Sharing BIM and Project Information Through Improved Communication and Collaboration

If you google “BIM” or “Building Information Modeling” you’ll find several varying definitions. Is it a technology? Is it a process?  Some definitions restrict BIM to 3D modeling technology used only by architects and engineers.  

According to the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), “BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. … [It] serves as a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its lifecycle from inception onward.”

NIBS goes on to describe the basic premise of BIM as collaboration by different stakeholders at different phases of the lifecycle. However, a recent study we conducted, “Finding Common Ground: The Future of Project Information Management,” reveals that BIM may still be stuck in the design phase.

The study included a survey of 327 U.S. design and construction professionals and a closed-session roundtable discussion with architects, engineers, and general contractors. Communication and collaboration with external project teams are highlighted as major challenges.

Who has a BIM process?

We started by asking a question regarding the use of a BIM process. Although many of our survey respondents (67%) indicated that they do have a BIM process, this was primarily true with architects (88%). Only one-third of engineers and less than half of general contractors deploy a BIM process.

These findings are unexpected given that the goal of BIM in construction is to provide a way for project stakeholders to share and collaborate throughout the project lifecycle. Roundtable panelists shared that even when BIM is used for a project, the model data is not shared, or multiple copies of the models are created, defeating the collaboration intent.

Top challenges managing BIM data

We then asked survey participants to rank their top three challenges when managing BIM data. The highest-ranking challenge (62%) was getting non-BIM stakeholders to participate and provide input on models. However, architects ranked this higher than their counterparts. Another challenge that also ranked high in the net top three is collaborating and sharing information with people outside their organization. This challenge was almost equally shared across stakeholders.

Participation from non-BIM stakeholders

Sixty-two percent of respondents from this year’s survey said that the key obstacle to managing BIM information was convincing non-BIM stakeholders to take part and provide input. However, architects (39%) ranked this challenge higher than engineers (18%) and contractors (28%).

If BIM processes live primarily with the architect and do not extend to all project stakeholders, participation is bound to be limited.

However, our roundtable panel provided some insight into other reasons for lack of participation. Access and security were two major themes. Participation in BIM processes also requires access to information that is housed in software applications that require a license to access.

“As the industry moves into more user-type licensing, assigned licensing, or cloud-based licensing, it becomes more problematic because companies are having to purchase licenses in order to collaborate with the system that we use,” said a roundtable participant from a leading architecture and engineering firm.

In addition to licensing, access related to security also remains a barrier.

“We often must go through our IT group or some sort of security protocols to make sure that everybody has the right access,” explained another roundtable participant. “As project teams change throughout the longer projects, we must update that access. It is constant change and it’s hard to keep up with it. When we are talking real-time collaboration with people outside of our company, it gets a lot more complicated.”

Sharing model data outside the organization

Many of the issues related to sharing BIM and project information occur with stakeholders outside the four walls of an organization. Our roundtable panel uncovered some not-so-obvious obstacles.

Panel members agreed that communicating and aligning expectations across all stakeholders early in the project is key. Coming to an agreement on what model and project information is needed by who, why, and when could resolve some of the collaboration issues that exist today.

“When we look back at how BIM has evolved, 3D really helped us start to visualize spaces and visualize volumes, and that helped us improve our deliverables,” said a roundtable participant from an architecture firm. “And then we start to load up on more content and data to make our production quicker, easier, faster, and more accurate. But at the same time, we have a contractor and owner running alongside, looking at our model, going, ‘Hey, that's valuable information. Can we look at that? Can we have that? Can we use that?’ And now we find ourselves handing over the model, which at one time was just basically our production tool.”

Liability concerns also continue to stand in the way.

As shared by a contractor in our panel discussion, “One of the challenges is the transparency issue between designers and builders. Whenever we go into the modeling component, it’s, ‘Here’s our model, and your assets, and you are liable for anything that’s wrong in the model that we might have messed up.’ Which is fine. We’ll take on that risk.”

Given that project teams are often stressed with accelerated project delivery deadlines, could sharing the model and the related project information with stakeholders earlier in the project lifecycle help reduce the stress?

We continued our line of questioning to better understand the role of technology plays in facilitating communication and collaboration across stakeholder teams.

Who’s using a BIM coordination platform?

In addition to design tools, BIM technology has advanced to include technology for BIM collaboration and communication. 

When we asked participants if their companies were currently using a BIM coordination and collaboration platform, responses aligned with responses from the BIM process question. Although most architects (66%) have a BIM coordination platform, only one-third of engineering and general contractors have this type of technology in place.

If many project stakeholders do not have a BIM coordination platform, how is information being shared?

We asked specifically how model clashes are communicated and found that 67% occur via email. Email can introduce delays in sending and responding, emails sent to the wrong party, or emails getting lost in inboxes.

Removing the communication and collaboration roadblocks

By developing a project information management strategy, companies can identify what information needs to be shared, with who, and when. This provides an opportunity to develop processes that eliminate outdated workflows and make information more accessible for all project stakeholders.

Technology and automation do play a key role. Although some suggest that having everyone use the same platform and same set of tools will resolve issues, it may not be practical. Integration of applications does not necessarily require all project stakeholders to use the same centralized system. There are industry initiatives to develop standards and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) with the main goal of identifying workflow pain points and automating the flow of information between software applications. This strategy enables teams to use the applications that are best suited for their work while automating the sharing of common information.

However, incorporating best practices for sharing BIM information starts with talking to each other.

About the Author

As the lead Content Strategist for Newforma, Peg Landry combines her knowledge of the AECO industry, and technical knowledge of project information management solutions, to provide AECO companies with thought leadership, industry research, and best practices to help organizations around the world succeed. Peg is the author of Newforma’s 2021 and 2022 thought leadership for the State of Project Information Management.


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