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A BIM model of the Manchester - Preston train line

Beyond BIM: Better information, better lives

Richard Shennan

The term ‘BIM’ has become a global phenomenon, a powerful focal point for those that recognise that a combination of developments in technology and a more collaborative, outcome-focused way of working has the potential to bring about the step-change in efficiency that our industry has previously failed to deliver. Mott MacDonald has been a leader in driving this process, with our earliest experience of Avanti collaborative working practice dating back to 2005. We were also among the earliest adopters of BS 1192 (2007), one of the first standards on collaborative working.

The fundamental need for asset owners and developers to deliver improved performance while reducing cost and carbon has not changed – indeed it will only intensify further over the coming years. A world population set to hit 9.7bn by 2050, diminishing resources, and the need to tackle climate change all increase pressure on us to make infrastructure ever more efficient.

Six years ago, our Group Strategy defined BIM as: ‘A coordinated set of processes, supported by technology, that adds value through creating, managing and sharing a digital information model of an asset throughout its lifecycle.’

As time passes, it is not surprising that organisations are creating their own ‘beyond BIM’ terminology, using words such as ‘digital’, ‘smart’ or ‘industrial’ to capture the changes sweeping through the industry and to define their approach and service offerings in new ways. While there may be an increasing divergence in the terms used, the fundamentals have not changed. And two elements –foreseen in our original definition – are key to the way we must think today.

Firstly, it’s all about adding value to information. This is common to all our activities, whether it’s optimising design choices, increasing construction efficiency or getting maximum performance from new or existing assets. Making the right information available when and where it is needed, collaborating around a common data environment, and connecting to new live data sources are all essential elements of both BIM and post-BIM worlds. Better information drives better decisions.

The second and most important element is more fundamental. It’s about the connection to people – our ultimate customers. In a constrained world, physical and digital infrastructure must meet evolving social needs while minimising waste of limited resources.

As we move through the gears from first steps in BIM to through-life asset information management and eventually smart infrastructure, our success will be determined by our ability to focus not on outputs, but on outcomes. While the debate over ‘a better name for BIM’ rages on, let’s keep in mind our original definition which remains valid today, as we develop ever more innovative ways to add value and enable better lives.

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