News

BIM – the tech may be cool but the fundamentals are still based on culture

Antony Oliver, Infrastructure Intelligence editor

The age of innovation is upon is – but success is still a people challenge, says Antony Oliver

We are firmly into the age of innovation, at a watershed in terms of bridging the gap between the real world and the digital models that help us to manage our global infrastructure.

This was one of the conclusions from Keith Bentley, founder and technical driver of Bentley Systems the computer software business, as he gave a rare glimpse into his view of the future at the firm’s annual conference this week.

A full interview with Keith will follow next week and, I think, provide a fascinating reflection on technology and his firm’s 30 year history but also, more important a sneak preview of what might be around the corner. 

"It is this coming together, as Keith Bentley observed, between the digital model and the real world, in which the true value lies. Value derived as we effectively wrestle BIM and digital tools from the domain of the geek and thrust them usefully in the mainstream."

But having spent the week immersed in BIM and infrastructure technology at the Bentley Systems Year in Infrastructure conference this week there is no question that this future will be very exciting; and very fast moving; and critical for infrastructure in terms of the way the business thinks and reacts to long term asset management.

Yet for all the “cool stuff” on display and being discussed, the fundamentals of construction computing remain as true today as they were when Bentley first had the vision to speed up the production of drawings 30 year ago using “Computer Aided Drafting” as it was then.

Then as now, the critical factor was convincing a very traditional, risk averse and process driven business to think differently and break out of the norm. To look at what was being done, why and by who and ask the basic questions around why and how could it be different.

And when you look at the discussions around the use of BIM on projects like Crossrail, High Speed Two and Thames Tideway it is just that – how to break away from the norm of safe, known working practices to move towards more effective, more efficient ways to manage assets over their whole life.

It is genuinely a very exciting moment for technology in infrastructure. Certainly the exponential growth in computing power, advancement in devices and rapid extension of wireless connectively, sensors and location positioning make the once unthinkable now possible. 

But the crucial thing is the way that this technology becomes simply an enabler for the delivery of better ideas; the way it is able to sit beneath to support the real value added work of infrastructure professions as they interact with clients, supply chain and the public.

It is this coming together, as Keith Bentley observed, between the digital model and the real world, in which the true value lies. Value derived as we effectively wrestle BIM and digital tools from the domain of the geek and thrust them usefully in the mainstream.

So, long may the technology wow and woo us with new ways to use and visualise data and ideas. But we should never lose sight of the reality that this tech simple enables.

It is the constant flow of creativity to challenge the norm and embrace the new that will continue to define our future infrastructure success.

Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence