It was at the hog roast on Saturday afternoon, and I had just bitten appreciably into wonderful Berkshire Tamworth and crackling (a superb achievement in itself – an anthem to a great pig). The father of my hostess said “With BIM in its present state, I as a small architectural office in a country town can work on far larger projects: in fact we are just opening a virtual office in the West End of London”. In an information industry which perpetually recites the mantra about the integration of software with content as data to create solutions it is important to have a reminder every now and then that this is for real and drives men’s lives. The conversation drove me back to see what the industry leaders were doing, to see how Autodesk had defended its AutoCAD territory with Revit, and to see whether there are now any appreciable results worth measuring. And then to think about the changes of the past five years in the context of those years having embraced the worst construction industry downturn in the last century. If the technology can scale in these conditions then it can scale anywhere at any time.

In January this year a McGraw-Hill report indicated that BIM usage had grown from 17% of the US construction market to 70% in 2012. And what are the drivers here? Simply that it has become a requirement for many of those commissioning major building projects that not only does the construction process need an operational model, but that owners need to inherit at completion the final data plot, with the consequent ability to backtrack, find what decisions were made and why and consider them in light of further development or maintenance requirements. Another driver was Green Buildings: how could anyone be sure of the green decisions made unless they were fully documented and attached to the plan? According to Revit, still firmly in place as market leader, there are four distinguishing areas that make the processes involved in the unified content solution flow (architectural design: MEP – mechanical, electrical, plumbing: structural engineering and construction) work at higher levels of efficiency:

* Parametric components – dropping in “intelligent” building design components to increase accuracy
* Bidirectional associativity – all design changes are reflected automatically throughout the model
* Worksharing – all players in the workflow can have access at the same time
* Construction modelling – getting better insight into constructability

It seems to me that there are important lessons here for those of us who talk airily about “workflow and process – and the integration of content into it”. For a start, things can change almost overnight – five years is a very short time. Secondly, the McGraw-Hill survey shows consistent gains in terms of margins for BIM procedures users over their more traditional colleagues. Then, these developments will change the shape of the industries to which they are applied, leading to cross-industry collaboration in some sectors, and cost effective outsourcing in others. So for the vendor of data and content, the nature of the customer can be expected to change. It may also be a factor that recession accelerates change, forcing those who must remain competitive to do so earlier than they might have done in markets where work was easier to get.

Undoubtedly too the three change pressures that have afflicted all industries play a lead role here. All the partners in this workflow model are anxious for increased productivity – and that is probably expressed here by the loss of clerical roles. Everyone must have better decision-making – and that is expressed here by an ability to try the options and select the best. And very powerfully this workflow speaks to the need for compliance with standards, local and national regulation, industry benchmarks and other requirements. It is also noteworthy that this is a “long” workflow, stretching from project conception to the completed building, and then living on as a building management tool. Five years ago we tended to speak in B2B about single process workflow – helping the user to do better procurement, for example. Here we are talking in much more comprehensive terms – and if it were necessary to credit check suppliers then that would be modularized in the process, not left outside of it.

The implications of all of this are huge for formerly passive data suppliers to particular industry functions A glance at McGraw-Hill Construction and Reed Construction illustrates some of the issues. McGraw-Hill got away to a fast start with its Construction Network, really aimed at the Bechtel-Haliburton end of the industry, and at global markets. Reed Construction’s data holdings were aimed at costing and leads, and much of their workflow activity, like the recently launched cūbus + Demand View (29 July 2013) (http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/7/prweb10950816.htm). This is the smartest development so far in comparative leads intelligence, and makes McGraw’s Dodge Network express look like a messaging service. The UK government is ready to roll (2011 pronouncement: “The Government Construction Strategy was published by the Cabinet office on 31 May 2011. The report announced the Governments intention to require: collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) on its projects by 2016.” But while Revit and its lesser rivals are obvious in the market place, neither UBM or EMAP, who hold most of the data resources, seem hot to trot. In fact Barbour, once a market leader, makes no mention that I can find of BIM. This then raises the open question: will the big players in content and data here buy into the software business, or partner with Revit. And do the smaller ones get bought by the software players – or simply get by-passed . The implications of workflow, as demonstrated in this seminal marketplace, get sharper in focus every day.

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