Digital Builder Ep 75: The Evolution of BIM Data

Building information modeling (BIM) has come a long way since its inception. Today, construction teams use BIM not just to create or visualize a building's design but also to store and relay crucial project information—including cost and scheduling data.

And that's just the beginning. When used effectively, BIM can transform how teams work and revolutionize the entire construction process.

Here to dive into the ins and outs of BIM are Amy Bunszel, the Executive Vice President of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Design at Autodesk, and Aaron Perry, the Head of Digital Design at Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. Amy and Aaron have decades of experience in architecture and construction technology, and they've seen firsthand the growing impact of BIM beyond just design.

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On this episode

We discuss:

  • The evolution of BIM throughout the years
  • How to effectively handle and share BIM data
  • The role of BIM in the future of construction

BIM: where it started and how it's going

The episode starts off with a quick trip down memory lane, looking at how BIM and technology have evolved over the years. Specifically, we look at BIM's initial role in architecture and its growth into a more holistic tool for construction.

According to Amy, in the early days, BIM was "all about having a centrally coordinated model so that everyone in a project could work together to achieve the project outcomes. All that sounds great, but when it started, it was heavily focused on the architecture part of the cycle and the design."

She continues, "But we all know that in construction, you need to design something, build it, operate it. So, over the years, BIM has expanded."
Aaron agrees and comments on how we can improve the flow of information within the tool.

"There have been BIM mandates, which have progressed people's adoption of BIM. And I think incentives were there, especially from an architectural perspective, for people to engage with the process and collaborate on their models with others. We've probably found the balance between those two things, and today it's all about improving the data flow between people."

Challenges and gaps

BIM has undoubtedly been revolutionary for the industry, but it's not without its challenges. Aaron and Amy unpack some of the hurdles people navigate when using BIM, especially around data, work efficiency, and modern construction practices.

Effectively handling and sharing BIM data
A big challenge in construction is ensuring the efficient management and dissemination of the vast amounts of data generated through BIM.

As Amy points out, a massive amount of information goes into models today.

"We also know that around 85% of data accumulated during construction goes unused. And so, there's a huge amount of value there that can help with some of these outcomes—including sustainability, automation, among other things."

Aaron weighs in, saying, "Our data footprint when working on existing buildings is even greater, with things like laser scans, point clouds, and so on. Being able to interact with that amount of data at context and scale is important for us and an opportunity for the future."
Expanding on this point, Aaron notes the changing landscape of data usage in construction.

"From the last 5-7 years, we have been creating even more data, but typically in proprietary file formats, and those have been slightly challenging for wide groups of stakeholders to engage with," says Aaron.

"When we gain the ability to exchange, collaborate, and share that information in a controlled rigorous manner, we'll have a much wider, more diverse, and a more equitable audience that can engage with that data."

The importance of responsible and sustainable construction
Speaking of building responsibly, Aaron touches on how the usage of BIM must adapt to include sustainable practices and considerations for existing structures.

"We need to make sure we are evaluating existing building construction. As an architectural practice in central London, we spend a lot of time evaluating what we can retain from the existing building fabric for us to design responsibly."

He continues, "We must recognize that as a challenge, and all of our tools need to be able to engage with that in the right way. Understanding the constraints of modern construction methods, prefabrication, and offsite whilst designing is critical."

How improving BIM data management helps solve construction's biggest challenges

We keep coming back to the topic of BIM data, and for a good reason—effective data management is the key to unlocking industry-wide collaboration and productivity.

"It enables everybody to leverage data. It creates an opportunity for the whole industry to find greater efficiencies in how we talk to each other and collaborate," remarks Aaron. "So we have a real opportunity not just to create equity, but also significant efficiencies in constructing and designing buildings.

Amy also mentions the role of data in facilitating better communication and collaboration.

"Collaboration is bidirectional. The job is not static, and things will change. Digitizing and improving data processes ensures you have the most current information, and you have a channel to get back to the author of that information if you have any clarifications; you can streamline many things."

How to improve your data practices

Getting the most out of all that BIM data starts with having a common data environment.

"We hear a lot about common data environments (CDE) from customers, and so that's an important step to get organized. The USB stick in the drawer doesn't count as a CDE," remarks Amy.

She adds, "We should build up a practice where all the stakeholders have access to what they need with the right permissions, and they can contribute and get their work done faster by having the most current information at their fingertips. That goes all the way out to the jobsite, too. Connecting the entire process is what we're hoping to help people achieve."

When you get this step right, you reap the benefits in the form of better collaboration and execution.

"As data becomes more available to more parties, there's now more trust," explains Aaron.
Additionally, equitable data practices break down silos between teams.

One of BIM's greatest successes is that it started "to break down those walls, create a culture of collaboration, create a culture of we're all in this together because we all want to try and achieve a great outcome," says Aaron.

What about AI?

Amy and Aaron have exciting outlooks on the role of AI in construction, and they both agree on its power to significantly augment the construction workforce.

Amy shares, "It's all about helping the practitioner do better work, explore new possibilities, leverage their incredible experience, and have a little assistant to help them. And then there's the automation of many of these mundane tasks."

Aaron, for his part, envisions AI as a proactive partner in the design process. "Pretty much everybody at my firm would welcome the equivalent of Microsoft Clippy saying, 'It looks like you're trying to do a fire plan. You've done thousands of them before on hundreds of projects; let me try and help you get 80 to 90% of the way there.'”

The rise of renovation and retrofitted buildings

Regarding the impact of BIM and AI on the future of the industry, Amy foresees the continued rise of industrialized construction.

"I have seen amazing projects all over the world. I'm hoping that with AI and some other work across the industry, we can get these things to scale more because the outcomes are tremendous."
She's also excited about renovation projects.

"We know that in the future—or perhaps even today—about half of the projects are renovations," says Amy.

"I was just in Australia, and I saw this incredible building; the Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney. They took it down to the core and rebuilt it, and it looks like a brand-new building—such a cool, sustainable outcome."

Aaron echoes this and says retrofitting buildings will be a big component of construction's future.
"Every single project we tackle in central London is, 'How much can we retain the existing building fabric?'"

"We will spend 6-10 weeks on every single project looking at one end of the scale where we explore minor interventions, and we try to keep the building in its current form—while evaluating its applicability for another 100 years."

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Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. Listen to the Digital Builder Podcast on:

Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.