Three benefits of focusing on the information management in BIM

BIM has taken off in the building world, now it’s time to help it take off in the asset world, says Louise Irvine.

I believe we’ve moved beyond the B (Building) in BIM and are now in the age of information management. Founding BIM in the building world almost made us forget the big picture – our assets. It’s distracted us from the fundamental of surviving this digital age: information management. It’s good information management that will help us get the most from common data environments (CDEs) and 3D models.  

Data can tell us a lot about our assets, but if we look beyond that to what’s around them and their inter-relationships, we can learn so much more.  An area of expertise the geospatial industry has excelled in for many years. This is especially true on infrastructure projects.

Until now, BIM has focused on data management at a document or model level. What we need to recognise is that data is as important as the model. In the long run, it might even be more important in realising the true value within full asset life data management.

Maps, or spatial data, come into play when we’re looking at all of our assets rather than a single building or project section. You’re used to using Google Maps to find information on restaurants, now imagine if that same technology could help you find information on any of your assets, anywhere in the world.  

There’s three big benefits of looking at data in this way.  

1. We’re not designing in isolation 

When we think about things spatially, we’re understanding the context for our designs by bringing in data from the outside world. We’re moving from opening a CAD file, then a drainage file, then a signage file, to opening a single source of truth, an ‘index’ where information is all in one place. 

2. We’re saving time, now and in the long run

Too many people see these spatial common data environments (sCDEs) as an add on and an upfront cost. The truth is, people don’t like spending money on data. But what they don’t see are the huge efficiencies teams get every day from using these tools. A half hour each day for a project team of thousands of people adds up! 

The biggest benefit though is when clients hand over to the contractor or maintainers (and vice versa). Too often there’s a cost every time we change contractors because they don’t trust the data. We spend too much time at the design and construction stage questioning and gathering data. In the long-term, it’s about being able to operate and maintain our projects at asset, rather than building, level. 

3. We’re using experts to ensure we have the right data in the right place

There’s an entire profession out there – Geospatial Specialists (using GIS) – who thrive on managing data, ensuring its integrity and making it easy to access. Geospatial experts can build automated processes that ensure data is checked, validated then shared. What you see at the end is a web map, a ‘Google Map’ for your project that you can use without any training. A simple front end with thousands of layers of quality data behind it, where the geometry and tabular or database information are bought together in one place

BIM has taken off in the building world, now let’s help it take off in the asset world. Let’s invest the time upfront in data, and its presentation, so that years from now we don’t look back and wish we had.

Louise Irvine is a senior GIS consultant at Akins, member of the SNC-Lavalin Group.