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BIM in Germany – “We have no long-term plan”

“In Germany, we have no strategic plan for digitalisation in building.” That’s the view of BIM expert Ilka May, who goes on to say that such a plan is required as a matter of urgency, as building information management will otherwise generate only costs rather than value. It’s time for politicians to act, she insists.

BIM-Expertin Ilka May bei einem Vortrag auf der INTERGEO

BIM is in chaos. Does anyone really know what people mean when they talk about building information modelling? Developers and planners alike are often heard asking: “How much more will it cost with BIM?” That’s making a mockery of digitalisation. Instead of targeted benefits – such as better decisions based on better data and findings – there appears to be escalating uncertainty regarding exactly what the new digital method for design, construction and operation achieves. Hand on heart, does anyone have any positive experiences of a BIM project? Can anyone prove based on facts and figures how much less a particular building or infrastructure cost with BIM and what its operational efficiency is like? Or is, in fact, the total opposite true – do buildings, structures, roads and railways actually cost more than before with BIM?


The construction industry is being left on its own

Despite all the uncertainty, people agree on one thing – the construction sector should embrace digitalisation. And yet the very people who are being highly vocal in calling for this – politicians – are leaving the industry to it. A sector that accounts for 40 percent of the German economy’s value creation is being given no clear guidance on standards or the awarding of contracts. Who is to provide this general framework for a digital construction industry if not policy makers? When it comes to digitalisation in the construction sector, everyone has so far been muddling through as best they can – developers with their own procedures for awarding contracts, and the industry with individual solutions. What’s more, it’s only natural for companies to regard each other as competitors and not to come up with universal solutions.


We must view digitalisation in building in terms of the national economy

What’s the matter with BIM? Does it simply need a little push to get it moving? Will this happen automatically at some point once we’ve overcome the initial teething problems? “No, we’re looking at BIM from the wrong perspective,” insists Dr. May. She says BIM is being reduced to a design and construction method, without factoring in a building’s operation. Services in buildings and involving infrastructure, she explains, account for by far the largest proportion of the construction sector’s value chain – from patients being treated at hospitals and pupils being taught at schools to freight containers being transported by rail and trucks being driven around on the roads. According to Dr. May, all this needs to be factored in and digitalisation in building must be viewed in terms of the national economy. This is where the money is earned if the infrastructure does its job – or lost if it fails to perform as required.


Effective infrastructure delivers savings

Dr. May is not alone in taking this approach. She didn’t even come up with it. In the United Kingdom, for example – where the digitalisation of the construction industry started – people have been thinking along these lines for quite some time. The approach is based on four figures. The first three are the investment costs for designing and building infrastructure, maintenance and repair costs, and the costs of operating the building or infrastructure. The fourth figure is a company’s total turnover or a nation’s GDP. This suggests that the main source of savings achieved as a result of digitalisation is definitely not the design and construction phase, nor indeed the maintenance and repair phase, but the provision of services. Money is saved and earned during this phase as a result of a more intelligent process flow. When developing the strategic business case in the United Kingdom, it emerged that 90 billion pounds is spent on designing and building infrastructure each year and losses of 30 billion pounds are then incurred because people are sitting in traffic jams. Another example is constructing buildings that end up consuming four times as much energy as originally predicted. Something is wrong here.


Poor services instead of innovation

According to Dr. May, reducing BIM to the design and construction phases and looking to put further pressure on building industry costs with BIM is not the way to ensure efficiency. It only serves to create the wrong incentives. The supply chain is encouraged to provide poor services rather than to innovate. In other countries that are also subject to European public procurement law, the cheapest and most expensive bids are automatically excluded from the bidding process, for example, which rules out predatory pricing at the cost of quality in building.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) in der Baubranche

What’s stopping us from moving forward? Something is wrong

But what else needs to change? “We require data,” says Dr. May. She goes on to explain that we should no longer think of the construction lifecycle as a linear process, but should instead incorporate feedback loops. Other sectors such as the software or systems engineering industry use what is referred to as a V process model. Feedback loops are incorporated in every phase – from procurement all the way through to implementation – with simulations and tests based on digital data. “We then know what we’re ordering and get what we really need,” continues Dr. May. She points out that the sooner data is analysed and conclusions are drawn, the sooner mistakes are identified and rectified. On the construction site, it’s already too late. Data on the “consumption” of infrastructure is also necessary. How many escalators are out of operation on any given day? What prevents bus drivers from reaching their destination on time? How many journeys within buildings are unnecessary? We need more and more information about an extremely important question – what’s stopping us from moving forward?

The Road Map for Digital Design and Construction published by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in 2015 sold BIM far too short by reducing it to the design and construction phases. It was fine as a starting point, but there have been no further developments in the five years since then. We still have a very long way to go, though! According to Dr. May, the Reform Commission for Major Construction Projects, on the other hand, has already obtained good results by taking a holistic approach. “There’s no point hyping BIM as a technology that will be the salvation of our construction industry. We need different awarding mechanisms, different contracts and breathing space for innovations in the supply chain, because these will fail to materialise under the current conditions with the supply chain being squeezed dry,” she concludes.


About Dr. Ilka May

Dr. Ilka May has over 18 years’ professional experience in spatial data and technologies, including major projects such as London’s Olympic Park and the new Crossrail tunnel running below London – currently Europe’s largest infrastructure project. Between 2007 and 2017, she worked for the global engineering company Arup, spending the first six of these years in London. Her achievements during this period include developing Arup’s global GIS and BIM strategies and taking charge of their implementation. In 2015, she was involved in developing Germany’s Road Map for Digital Design and Construction. Also in 2015, she was Interim Managing Director of planen-bauen 4.0. On behalf of this organisation, she advises the EU’s BIM Task Group – a collaboration between Europe’s largest public contracting authorities – on introducing BIM in Europe. In 2016 and 2017, she took charge of DB Engineering & Consulting GmbH’s BIM implementation programme.


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