BIM – advanced digitising in infrastructure design

Project management and Information Technology

A discussion that aims at analysing some of the most interesting aspects of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and highlighting the advantages, not just with regard to the digitising of the design processes but also, and in particular, the cultural passage that BIM assumes which concerns project management.

What are the advantages generated by BIM from the client and work team’s point of view? What are the main problems to solve to move to complete and effective use of this tool?
A. Vettese: To appreciate the advantages of BIM, we must necessarily refer to the need to have adequate information for making decisions in the different stages of the life cycle of a project – from the analysis of the needs to satisfy to the definition of the design proposal, the check on the technical, economic, financial and regulatory feasibility to the definition of the works to be constructed, through to the fulfilment and then the management and maintenance of the works. To this could be added the steps in the decommissioning of the works at the end of their life cycle or their transformation, also linked to decisions to be supplied with adequate information.
The information debt which is currently a feature of the insufficiency of decision-making processes can be overcome with adequate organisation of the processes and that is what has been done to date in environments permeated by project management culture. Even more effectively, work can be done on improving the ability to interact of the entities involved in the development and use of the information, the prompt availability of unambiguous information and its completeness with respect to the parts of the work to be defined or define. These improvements can be introduced through the increase in the level of digitising of design processes, concentrating all the information from any source in a single, digital environment of sharing.
From this point of view, the client and service providers have the same aims. In addition, service providers will be able to improve their productivity and ability to respond. BIM offers them the not-negligible benefit of creating a log of the intelligence developed during the design stages in accessible databases, organised by those working in the model. The initial investment in tools and training on the methods is followed by a period of amortisation featuring savings.
The problems to solve concern both the area of the theoretical methods for the recovery of any organisational debts from the process (training, change in staff attitude, etc.) and the tools that do not yet allow either fluid continuity in the exchange of data through the different design environments or completed operations from the digital point of view.  
L. Romio: There are many advantages of BIM. Mention can be made of the clarity of input information throughout the whole process, taking the right decisions promptly, sharing a clear aim right from the start, working with teams where the designers and companies are perfectly aligned in reasoning on the client’s needs and, not least, the generation of logs of all the intelligence on the information created in an ordered way. The client is the focal point of all BIM. The availability of all the information structured clearly and in an ordered way is the fundamental aspect of the process as the client is the end user of the whole information databank to be at the base of the management and maintenance of the work once completed. There are quite a few challenges to face so that these advantages can be achieved. There are three main obstacles to overcome in transport infrastructure in particular. First of all, the clients, both public and private, which are still not the driving force for the development of BIM; there are still too few applications and requests in terms of tenders and information specifications. Secondly, although the software houses are developing more and more innovative tools each year, we’re still a long way from true interoperability, unlike the construction world where there is a higher level of digitising. Lastly, BIM require methods and, above all, a level of work organisation that cannot be taken for granted in all the stakeholders involved in the process; with this, I’m referring to both engineering and construction companies and the clients.

In BIM in principles and in practice, Peter Barnes and Nigel Davies state that. “What BIM offers is the possibility for its users to be better at what they do, when they do it”. What do you think about the fact that a base culture ready for and substantially oriented to the improvement of the relationship between quality information and the decision-making process is necessary for BIM to be used successfully and to exploit all its potential?
AV: The answer to this question should be sought in the response to the various advantages. Just as Barnes and Davies state, digitising, a feature evoked with the term BIM, is often confused with just the instrumental component. The ability to respond is entrusted to the tools. But the perfect use of performing tools from the point of view of the completeness of the environments for development or exchange of information is not enough. Information is generated in processes whose outcomes are conditioned by their organisation, by how the different entities interact in the value chain, the methods adopted to connect, for example, project data, restrictions, aims, developments and checks. These aspects are essential, just like the technological and specialist components, in generating ‘abilities’. Skipping the preparatory stage of refining the methods and checking the adequacy of the organisation, and only concentrating on the use of the modelling tools can be a source of great frustration.
LR: I agree with what’s just been said. On one hand, the 3D model of a work can be very effective, thinking of both the clarity of the visual information and its ability to share the design solutions with the team members and the client but, on the other, we should not forget that modelling in itself is not enough. The essence of BIM lies in its ability to find where and how to represent the information, and where and how to share useful data promptly to make effective decisions. In all this, we should also recall that client is always the main user of all the information that is slowly but surely structured. As Barnes and Davies state, and Vettese has indicated, information, in its widest meaning, must be managed along a path that is not only made of technological aspects but particularly of methods, and clarity of roles and responsibilities. This aim requires all the players in the process to be ‘prepared’ and organised to use the potential of BIM. The question talks of a “base culture that is already ready” but, in actual fact, it isn’t that ready yet. BIM assumes a cultural passage, i.e. project management, that the infrastructure world in Italy has perhaps undervalued to date.

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The evolution of the digitising level in the construction sector therefore underlies the optimal combination and integration of project management methods and processes and the software tools of Information Technology. Can you explain better this concept applied to BIM?
AV: Referring to what’s already been said, I must stress that, regardless of the software support and the formats used (see ISO 19650 Part. 1 on the definition of model), information modelling requires adequate development with respect to the restrictions, needs and aims of the client requesting this type of service. The information generated consists of the intelligence associated with the parts of the work. The restrictions and aims, intelligence developed and the processes for their development are organised on the parts of the work.
What is new, if you like, is the recovery of the work and its parts as a bearer structure of the organisation of the intelligence and information flows.
BIM also allows the processes of development of the information to be enriched with facilitated stages of checking and interconnection of the different disciplines, with the chance to correlate the costs, fulfilment times and the topical dimensions n, which can be materialised with the appropriate parameters, between them. There is now extensive talk of the concepts linked to 4D, 5D, etc.
LR: I’d like to take up an essential point just mentioned, i.e. the chance of constructing the intelligence associated with the parts of the work. For example, starting from the information specifications supplied by the client before starting to define a true model, the basic information – of whatever kind (regulations to apply, restrictions to respect, structuring of the parts of the work, identification of the relative responsibilities and codification to share), must be traced and routed in the design of a process that requires managerial skills and a work organisation that cannot be improvised. The initial start-up stage is all too often undervalued, even in traditional approaches; it is essential to obtain a structured organisation of the information on which the subsequent development of the modelling will be based. Ultimately, BIM is definitely an innovative way of designing with positive repercussions on construction methods and which enables the work produced to be managed better than any other method, exploiting the potential of increasingly sophisticated software. Everything functions as long as the need is recognised on one side for the BIM process to be managed according to project management methods and, on the other, the evolution of modelling tools, to be guided, at the same time also driving the increase in the level of digitising of those ‘processes’.

Luca Romio, Antonio Vettese

Luca Romio started as a site engineer for construction companies and passed to the Project Control world. He is now Operations Manager of Net Engineering, and is an enthusiast of integrated company management systems and Project Management. Antonio Vettese is Consigliere OICE delegate for training, digitising, industry 4.0 and university, BIM member of the EFCA task force, IPMA Level 4 certificated project director and chairman of the BOD of Sistema Progetto S.r.l.