iWatching U

Information and the automated world seems to be the utopian view of what the application of BIM can achieve, but concentrating on one end game must bring another set of problems to the table.


I have recently been to Australia, speaking at the Australian Mechanical Contractors Association’s (AMCA) Innovation Forum 2013 and have close ties to my American colleagues in the United States. What I have noticed is that there is a gulf between the cultures of our industries, which is to be expected. But as far as the technological landscape goes, they are very similar; in fact they are almost identical.  If that is the case, what are the differentiators between these geographies? If technology is a constant why does progress on average seem to be slow in all areas?


This was a discussion point at the AMCA’s innovation forum and has been the subject of discussion in previous global BIM Expos at Balfour Beatty. To articulate this in context to how we look at the industry within the BIM2050 group, we have split it in to 3 distinct areas, these are: culture of integration, education & skills and process & technology:











These 3 aspects, we feel should be in harmony to each other. A brief description of the 3 sections is as follows:

Technology & Process looks at how we move from A to B, how we do things is the process and the tools we use to enable us to do so is the technology. Building a brick wall is a process; the mortar we use to bind the bricks is the technology.


Education & Skills looks at the gap between the skills we have and the skills we need as an industry. For example, there are jobs that exist now that didn’t a decade ago, so how do we educate people right now for jobs that don’t exist yet but will do in ten years’ time?


Culture of Integration is the human aspect and is the tip of our triangle. With a skills gap and technology outpacing education, what impact on our working culture and even our personal lives?



Loosely speaking, in a snapshot of today technology is in abundance. Therefore, the other two must be lacking in adequacy. This makes sense in respect to education and culture as the geographies have fundamentally different education systems, and social fabrics. At this stage we can discount education because this is out of most of our remits and should be left to the appropriate bodies, such as institutions and educators. This leaves culture of integration, people and their management. The circles represent the abundance of technology and how the culture does overlap with technology more than the education & skills. It also shows a disconnection between the working culture and education. We have all heard or expressed ourselves how graduates can sometimes have inadequate skills to integrate quickly in the working environment of full-time employment. What we should be aiming for is a balance between the three areas.



The way that we collaborate as professionals in the construction industry is going to change. It is already happening for some organisations. But for the businesses that have already begun to introduce new technologies are finding that their people are having great difficulty in adapting or accepting that change is required to their roles. We can only hope that the subject matter of dissertations and theses, as the subject of BIM starts to moves in to the realm of construction management theories and occupational psychology. Businesses need to look at how their teams are working with the technology, there isn’t a silver bullet and buying in some technology is not going to fix any deep routed cultural problems that effect most organisations in the construction industry.



Although, the interesting dynamic that technology brings, is that every now and then something disruptive comes along and changes everything. Predicting the future is tough but one thing approaching the horizon for all industries is the result of sensors becoming so small and cheap to produce they are becoming disposable. I’m aware that we have sensory technology within building management systems but SCADA equipment is very expensive and hasn’t penetrated smaller markets.


The medical industry is thinking about how real time sensory data or telemetry of people will be changing how healthcare works. An example would be heart monitoring. If you were wear a small nonintrusive device, perhaps embedded in a watch, which constantly monitors your heart rate.  What will be possible is if your heart rate was to fall under a threshold this could mean you’re going to have a heart attack. The system will be able to automatically alert the appropriate emergency service to attend to you far quicker than the current ‘analogue’ method.  This is an over simplified example, but a telemetric approach to our industry could bring a wave of change that could have a deep impact to how we work and perhaps require further cultural barriers. An example can be of the smart bins installed in the financial district in London. These bins have been anomalously tracking smart phone devices and have been ordered to deactivate this feature, as people are unhappy with the idea of being traced without giving their permission. But it is the same people who willingly give their detailed personal information away for free on social networks such as facebook, instagram, twitter and foursquare, to name a few.


Another two examples are using collaboration as a base principal failing is the newest version of a video game called Sim City; gamers rejected the dependency of the gameplay based on other interconnected online players and require a constant connection to the internet. The other is the Xbox One, there seems to be a backlash on requirement of having the unit constantly connected to the internet. I feel people have failed to look in to their jacket pockets or on their tablet to realise that these have the same dependency!


The conclusion is that the BIM journey is moving through to another level, I would have said in complexity but I think it’s just the progression of any paradigm shifting movement. Not forgetting that it is facilitated by technology I do have to share with you a quote from an American academic (I’ve shared this a few times now, so I apologise to those who have seen this before), Neil Postman: “technological change is not additive; it is ecological. A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything.” What was life like before photocopiers, email and smart phones? Look at the changes in the music industry, the printed press and book publishers, our industry is next!


Lastly, look at how technology has empowered people. 3D printing is bringing bespoke manufacturing techniques to the consumer and social networks have brought down governments. Do not under estimate the effect of technology on our culture. It has been and will remain a major factor to the failure of businesses that do not effectively to innovate. One of our underpinning thoughts in the BIM2050 group is: what if we were to fully automate the construction of the built environment? We currently have nearly 1 million people in our labour force and how would that impact the welfare costs of our country, at what cost is that to the wellbeing of our industry?


Changing how we manage construction, an international view.

I previously spoke about different parts of the world that are ‘getting on with BIM’ in context to their cultures. I thought to share some words that my colleges have said about BIM and the role of data, innovation and standards (or the lack of) have on our industry. I spoke with the head of R&D in the USA arm of the Balfour Beatty Construction business, the lead for BIM in operations at Balfour Beatty and a leader of BIM in Australia. It provides a snapshot of where the geographies are at, and I’m pleased their views differ!


Field action: BBCUS making digital information the new normal.


Jason Reece, Research & Development – Capability Center, Balfour Beatty US



“BIM adoption in the U.S. is probably ahead of most countries, but primarily due to our competitive culture. With BIM, we now “follow the leader”. One person develops an idea and 12 months later, your competitors offer the same solution. Simply put: Our advantage in the U.S. is our ability to copy an established idea, and scale it quickly.


Unfortunately, the AEC industry in particular has forgotten HOW to innovate, so there are very few people in the industry that can identify that a problem exists, then come up with a solution to a problem no one realized they had. If we had more innovators in the AEC industry, we’d be even further ahead than we are today.


This is why there is a movement in the U.S. to adopt the Japanese concept of Kaizen, which fuels the LEAN movement in the U.S. – which was started by Toyota.”







The Balfour Beatty Construction US SmartBOX, getting the data out in to the field.


Chris Barker, Application Engineer, Balfour Beatty UK & T:



“The emergence of mobile technology provides new & significant enhancements in project management and delivery capabilities. It fills a ‘digital void’ in the process between the design and completed construction of an asset.




Applications are now providing ‘real time, structured and relational data’ from the shop floor giving visibility to cause & effect, and consequently analytical capabilities that measure supply chain performance and the root causation for production issues. They are also bringing information to the operative and manager with ever increasing detail and efficiency.




Some of this data will undoubtedly have the potential to influence the future of procurement and make quality in delivery more achievable for industry. What it won’t do for us, is teach us how to prevent these insights from exacerbating the current blame culture, or how to make individuals put down or adapt current methods to accommodate new & more efficient ones. This is down to people changing and not technology, and sadly the former will always be the tougher nut to crack.”




The lack of industry standards, globally.



Sumit Oberoi is executive director of BIM MEP Aus at the Air Conditioning and Mechanical Contractors’ Association of Australia.


“Despite the incentives, BIM uptake across industry has been gradual. Though technology has advanced, skills gaps remain a problem and concerns about insurance liability and ownership of the BIM model remain unresolved.


However, the greatest impediments to the broader adoption of BIM are practical deficiencies resulting from a lack of industry agreed standards and protocols for the exchange of information.


While other countries have also embraced BIM, it is not an overstatement to say that Australian companies are among the world leaders.


Certainly, much work remains; however, contrary to its sluggish reputation, the building and construction sector is doing its bit to move Australia toward an innovation economy.”


Follow their progress: http://www.bimmepaus.com.au