January 17, 2018

Digitising the construction industry is bigger than BIM

By Kenny Ingram, construction, engineering and infrastructure industry director at IFS

When it comes to industry buzzwords, the construction sector isn’t greedy. But BIM – or Building Information Modelling – is one hot topic that continues to dominate conversations. Fuelled by government initiatives and industry momentum, BIM is playing its part in enabling our market to plan infrastructure more effectively, cutting the cost and complexity of building and maintaining assets.

But talk around BIM has reminded us of what we already knew. That, in many ways, ours is an old-fashioned industry still hampered by archaic, Excel-heavy processes and departmental silos – and that it needs to get smarter, faster to hold fast against competition coming from home and overseas.

Joining the dots

Assets have a second, far longer life after conception. As such, the industry is increasingly looking at the total lifecycle of an asset, from construction expenditures to operation costs – something that’s forcing construction engineering and infrastructure companies to have a much more joined-up, data-driven approach.

But many construction and engineering businesses are still operating with non-integrated systems across lots of manually maintained Excel spreadsheets. Typically, project plans are developed in a tool such as Microsoft Project, Primavera, or Asta, which are rarely integrated with other business systems for engineering, procurement and construction. And BIM is making us more conscious of these shortcomings.

At the heart of any asset project is design. Today’s model is not typically integrated with the rest of the project and maintenance processes and creates the problem of transferring information from the design tool into the procurement, construction, and maintenance systems.

But at the heart of BIM is a CAD-driven, 3D design model that enables you to visualise assets in three dimensions. The onset of BIM and 3D modelling means the model is no longer simply a design tool – it’s the master data source of an asset and the foundation for driving all business functions.

In other words, BIM is putting new pressure on business operations to implement integrated systems and processes. Being BIM-compliant is about being able to automatically push asset data from the design into the execution system to buy, make, build, and install that asset.

It’s about having the ability to hand over an asset maintenance contract with a vast volume of integrated data (that isn’t spread across thousands of spreadsheets).

When the processes are not joined up or automatically integrated, companies are overburdened with high overheads and cost inefficiencies. They can incur damages by failing to keep to the key parameters of time and budget. What’s more, they risk being overtaken by competitors with smarter systems who can offer better prices and deliver a better asset more quickly.

Enter the ERP

It’s for these reasons that we’ve seen a major shift to implement enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions in the sector as construction companies recognise the value in partnering with specialists in integrated project solutions for the management of the key priorities of budget, time and risk.

There’s an argument that ‘ERP’ is not actually the word we should be using. Synonymous with finance and HR in many large enterprises, ‘ERP’ is fundamentally a product-centric solution which grew out of mass-production manufacturing.

But highly-specialised, project and asset lifecycle-based versions of ERP solutions, built for real-time management of complex projects, are where ERP’s strengths lie in our industry. It’s become too inefficient to look after different IT systems across different architectures with no natural flow of data through a business. In today’s competitive environment, uninformed decision-making is simply not an option.

As a project-based solution combining the integrated enterprise benefits of ERP, but designed specifically to support the complex business process of project-centric organisations, it’s possible to address the dataflow problem, and to profitably manage and maintain contracts over the entire asset lifecycle.

With the U.K. government recently unveiling its strategic plan for Level 3 BIM as one example, there’s never been a greater emphasis on moving the construction industry from a document-driven process to an integrated, data-driven one.

One thing BIM has made even clearer is that companies involved with the engineering, construction and fabrication of complex assets and infrastructure need integrated construction software to better manage time, cash, cost and risk.

And as the pressure to deliver affordable, timely projects intensifies, now is the time to integrate business processes and streamline dataflow.


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