BIM – A Knowledge Management Perspective

Adrian Malone
Knowledge Management (KM) is about improving the way in which organisations work with data and information, and with helping people to share knowledge and to collaborate. As Building Information Modelling is adopted, KM can provide some useful insights and methods to support the implementation of BIM.

The UK government construction strategy published in 2011, which has subsequently been updated with the publication of Construction 2025 (PDF, 2.16MB) is acting as a catalyst for the adoption of Building Information Modelling across the UK construction industry. BIM introduces some new terminology and process, and is also providing a focus for considerable effort in the development of new technology and software. As we begin to define Level 3 BIM it is anticipated that we will see further innovation with the introduction of new forms of contract, project insurance models, and the use of cloud based software and storage for the management of design and other information about built assets.

BIM introduces some new terminology and process, and is also providing a focus for considerable effort in the development of new technology and software.

Innovation in the way we co-ordinate design and project information is welcome. The growth in processing power and storage capacity of computers has been matched by a proliferation in the volume and complexity of information which must be stored and managed as part of the delivery of a construction project. Information structures based around files and folders are increasingly inefficient at managing the volume of data associated with a typical project. Management of revisions to CAD drawings through electronic drawing registers is an improvement on paper based systems, but offers limited progression from the paper based systems they replicate.

Knowledge Management provides a lens through which the changes to the way in which information is managed and co-ordinated through BIM can be understood, and provides some useful frameworks which can help to ensure that we do not focus too narrowly on management of data and information, and in so doing dilute our recognition of the importance of broader knowledge processes which are essential to the effective delivery of projects.

Two of the concepts from KM which are useful when considering the implementation of BIM are the DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom) hierarchy, and the distinction between 'explicit knowledge' and 'tacit knowledge'.

Two of the concepts from KM which are useful when considering the implementation of BIM are the DIKW hierarchy, and the distinction between 'explicit knowledge' and 'tacit knowledge'.

Explicit Knowledge describes knowledge which can easily be written down, captured in a database, and codified. BIM provides powerful tools to store and manage explicit knowledge, development of information classifications such as COBIE2012-UK, NRM and UNICLASS provide a framework by which explicit knowledge can be codified and structured. Some of these classification systems pre-date BIM, their adoption as part of BIM increases their usefulness and usability.

Tacit knowledge is far more difficult to write down and codify, some argue that tacit knowledge can only ever exist in the mind of the ‘knower’. Tacit knowledge is often learned through experience or through formal training and education.

DIKW is a model which provides a hierarchical classification which begins at the lowest level with 'Data'. Above data is 'Information', followed by 'Knowledge' and finally ‘Wisdom’. This concept is useful when implementing BIM. 'Data' and 'Information' can be readily stored and structured within BIM. The BIM process provides a solution to the requirement for co-ordinated project information, and through the adoption of PAS1192-2 becomes a contractual requirement.

BIM is a collaborative process; the model provides a powerful tool to support project team communication and stakeholder engagement more generally.

Knowledge is more of a challenge. Explicit knowledge can be contained and co-ordinated through the model created through BIM. Tacit knowledge, which remains vital to the successful delivery of projects cannot be fully contained or communicated by the model. Whilst the model itself cannot fully contain tacit knowledge, the BIM process provides a powerful means by which the application of tacit knowledge is enhanced. BIM is a collaborative process; the model provides a powerful tool to support project team communication and stakeholder engagement more generally.

The 3D model allows a more rapid and richer understanding of the design to be communicated, particularly to stakeholders who are inexperienced interpreting 2D CAD drawings. The use of 4D BIM in which construction or maintenance sequences can be visualised through time is particularly powerful in allowing experienced project managers to apply their tacit knowledge at design stage or planning, identifying and solving logistical and co-ordination issues before the project reaches site.

The concept of explicit knowledge, which is codified and structured can help us to understand the potential which can be unlocked when data and information is stored in a purposeful way within the model and co-ordinated through the BIM process. Recognising that tacit knowledge cannot be separated from the 'knower' reminds us that as new technology is adopted through BIM, people remain at the heart of the construction process.