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Data has become a currency for companies to monetize their user base. When it comes to the construction industry, however, understanding how to utilize (and therefore monetize) data is not yet what it could be. 

Monetizing data in this case is not harvesting data to sell it to third parties, but rather simply deriving value from it. With proper information management, construction players can interact directly with a project’s cost, schedule, design, construction and ops process and connect intangibles such as activities and risks. The result: a truly cohesive integrated asset lifecycle that recovers value and reduces costs.

Where do things stand Now?

Construction is continuing to embrace building information modeling and in doing so, datasets compiled from multiple sources are being embedded within design and construction processes. 

For example, a designer inputs specification information for a door in a Revit file while the project’s cost consultant adds a rate to that same door and the contractor includes supply chain data. 

What ends up can be large, often unwieldy data sets from disparate sources that lack the consistency and integrity required to gain the major benefits on offer. 

Realizing the Potential of Information Management

Consider the life of the door mentioned above – design, specification, costing, procurement, manufacture, transportation, installation and operation. With the right approach to information management, there is no reason this particular asset cannot be tracked through each of these stages of its life. And why not consider taking it a step further by kicking off the procurement activities directly based on the design of that door? 

By scanning the contents of a BIM model, contractors will know the door type, manufacturer, lead in time, transportation time and so on. This information can be used to update project schedules, cost plans and onsite 4D activities. Later, when the building is handed over, that door can be clicked on or scanned to find not just the data embedded in the BIM model in Revit, but also its line item in the cost plan, manufacturer information to allow for repair and replacement, and all activities related to it. 

With the possibilities established, what is required and why is it currently such a struggle?

The challenge

As things now stand, an owner will engage a designer to create a detailed concept of what the building will be. Since BIM has become more prominent, the industry has begun shifting from disconnected drawings, spreadsheets and text files to a cohesive 3D BIM model with embedded metadata allowing for extracted cost, program analysis and planning. 

With current BIM standards and processes such as OpenBIM and COBie, foundational schemas exist to structure data. 

Unfortunately, an integrated approach does not necessarily extend to areas such as cost breakdown structure (CBS) or work breakdown structure (WBS), which have their own setups and are typically built atop different software platforms and managed by people not necessarily focusing on the same outcomes.

Within the design phase of a project, there is considerable emphasis on structuring data – from naming elements and numbering files to classification and specification systems. 

Rules are established at the project’s onset and then adhered to, where possible, with varying results. This, coupled with the current focus on authoring tool-specific structures such as worksets or sub-categories in Revit, translates into a great deal of information management at the front end of a project that’s somewhat disconnected to the true value to be found later on. Now, there is no suggestion here that these aspects have less value. The structure established early on in the process can have huge positive effects when data sets are used outside of where they were created, such as pulling quantities into cost software. 

A Vision of BIM/Data Nirvana

Looking ahead, a large part of the role of an information manager on a BIM project will be the verification of the data coming from the design team and/or sub-consultants to other systems that have an influence over the lifecycle of assets. By keeping an eye on the operations of a building, information managers can feed goals back down the supply chain. But the role will then shift to enabling deep integrations with other non-design-centric processes such as facilities management and procurement.

In the future, the management of project data can also be expanded to connect systems to each other and allow for automation of tasks and reporting. In the case of the door mentioned above, procurement, payment and installation activities will all be planned based on the contractor’s model. 

So much has been said about how BIM enables design and construction processes to connect to each other and this is perfectly true. But it should be acknowledged that much of the management of data is currently focused on what can enhance a design model. As soon as focus shifts to triggering non-design related activities with information from any dataset, then the benefits will begin to show themselves.

The industry typically uses common data environments (CDE) to host information created during the design and construction phases of a project but it is rare to find the capital expenditure, project schedule, cost modelling and resourcing information sat in the same place. By taking a holistic view of wider project information, contractors are already seeing opportunities to leverage automation and streamline manual processes. The role of the information manager is already shifting from one of quality assurance to integration and interoperability. Here’s hoping that shift continues to receive the push it needs from the industry.

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