Missing a trick

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Stuck in their old ways and reluctant to invest, quantity surveyors are missing out on the rich data benefits of Building Information Modelling (BIM).

The adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) has now moved past simply being a 3D design tool. Landlords, investors and building users have started to realise that BIM goes far beyond visualisation and clash detection.

The shift towards BIM is increasingly about data gathered throughout the design and construction process and how it can be used positively.

Quantity surveyors often do not trust the information in BIM models so rely on paper drawings to complete the survey process.

Several years ago I referred to this data as the marmite of BIM. Marmite is the bi-product of the brewing industry. At some point, someone thought it would be a good idea to put this waste yeast extract to use, to bottle and sell it. It is now a global brand making millions of pounds of profit.

The data output from the modelling process is the same as marmite. The production of the model means there is a lot of information that can be used.

In 2006 the potential of this data was clear to me so I began having a number of conversations with the leading quantity surveying (QS) organisations in the country. I was told then that there was little interest. The reasons were that these organisations were either developing their own software or they could not trust the quality of the information supplied.

Around the same time we scheduled all of the floor areas for a secondary school. The quantity surveyors did not trust the information so took our paper drawings, digitised them and completed a take off.

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Seven years later there has been little progress and the reasons are largely the same.

BIM pushes out lots of data that can be analysed and reported on. The architect is not the best person to use this data. The engineer is using some of it, as is the constructor at certain points.

There is a need for someone to take this information and use it in the design constructions and operation of a building. The quantity surveyor has the right skills to manipulate this information but seems very reluctant to do so.

Over the last few years quantity surveyors have been chastised for not getting involved, yet I have seen little change in attitude. This has led me to consider the reasons for this reluctance to get involved despite the ample opportunity.

Rob Charlton, CEO Space Architecture

One thought is that generally the QS software of choice is Microsoft Excel — a low cost technology. This reduced overhead has gone straight to the bottom line. Any commitment to BIM would mean a commitment to software, hardware and training.

In comparison, a medium-sized architectural practice will spend six figures every year on software alone. For a quantity surveyor to invest in BIM, it would mean a significant reduction on bottom line profit.

A simple explanation for lack of engagement could be that surveyors enjoy measurement. It is a manual and laborious task that takes many hours of expensive resource. New software, on the other hand, can deliver quantum from the model in seconds.

Trust the data

But can the data always be trusted? Of course it can. It cannot be any worse than human error in measurement.

We have all had projects where the quantity surveyor has missed something or measured incorrectly. However in reality, I think this is only a very small blocker and not one of the main reasons for a lack of adoption across the profession.

My next thought is a little more personal and is aimed at the partners of the many surveyor practices in the UK. In the 1990s, the QS profession was very commercial and during this time, looked to grow and increase opportunities in the design process. It took hold of project management opportunities as well as embracing planning supervision when new regulations were released.

At the same time architects focussed more and more on design and allowed these roles to move away from the lead consultant.

This generation of partners who were so entrepreneurial at the time are now at the twilight of their career. They were the sharp brains of their time and are now unwilling to roll the dice once more so near to retirement. Their focus will be on the Tuscan Villa rather than new software or hardware.

The sway towards the New Rules of Measurement is my final theory. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has been promoting NRM for a long time now but the first section has been issued while further sections have failed to materialise. This means any potential future structure of information is in a state of flux. QS firms as a result are reluctant to commit to a potentially out-of-date framework.

RICS will tell you that NRM is an international standard. It is not. It is the RICS standard that is used internationally. Until procurement and measurement processes are aligned to those used internationally, we will always be left behind.

The challenge for the QS profession is that clients see the benefits of a clear understanding of the data throughout the lifecycle of a project from international case studies. Quite rightly they want to see this level of detail on their own projects.

Unfortunately the QS business is not responding at all.

While surveyors stand still others are seizing the opportunity to exploit the data. New programmes and dashboards are being developed which can interrogate information throughout a project’s lifecycle.

Quantity surveyors have the best skills to interpret and review the information; however at present they are looking very flat footed and may find it difficult in future to demonstrate their value to the process.

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