signing up. BIM has come into its own in the supermarket sector. Retail sheds generally have a simple shell type design, however where retailers skimp on complexity or exterior decoration they make up for in the fit-out, with most stores undergoing a complete refurb every five years. There are few other building types where this happens. It’s this need for frequent changes within the context of a simple structure where BIM’s stage 4 capability comes into its own.

Maybe one day soon BIM will feed into the manufacture of water fountains or garden sheds – there is no area of the built environment off limits. However for now it’s the biggest projects where BIM will bring the biggest benefits. As the press thinks the UK is hopeless at delivering grand projects (glossing over the smooth delivery of The Shard, the Olympic Park and  Heathrow T5), the time and cost savings possible via BIM could transform our attitude to such landmarks. A welcome development for both project team leads and the whole supply chain – some well delivered national monuments will  give construction the morale boost it needs in these austere times.

The relevance of BIM

James Austin

Written by James Austin, Customer Success Manager, Autodesk Consulting

The UK construction industry represents over £100bn of output into a very bleak national economy, 30% of which is directly consumed by the public sector. It is intrinsic to our opportunities for national and international growth, and central to our ability to meet global climate targets. Technology, and BIM in particular, has been earmarked in the Industrial Strategy of our own government as one of the key components of this opportunity. Last week, the UK Government and the UK BIM initiative specifically was recognised by Fiatech with the James B Porter Jr. award for Technology Leadership in the United States. It is certainly a very relevant topic right now.

In the judging of proposals for this years BIM Show Live, the panel had to review and choose from over 100 proposals for just 32 places. The technology forum was similarly oversubscribed, in just its first year of running. When I put together the speaker programme for the first BIM Show Live, I ran through my twitter followers and begged them all to get together 16 speakers willing to participate and share their real-life experience.

BIM has become many things to many different people. When something becomes relevant, people sharpen their focus on it – it becomes important. When we set up BIM Show Live 3 years ago, it was a response to more wordy formats that focussed on discussion and debate. The whole point was to illustrate what was happening out there in the real world, and create a forum that showcased the best of BIM. The growth in interest is a tangible demonstration of that increased focus on BIM, and a measure of the change that has happened in that time.

We have moved through the stages of “Why BIM”, through “What it means to me”, and we are swiftly arriving in a place where a lot more of us are doing it for real. This coincides directly with the focus of the government, bringing BIM and the construction industry in the UK into a unique position globally. The opportunity that the government are positioning, is for the UK to become a global exemplar and use that to lift the economy out of recession.

To realise that opportunity it is important to retain the focus that has driven BIM from its beginnings to where it currently sits. Events like BIM Show Live provide us with an opportunity to reflect on progress, to learn new skills, techniques and processes, and to be inspired by other people’s solutions to common problems. BIM at its core is about collaboration, integration, and breaking down silo’s and I feel this is why it has succeeded in becoming so relevant for the industry today. As the computer savvy GenY ‘kids’ enter the workplace, and social media weaves its way into the fabric of working life, there is a certain inevitability to what is happening in construction today.

I’m excited about those 32 classes this year. For me, they represent the most relevant aspects of activity in BIM that we could find. I’m excited about walking around the technology forum and reading tweets about all of the things I will inevitably miss. Most of all, I’m excited about where BIM is headed and I cant wait to see what’s coming. I wont be worried about the challenges ahead, that’s pretty irrelevant to me.

Making Construction Cool…

Rob Charlton

Written by Rob Charlton, BIM Technologies

The idea for BIM Show Live was developed after total fatigue of the round of conferences a couple of years ago talking about the theory of BIM. There were a number of people and organisations at the time who were not only talking about BIM but were doing it.

A couple of the BIMtechnologies team had been attending Autodesk university for a number of years and we felt that there was an opportunity to coordinate something similar for the UK. This event would bring together those who were actually delivering in BIM and pushing the boundaries in the industry.

It was structured around the 4 stages of BIG BIM and looked beyond just design and build. We could see that the value in the data was always going to be in long term operation.

We also wanted to be software neutral and were keen to get the support of all software vendors.

The selection of speakers was to be independent to ensure we maintained quality and it wasn’t possible to buy your way into the programme.

Obviously all of this costs money so we were fortunate enough to find UBM as our JV partner.

Since the first humble event at the building design centre nearly two years ago the event has gone from strength to strength. The fundamental principals remain the same. The most important thing at BIM Show Live is the content.

When I saw the programme for this year I was blown away. Not only by the level of support but the quality and depth across all classes. For the first event we had to twist people arms to speak about what they were doing. Now there is so much going in and So many people want to share their knowledge.

This alone must be a positive for the industry. Where else do main contractors, manufacturers, subcontractors and designers share a stage?

We have seen a huge growth in adoption and it is fantastic to see support from all aspect of the industry.

On the opening day I will deliver “a state of the nation” speech! Whilst some may say I have presidential aspirations this will specifically relate to how different parts of the industry are responding to the challenges and opportunity of BIM. The programme at BSL2013 is a great barometer and I am sure you can work out the good the bad and the ugly from who is speaking and importantly who is not.

The final point for BSL is it needs to be fun.There will be lots of learning and thinking but  want to it to be fun!

Cool Construction

For so long we have tried to promote our industry to young people.

Construction and property is not an easy sell at present. We will launch our new campaign at BSL which we are calling  “Cool Construction.” We see this as a way of attracting the best talent into the industry from both genders. We want to be able to compete with Facebook and Google as the employers if choice.

Why can’t construction be cool?

For more information and to book your delegate place, please visit:

BIM: It’s all about the builder

Matt Pennell, UBM

Written by Matt Pennell, UBM

Up until recently the stereotypical BIM evangelist has been a senior architect working in a large practice. This community has seen joined up parametric software as a lifesaver, liberating them from painstaking chores such as inventory checking or repeatedly amending technical drawings by hand. They’ve shouted the loudest, as BIM has made their working lives easier, and made the production of design cheaper and easier.

In the background contractors have been quietly pleased with BIM too, pointing out is ubiquity – not just as a integral tool on buildings but on civils work too, such as motorway widening where it guides earthworking.  BIM has the potential to be used on any built environment project, but it particularly lends itself to buildings that are simple and functional, rather than ornate. Inaugural Chief Government Construction Adviser Paul Morrell had the vision to spot this, and being a BIM evangelist he mandated its compulsory use on public sector building projects after 2016.

Across construction BIM-use is exploding – up from 13% to 31% in the last two years according to the NBS’s National BIM survey – an even greater growth rate will be required to reach 100% compliance in the public sector which has hitherto lagged behind the private sector. This is one of many reasons that major contractor BAM has made a major commitment to BIM and BIM Show Live (BSL), specifically. BAM, who has a historical strength in the UK schools and healthcare sectors, is set to send 30 delegates to BSL. This is a reflection on the multi-functional nature of BIM, with different specialists working across the four key stages.

Interestingly BAM doesn’t see BIM as a mere construction tool, Stage 4 – Operate and Maintain – is important to the company which is overseeing a myriad of PFI maintenance contracts. Kath Fontana, Managing Director of BAM FM and keynote speaker at BSL observes, “The data that BIM extracts from the construction process has far-reaching potential for understanding our built assets, and to transform our management capabilities. With BIM, gone are the PDFs, CD-Roms and nigh-indecipherable spread sheets that have made it hard to locate assets within a building, to know who supplied each one, to work out its maintenance programme and optimise its usage before ultimately replacing or repairing it in a cost efficient manner.”

Thus BIM goes hand in hand with a transformation in the role of contractors, who used to aspire to finish a building on time and rush off to the next project. Now in many cases they have to take responsibility for the building during the operational phase. Since the start of PFI era contractors have now become concerned about whole life costs and ‘soft landings’.  Ideally this would benefit the end user due to a synergy between the build and maintenance teams – the functionality of buildings would improve and remain in a better state throughout their working life. This potential is yet to be realised but perhaps it’s now within reach as Fontana adds, “Despite our best efforts, there has been a long term disconnect here between the construction industry, the clients they build for, and the teams that provide facilities management. Into this Bermuda triangle the data disappears. But the risk of all this data being less than perfect is borne by the customer. And it is this that we are on the cusp of changing forever.”

So there you have it – you already knew BIM was changing design and project management forever. Now it’s weaved its way into the fabric of construction and maintenance too. Every type of project team lead now sees a benefit from BIM and we look forward to seeing the build and FM communities converge on this year’s BSL.

For more information and to book your delegate place, please visit: