“Better Information Management
I have been actively involved in BIM since its inception in the 1980s and worked with many other innovators to turn an aspirational concept into a reality.
The late Jeff Wix introduced me to the vision of Coordinated Project Information in 1984 and I was hooked, directing my software engineers to develop ways of placing data at the core of design, coordination, construction and operations – what we now call the Golden Thread.
In 1988, we developed the first database-driven AutoCAD M&E application (BS-Link) that enabled coordinated models and extended that into Architecture when we took over the development of Sonata, then supporting Jonathan Ingram in the development of Reflex which, in turn, evolved into Revit.
I mention this because, although 3D has always been very important to me, my focus has always been on the data – seeing 3D models as merely one (very important) view of what is now called BIM.
Autodesk and the other CAD vendors have been very successful at defining BIM as 3D but that great marketing has limited its potential by excluding key stakeholders who create and consume data that has little relevance to 3D.
We advocates of 3D modelling have been innovative and adept at showing how the likes of planning (4D) and cost management (5D) can benefit from the geometric model but, in hindsight, we were often allowing the Technology lead our thinking rather than focusing on solving the business problems by means of Better Information Management.
When I was asked to take over as Chair BIM4Housing (B4H), I wanted change the perception of, and the narrative around, BIM.
Not everything can (or should) be modelled in 3D.
Aside from the time, cost and performance limits, there is often no workflow that makes it practical.
I wanted the people who required and produced very important information to become engaged and understand how they could contribute to a wider Data Model that supported Better Information Management.
I’ve been very fortunate in recruiting some outstanding advocates for change to invest time in BIM4Housing to address real business issues that they come across every way.
The biggest challenges cannot be solved by technology alone – particularly those posed by Hackitt and the Building Safety Bill. Changes in culture and better processes are also necessary so we have sought to learn from other industries that have had problems with safety – Healthcare and Aviation.
The latter seems to have it cracked, creating a culture and process of reporting mistakes and addressing them, rather than transferring blame.
As Matthew Syed writes Black Box Thinking “When pilots make mistakes, it results in their own deaths. When a doctor makes a mistake, it results in the death of someone else. That is why pilots are better motivated than doctors to reduce mistakes. But this analysis misses the crucial point. Remember that pilots died in large numbers in the early days of aviation. This was not because they lacked the incentive to live, but because the system had so many flaws. Failure is inevitable in a complex world. This is precisely why learning from mistakes is so imperative.”
Construction is also a complex world so failure is inevitable.
We need to establish a similar culture to Aviation and encourage reporting of mistakes – our own as well as those of others – so we can engineer them out of the process.
Bill East (of COBie fame) is a ‘fellow traveller’ and has directed me to a podcast by the BBC’s Tim Harford who gave an example of ‘two pressure relief systems that react in such a way that neither of them work.’
Tim presents evidence that the safety measures introduced to prevent catastrophes can make processes more complex and when systems are both complex and tightly coupled, we should expect catastrophic accidents.
Within BIM4Housing, we are establishing this Black Box culture, inviting people with deep understanding of individual asset types, the systems they form part of and the inter-relationship of systems, to join with other experts to better understand how we can mitigate (not eliminate) risks.