Finding Your Place in a Digital BIM-Enabled Environment

Mac Muzvimwe
There is an unverified statistic that 90% of the data in the world today was generated in the last three years. Whether or not that statement is true is not the point; what is a fact, is that there is now more project information and data available to construction industry professionals due to adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM).

As BIM becomes part of business as usual and our built environment becomes more digitised, professions, organisations and individuals will need to find their place in that new digital environment. Technology is bringing new capabilities and will continue to do so, and through that, it is redefining professions. For example, quantities take-off (not measurement to a particular standard) has become easier and a skill that can easily be commoditised. Therefore, if a designer can produce accurate quantities schedules, why not leave that task to the designer and instead the quantity surveyor can focus on other activities that will add value and improve project outcomes?

Digital processes and technology will enable the industry to adopt an outcome-based approach to service offering, but only if the industry embraces the digital environment.

The quantity surveyor could attend all design team meetings and provide real-time cost information to aid design choices rather than wait to do value engineering after presentation of an above-budget cost plan. This is just one example, and yes, there are liability issues that must be worked out first with any role redefinitions, but the onus is on the industry (professional institutions, organisations and individuals) to work together to redefine our roles and responsibilities bearing in mind that ultimate purpose of any project is to provide a client with a facility that is fit for purpose. Digital processes and technology will enable the industry to adopt an outcome-based approach to service offering, but only if the industry embraces the digital environment.

Role definition is also something the Digital Built Britain Level 3 BIM Strategic Plan (PDF,2MB) alluded to on page 29: "It is widely recognised within the construction industry that its organisation, its culture and the education and training that supports it are in need of reform. In spite of current concerns about the number of young people entering the industry, we might be training too many people for professional roles and in the traditional building trades and not enough people in the skills that will be needed as the industry embraces the digital economy. As construction transforms itself into a modern digitally enabled industry, it will need fewer quantity surveyors and bricklayers and more people with qualifications in production management, logistics, supply chain management, collaborative systems and data analysis."

Whether or not one is a technology geek or advocate is not the point, the reality is that we did not choose the digital environment, instead it chose us and we have to find our place in it.

Digital processes such as automation will continue to transform the industry traditional roles, and therefore, professionals need to take an active role in using digital technology to redefine the existing roles and reposition service offerings. Such an approach would enable the wider industry and individuals to manage the transition better and increase the gains in terms of service provision and improving outcomes for clients.

It is not really for a group, institution, or individual to say who belongs where in this new digital environment, however, what is apparent is that the industry will require various new skills and roles such as:

  1. Digitally-enabled strategic project managers that can deliver high value services to clients in an environment where data and smart technology is key.
  2. Strategic asset managers with informatics, data mining, and data analytics capabilities to help optimise commercial and operational performance of an asset on behalf of clients.
  3. Responsive and real-time advice, be it cost, design, maintenance or virtual simulations. 

Whether or not one is a technology geek or advocate is not the point, the reality is that we did not choose the digital environment, instead it chose us and we have to find our place in it. At Faithful+Gould we have recognised that BIM needs not be a specialist skill or service but just the way we do business and as part of the Atkins Group, we are working our digital engineering capability to ensure that we continue to improve project outcomes on behalf of our clients.