The attendees this year's COFES (Congress Of the Future of Engineering Software) in Scottsdale, Ariz. last weekend witnessed examples of across-the-board engineering brilliance that will transform the garment industry, and which have implications for many industries, including construction.

One presenter demonstrated a smartphone application that captures a complete set of body measurements by taking two pictures of a person fully clothed, and turning those pictures into a 3D model. Another presenter demonstrated a new weaving method called DPOL (Direct Pattern on Loom) which only weaves the cloth needed for a pattern, thus eliminating the 30% loss generated by weaving bolts of cloth onto which patterns need to be laid and cut out. By linking the two technologies presented together, they attempted to deliver a custom-made shirt to the conference in 2 days.

Sadly, the logistics chain broke down when the shirt was misrouted. Yet, history was still made and potentially 30% or more of the waste in the garment industry was removed by removing process steps as well as product waste while producing a substantially higher quality product.

Our goal at the buildingSMART alliance is to see that same kind of profound change in the facilities industry. We have, as early as 2004, documented that the waste or non-value added effort is in there; we just need to expose it and eliminate it. The architect/engineer/contractor/owner/operator (AECOO) community is truly only at the beginning of implementing true collaborative BIM in many projects. The owners are asking for BIM — yet with little understanding to date of what it should or could do for them. They do not yet have the business practices in place to effectively use the information received. Unfortunately, without asking for a collaboratively built model, the owner is not forcing the industry to change.

One of my biggest fears is that the AECOO practitioners implement BIM in the traditional “silos” within which we have worked for the last 50 years. While I am seeing some brilliant work in many areas, I am perplexed by two things. The first is: “Why aren’t those flashes of brilliance being repeated?” How can we shed more light on those successes so that they can begin to be used by more practitioners and be seen by more people as “best practices”? We have not elevated those successes as a new standard of care that owners should expect from the AEC industry.

I think this could be the job of the associations of each phase of practice. While some of the associations are taking on this challenge, they are not doing it in a holistic way. I think that in many cases, people are saying: “Well it worked for their project, but it will not work on mine.”
A group of industry luminaries had a lot of conversations about such issues. Quite a few folks are concerned about the “silos” we are perpetuating into our BIM implementations. While I believe that I can point to some amazing successes in almost every aspect of the facilities lifecycle now, they just are not being replicated, and they are certainly not being connected. To date, we have not made much progress on what I see as two of the ten principles of BIM: 1) that information be entered one time by the authoritative source and then reused and repurposed throughout the life of the project, and 2) promoting a holistic approach to improving productivity throughout the facility lifecycle.

Which brings me to the second issue. I believe that the AECOO community needs to band together and fund a research project that takes these flashes of brilliance and connects them together into one point of reference. The goal is to demonstrate the true potential of implementing BIM from planning through operations of a project. The project could be coordinated under the buildingSMART alliance, a council of the National Institute of Building Sciences, so as to ensure a holistic perspective. The Alliance is a neutral entity that is working with most of the associations involved already. I believe at that point we could truly see just what kind of productivity improvement could be realized by connecting the dots. I think if we could first demonstrate this in a staged project and document the business processes used, then we could begin to analyze why we do not reproduce this level of success across other projects. I believe that this type of research is needed to truly begin transforming the facilities industry. Perhaps it could not happen earlier because too many professionals were in the early stages of learning how to implement BIM. However, the basic learning has been accomplished by many involved in the AECOO industry now. It’s time to push ourselves to the next level.

I hope you will join me to make it happen.

Dana K. "Deke" Smith is the Executive Director for the buildingSMART alliance™ at the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). Deke was instrumental in the beginnings of the NIBS Construction Criteria Base, now the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG). He initiated both the National CAD Standard and the National BIM Standard.