Friday, August 28, 2009

Why go BIM from a State Government Perspective

Whether we like it or not, technology is driving major changes in the design industry. The good news is that there are a wide variety of new ways to increase efficiency in the design process on the side of the architect and engineer. The bad news is that many of the receivers of these services still reside in the chalk-on-a-rock stage. It's amazing to me how many entities - which are so driven by the call to reduce our impact on the environment - still rely on the very technology they want to legislate out of existence. It's one thing for a federal/state/local government entity to pass laws mandating reductions in emissions, forcing the recycling of sustainable materials - but it's another thing for these same industries to walk away from the paper copy.

Which is why it's so important for government entities - for example, our very own State Construction Office, which manages projects for state-owned buildings in addition to maintaining these facilities, to adopt a plan to move away from that deliverable. And this is where the fundamental change to BIM needs to occur. No matter how much we improve this process on the design side, until these entities are willing to devise standards that allow for BIM applications from any manufacturer to be the standard deliverable, we can't move completely to a whole-life cycle of the building. And since our state is the largest land/building owner, it's a shame these standards haven't already been addressed.

SO how do you do it?

The first step is address the legal issue of shared electronic documentation. I've heard from so many designers that their primary concern is the fact they can give a file to an owner or agency, and there be no control over any changes that may be made by that entity. This is pretty simple to resolve - set the timeline as the controlling factor, and use technology such as file locking and digital signatures to assure authenticity - the electronic form of a seal. The seal itself can become an electronic entity that becomes disengaged once the file is edited or saved by the receiving party, so it becomes quickly documented that the file has been altered.

Once the legal aspect is addressed (IMHO, fire all the lawyers - that'll take care of it), the standard for deliverable needs to be worked out so that the brand of software used is open to the point that it is a BIM deliverable. The scope of work should state continuity of applications - if they can't share data via IFC, then the entire product should be on one platform - i.e. Revit Architecture, Structure and MEP should be used as the deliverable file. Autodesk still has some work to do in this arena, but don't think there isn't some work to be done on the Bentley/Graphisoft side as well - we still hear of translation issues between all three applications.

Regulatory agencies also should NOT be the receiver of the BIM file - it should be the owner, contractor and designer that is sharing this file. But the agencies must specify this standard, so the government entity has a guideline to follow. We'll talk about this in the next post on electronic deliverables...

But WHY should this become the practice? For starters, the model itself takes on a longer life term than the paper document. Requiring models promotes use of more efficient energy/LEED/Sustainability concepts and automates the process. With applications such as Ecotect, Virtual Environment, Green Building Studio and others refining the ability to work with these models, and quickly generate design alternatives, life cycle costs, etc., there's no reason these agencies should be continuing to accept applications that can't work directly with the building model. Read my lips - 2D CAD docs are dead in the water, and have outlived their time.

The roundtrip of as-built models can reduce design cycle time and cut down on expensive on-site time to verify as builts - while it may add some time to create a more accurate model in the forefront (no, you can't use TYP. anymore - see the previous post), it can save a great deal of time for this activity - provided the tool contains all of the features necessary to represent the major components of the building.

SIDE THOUGHT - part of the standards must specify the level of modeled detail - you're not going to drawing every nut and bolt, every stud or every wire - but you are going to provide major equipment, large size connecting geometry that has less flexibility than something like a wire or cable.

Instead of having staff spend large amounts of time maintaining paper docs and 2D files with little to no common standards (all based on each design firms process) switch to the GBXML model, IFC Model, or direct Revit model delivery - have state staff maintain one central model instead of hundreds of drawings and paper documentation. UNC campuses alone have hundreds of thousands of drawings dating back so many years, and taking up so much valuable floor space that could be used for other purposes. And accuracy? Take a guess...knowing how many different design firms that have worked on government buildings, should give you a good idea of how many different approaches have been used - BIM forces more consistency.

On the facilities management side, BIM requires a different type of worker - a combination of real-world design experience and next generation understand of computer technology. the user doesn't need to be at either end of the spectrum, but a non-designing FM "documenter" (to quote my redneck heritage) should have enough design sense not to stick a screwdriver in a live light switch. They have to have a fundamental understanding of construction and design, but should not have to be at the registered level.

So where do we go from here? Depends - on how well you know your congressman or state agency rep - are they really interesting in reducing their own impact on the environment, or reducing the costs of government? Or are they there for some other purpose other than serving the people they represent...

Any comments?

Have a great Labor day weekend - enjoy the fruits of your work by taking a day out of petty cash and going's on me!

later - David B.