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Ways to Improve BIM for Construction Projects

Etienne Lheureux

Ways to Improve BIM for Construction ProjectsEtienne Lheureux

3F currently owns and manages 280,000 housing units, including 140,000 in the Paris region. 3F, with its regional subsidiaries, is the leader in social housing in France. 3F builds approximately 10,000 housing units per year and renovates as many. 3F launched its first BIM construction operations in 2015, as project owners. Since then, more than 100 projects have been completed using BIM.

Each completed operation is an opportunity to make progress in mastering the BIM process. However, it is clear that the initial promises of BIM - better quality, more efficient works, controlled construction costs and deadlines - have not yet been fulfilled. The concrete contribution of BIM to the work being built or rehabilitated is still not seen, not measured, not valued or not valued enough.

Since 2015, project owners in France have invested heavily in BIM: BIM project managers have been recruited, BIM training has been provided, BIM software has been purchased, BIM consultants have been hired... For the project owner, the list of investments is easy to draw up, the list of benefits much less so.

Serge Levan, an expert in management and organization, wrote in 2018 “To observe the practices [...] of BIM projects is, today, to observe some massive tinkering. And this, both on the side of the project owner and the project manager [...]. Because of such bad tinkering, BIM can’t hold its promises.” We experience this “bad tinkering” on a daily basis: we need a viewer to visualize a model, a checker to extract surfaces, a spreadsheet to calculate costs, another to perform a life cycle analysis... Each use requires its own tool.

The building owner has this curious task of managing everything while not being a specialist in anything. He is interested in controlling the cost of his project, he is attentive to producing a virtuous and sober structure, with the smallest possible environmental footprint, he thinks about the future occupants and users, and their comfort... Being a building owner means being a generalist, who has to embrace every aspect of the project, which also means knowing enough to challenge his contractors. What can be found on the software market to meet this particular needs? Modelling tools for architects, calculation and simulation tools for design offices, price calculation tools for economists... Today's software offers are aimed at specialists, not the generalists that are product owners.

At 3F, an "industrial" project owner that constructs several thousand housing units per year, a project manager works on about fifteen projects at the same time. 

Under these conditions, we cannot ask him to be a specialist user of a specialist software, and even so, we cannot ask him to constantly switch from one tool to another, to re-enter data here and there, or to tinker with Excel to format the results. BIM in this way is guaranteed to fail.

In the 90's, SAP revolutionized the software publishing world by offering a unique tool called ERP to replace dozens of existing applications. No more client accounting software, supplier accounting software, management control software, invoicing software, human resources management software or inventory management software... A single tool to replace all of these!

"Building owners will massively start using BIM, and find an interest doing so, the day they get an “ERP BIM” to satisfy their needs"

Building owners will massively start using BIM, and find an interest doing so, the day they get an “ERP BIM” to satisfy their needs. The 3D models well informed and well completed by the designers will be injected into the ERP, which is itself coupled to external databases (for data that is not naturally on the models). And the building owner will then be able to simply have the table of surfaces of his project, the table of doors, the investment cost and the global cost in three clicks, the thermal performance and the carbon footprint... and then also in little more than three clicks, the impact of a variant on all these dimensions. That's what we, as project owners, aspire to.

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