Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Opinion: BIM Strategy and the Value of Linkages

Towards the end of last year, I began to think more intensely about how we derive strategic value from BIM, not only as a means of improved perceptions, but also as a competitive advantage. In other words, how does information (the ‘I’ in BIM) enable a practice to outperform competitors?

For the most part, I can often discern in strategic discussions about the value of BIM, a conflation of the terms, knowledge and information. Perhaps, this is aided and abetted by the ubiquitous mantras we find on social media: reminding us that knowledge is power. Well, the same can be said of electricity, but both are useless, if they remain unconnected.

Instead of just knowledge, BIM provides us with a toolset for simulating and varying the complex interrelationship of factors that have significant potential to affect the human experience of a building. From cost to accessibility to environmental impact.

Yet, that’s still not enough. An awareness of these factors and how they are expected to relate to each other (i.e. knowledge) must become information: it has to shape (literally, inform) our design ideas and collaborative decisions. For that to happen, BIM requires Senior Design team participation: challenging the model’s assumptions with added priorities and insight that only experience can provide.  

The challenge that then remains is for us to see the value of information as it relates to the entire value stream, not just one part of it. As Michael Porter says in ‘How Information Gives You A Competitive Advantage’:

‘Linkages exist when the way in which one activity is performed affects the cost or effectiveness of other activities. Linkages often create trade-offs in performing different activities that should be optimized…A company must resolve such trade-offs, in accordance with its strategy.’

Porter goes on to emphasise that these linkages are both external and internal and that value is created when we optimise them.

Think about that and look at your latest process diagram. According to Porter, the connecting lines and arrows are as important as the boxes because they represent value-adding linkages.

However much we initially base our BIM process maps on the intended output, what is key is that we are open to create and improve those linkages as the project changes and advances; linkages that can enhance our overall value proposition.

For instance, could the 3D model of an entertainment venue deliver a better simulation of stadium, or concert seating (including the proximity of field-of-view obstructions) than a static floor plan and further differentiate the venue’s provision of premium versus standard seating? Of course it could, but to add value we have to work hard at developing that linkage of the 3D model to the venue promoter’s web-site. See http://www.seats3d.com/products.php

It also means that BIM must now become more a platform for opportunity, rather than for ensuring data compatibility. Just as a candy manufacturer might save processing steps by persuading its suppliers to deliver chocolate in liquid form, we must discover the optimal form in which and pace at which BIM data should pass through different departments in our own organisation and those of project stakeholders. What opportunities are we missing?

Of course, what affects our capacity to effect a change in an organisation, project, or industry is relative bargaining power of the various stakeholders. Yet, the factors affecting the balance of power between them is not simple. A particular manufacturer may have significantly more influence over their supply chain than another. Equally, the aesthetic vision of a single fashion designer can hold sway over vast swathes of the billion dollar clothing industry. Influence is not just about monetary clout. It is about the ability to inspire others.

It is because of this that we soon realise that while our professional bodies may influence broad agreement on data formats through protocols, it requires considerably more negotiation to develop a project consensus on the optimal form and frequency for sharing data with an extended team. Varying levels of experience and understanding in BIM across the industry make this especially true.

The important thing to remember is that for a Building Information Model to become a competitive advantage, it should both lower cost and enhance differentiation. At the very least, if BIM does not do both, it should do one or the other.

Otherwise, such valuable information can lose its competitive advantage.

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