Education is our passport to the future

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Before spending time and money on software and associated training, companies must understand as an organisation what it is that their information can do if prepared in the right way. By Paul Woddy

The volume of Building Information Modelling (BIM)-related rhetoric has turned many people off the subject before they have effectively begun. It will be the true mark of maturity in the industry when BIM ceases to be a subject at all, but simply a factor in everyday life. So at the risk of offering yet another opinion on BIM adoption, I would like to raise a few points for consideration.

Question: What is the shape of education in the AEC industry today?

What do we even mean by this question? Different people will interpret this in different ways, depending on their expectation of an outcome.

I spend my working life in the education arena, from 12-year-old school children working towards a GCSE in design and construction; through colleges and universities blending new technology and methodology into their existing courses; professional training centres offering software training; design practices upskilling their staff; SMEs scrabbling to understand the changing requirements; contractors maintaining their mandatory staff training. I see different challenges emerging in each of these sectors, but I also see common problems that need to be overcome.

I have recently heard several debates on whether we are ready for the UK 2016 BIM adoption deadline, and read surveys seeking to understand how widespread is the adoption of BIM methodology, but I find myself wondering if these questions are being correctly phrased to get to the hub of the issues we face?

So what are these issues? Well in my opinion, we have to settle a number of problems before we can really progress towards the utopian advantages that we have been promised.

We have a developing set of standards and protocols, which are struggling to keep pace with changes in technology and best practice

Technology without theory is only half the story


The education focus needs to shift onto clients and asset managers

Mainstream education needs to provide graduates with the skills sought by employers.

CDE? What about FGH?

There are currently eight core competencies which form the foundation of Level 2 BIM adoption. Those documents outline the various processes that must be followed if we are to comply. The development of new standards and guidance on applying the existing set are emerging in a fairly regular flow, and it is fair to say that some of the existing set will need to be adapted before we are finished.

What seems like a solid cornerstone one day is undermined by new developments the next. BS1192 Common Data Environment for instance has stood design teams in good stead for nearly a decade, but as we look to accommodate a longer data life by providing appropriate electronic information to clients and facility managers, then we will need to adapt the current model where the ultimate aim is to archive information.

On a number of occasions, I have been asked to look at exemplar models provided by a client or contractor that show how they want their BIM data to be delivered, only to find that the models are simply that: 3D models with no information what-so-ever.

This problem is endemic and is something that most surveys and industry reports fail to pick-up, not because anyone is lying, but because they do not realise that what they are delivering is not BIM.

If you ask a hundred leading architectural practices in the UK if they ‘use BIM’, you will probably get eighty-five positive responses, but for many, this means that they can use BIM-ready software (such as Revit or ArchiCAD) to produce 3D models of designs, to be used for clash-detection and drawing production.

This problem partly stems from people being taught how to use a piece of software, rather than how to adopt BIM methodology using the available software tools.

The blind leading the blind

Another factor tht exacerbates this issue is that the client looks to these practices to guide them through BIM, giving them a false impression of the purpose, in turn leading to lacklustre benefits and ambivalence towards progressing faster.

If we focus on getting the clients and the asset managers asking the right questions, and demanding deliverables which are truly fit-for-purpose in the long-term, then the designers will need to sharpen their skills and realise what they are missing.

I firmly believe that BIM will only deliver on its potential once facility managers start to embrace it, and this can only happen once they see what they can do with rich, embedded data in a federated model.

Colleges and universities have their part to play as well, by keeping pace with developments in practice and providing students, not only with the timeless principles of the core subjects, but also the practical skills which make them useful in a modern workplace. The notion that a recent graduate of architecture requires training before they can be employable is a difficult position to defend, and yet it is an all-too-common scenario.

Here at White Frog we are privileged to work with Class Of Your Own, a revolutionary not-for-profit organisation that provides secondary schools and colleges with the equivalent of GCSE and A-Level qualifications in Design, Engineering and Construction (DEC). Most importantly for the future of our industry, it opens children’s eyes to realise that there are more career options in this field than architect and brick layer.

What is most interesting about the work we do as official training partner is to see that when we describe the process of BIM, children understand immediately and do not comprehend why you would do things any differently. Their exposure to the virtual worlds of graphical computer games, and their 24-hour digital interaction through social media mean that they assume a far greater technological sophistication in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings than is the current reality.

There is a dauntingly steep learning curve if you are just starting out on this road to BIM-readiness, especially as the goalposts are still moving, but the key to being prepared in any organisation is to have a robust, long-term strategy for knowledge development.

A software training course might provide a short-term fix to an individual requirement, but if you are going to change the way in which you process information and prepare your deliverables for sustainable long-term use, then you need to fully understand the context within which the software would be used.

BIM adoption has thus far been led by designers and this has somewhat tainted the subsequent roll-out as other stakeholders have looked to feed into or out from this core of activity. The reality is that for many within the wider construction and asset management supply chain, BIM will in future, have a very different look and feel.

Before spending time and money on software and associated training, companies must understand as an organisation what it is that their information can do if prepared in the right way, and also what advances could be made if they received data from others in an ideal format.

About the author

Paul Woddy is technical director of White Frog Publishing Ltd. White Frog specialises in the strategic planning and delivery of BIM education.

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