BIM as a Paradigm Shift

“The problem with the construction industry is that it’s stuck in a file paradigm,” says architect, Finith Jernigan. Architects, builders and others still share data in the form of files and if different members of a team use different software programs—for instance Revit and ArchiCAD— they need to constantly translate those files. It’s a huge inefficiency. 

Contrast that to other industries, like banking. “If every time you did a transaction it was saved to file that you had to verify before making the next transaction it would slow things down considerably,” he says Jernigan. But that’s how builders operate. “The whole world has changed, and the construction industry slept through that change,” he says.

He believes that Building Information Modeling, or BIM will change that. In fact, he sees it not as a software upgrade—which, he says, is how most builders see it—but as the foundation of a new way of doing business.

Jernigan was a very early evangelist of BIM. His 1996 book BIG BIM little bim, organized the technology into two categories. The lowercase “little bim” consists of individual software programs and includes the design, engineering, construction management and sales software we’re all familiar with. While it’s true that these programs have gotten increasingly sophisticated, getting them to work together still requires considerable effort.

“BIG BIM,” on the other hand refers to an evolving industry-wide system of information exchange that will eventually drag builders into the Connected Age. Jernigan’s latest book BIG BIM 4.0: Ecosystems for a Connected World, published last year, describes how it will seamlessly connect data and processes across the industry.

While most builders are still trying to figure out little bim, some cutting edge companies are looking beyond to the bigger picture. These include well-financed disruptors led by people from outside the building industry.

Take the example of Katerra, which is as much about technology and information as it is about sticks and panels. The company happens to build panels and other components in a factory, but their real job is managing a global supply chain that makes it possible to engineer and build those homes, as well as to place them on lots. To pull this off, they need real-time access to data provided by manufacturers of everything that goes into the home.

While little bim applications are taking steps toward that goal, Jernigan says most still use the file exchange. In the new paradigm, however, standalone proprietary software will be replaced by focused, web-based apps that manipulate data-rich objects deposited in shared repositories.

A good analogy is the travel business. Reservation sites like Expedia or Travelocity are basically apps (albeit large and complex ones) that do real-time bidding and procurement. And rather than owning their own data, they pull it instantaneously from airlines, hotels and car rental agencies.

In BIG BIM 4.0, Jernigan envisions a similar future for design and construction. The book is by no means pie-in-the-sky but includes real-world case studies of projects that are using the BIG BIM approach to move toward more efficient, more collaborative, building-based on the free sharing of information. The book even includes a link to an online demo where you can experiment with this way of designing and managing projects.

While most of the examples in the book are for government and institutional projects, they show the mindset shift taking place in other parts of the building industry—a mindset shift that production builders will need to embrace to compete with the disruptors.

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