BIM and Collaborative Project Management (1-2-3 Revit Tutorial)

31 May, 2007 By: AIA ,Rick Rundell

Connecting the people, information and processes involved in BIM enables a shared project vision.

Think about how your office would function without e-mail. If you're old enough, you remember those days. Stacked plastic in-boxes and out-boxes overflowing with paper. Standing over a copy machine, duplicating memos and sending them off via trusty manila interoffice envelopes or, even worse, the U.S. postal service! E-mail is so pervasive that we've forgotten the inefficiencies that surrounded the simple act of correspondence before the Internet.

Too bad we can't do the same with collaboration.

Some of my previous columns touched on different technologies used for collaboration vis-à-vis a building information model: using DWF technology to share design information, for example, or using Revit Worksharing to share design models. This month's "1-2-3 Revit" explores critical infrastructure needed to disseminate and manage the quality information that comes from a building information model: collaborative project management solutions.

Need for Efficient Communication and Collaboration
The 2005 FMI/CMAA Sixth Annual Survey of Owners reported once again that problems with coordination and collaboration among team members is near the top of the list of concerns that keep owners awake at night. This survey of the largest building owners in the world states, "Successful owners build a culture of ownership through the construction process to align the stakeholders and achieve desired project outcomes and program goals." A key ingredient in aligning stakeholders is efficient communication and collaboration. (Survey of Owners is an annual survey produced by the CMAA [Construction Management Association of America] in partnership with FMI Corporation that focuses on key construction industry trends from the owners' perspective.)

To understand the effects of inefficient project communication and collaboration, let's use the example of a large resort hotel building project entrenched in paper-based, ad hoc collaboration processes. The architect has been shipping paper drawings, e-mailing scanned documents and spending lots of time on the phone with the owner to wrap up the schematic design.

Next the design moves to the construction documentation phase. The MEP and structural consultants begin their detailed work, the owner starts the plan review cycle with the local government office, the contractor begins assembling bid packages and countless other specialty consultants for food service, landscaping and so on join the team. As the CD stage progresses, the number of information consumers increases exponentially -- creating a complex web of communication requirements. There are more than 50 different companies involved in the project at this point. Design changes are falling through the cracks under the weight of the information distribution; the task of communicating with all the various constituents in the design review process is at the breaking point. Related project data such as timelines, specifications, contracts and budgets similarly go astray. The actual distribution of information is just part of the issue; the architect's office is having trouble just tracking who should get what and when, and the owner is getting more and more concerned that the project is going over budget.

And, this is just the design stage. Think about permits, RFIs, change orders, contracts, warranty documents and equipment manuals plus general contractors, subcontractors, equipment suppliers, project managers, lawyers, accountants and tenants. You can quickly grasp the drawbacks of decentralized, ad hoc project collaboration and information sharing.

Collaborative Project Management Tools
The feedback from the owners in the survey referenced above is that one of the ways for project teams to communicate more effectively is the use of a project collaboration tool that everyone on the team can access. CPM (collaborative project management) solutions seek to improve communication by enabling the distribution of the coordinated, reliable information that comes from BIM (building information modeling) and making it available -- in an appropriate form -- to the participants in the building process.

What does the term appropriate form mean? For example, most people involved in a Revit-based building project don't need to access the building information model directly using Revit. Many more people need to use the design information than those who actually need to create it. DWF is a good example of building information distributed in an appropriate form. The function of DWF is to distribute and communicate design information to anyone needing to view, review, print or access it for any purpose -- without losing critical data and without these people needing to know or even have the native BIM software.

Another essential feature of collaboration in today's global economy is the need for an extended team to access, view and comment on information as needed -- regardless of the members' companies or locations. Technologically speaking, this translates into the need for an Internet-based, on-demand collaboration solution that spans geographies and time zones but, more importantly, span organizations -- offering a neutral infrastructure for all parties to participate in and relieving anyone from its IT burden.

BIM Enabled by Efficient Communication and Collaboration
Information is, literally, at the center of BIM and as the building model is tapped for more and more uses -- cost estimating, project planning and building performance analysis, for example -- the overall amount of quality information that can be output from the building model keeps increasing. This output results in more data that can and should be shared among the extended project team. How can the combination of BIM and Internet-based CPM solutions enable more efficient project communication and collaboration? Let's return to the resort example used earlier, but this time I'll feature the use of BIM and CPM.

The resort owner and the architect have been working closely throughout schematic design, using Revit Architecture for the design of the hotel complex and Autodesk Collaborative Project Management solutions to facilitate project communication. The architect's design team (located in both Las Vegas and New York) has had simultaneous access to a shared building model. Electronic design reviews with the owner and key design consultants (such as the site engineer) have relied on Autodesk Design Review. Critical components of the building information model were published (in digital DWF files) from Revit directly to a CPM application established by the resort owner.

To publish a DWF of the building information model to Autodesk Collaborative Project Management, click Publish to Buzzsaw (Buzzsaw is the application name) from the File pull-down menu and then select DWF. You can also export DWG files directly to Buzzsaw by clicking Publish to Buzzsaw and selecting DWG.

When publishing a building information model to Buzzsaw, a dialog box appears to help you select an existing collaboration site (left) or add a new collaboration site to the list of available sites (right).

The Design Review software automatically preserved all mark-up information, so any comments or changes noted during a review were imported and tracked directly in Revit. There was no need for shipping paper drawings across the country, e-mailing scanned drawings or late-night conference calls across time zones.

Autodesk Collaborative Project Management offers version tracking as well as native 2D or 3D viewing capabilities (depending on the file type). In addition, DWF mark ups and redlines can be added directly to the DWF without having to leave the collaboration site. General file information and a discussion board are additional features that further enhance the collaborative tool set.

As the design moved to the construction documentation phase, the architect (who uses Revit Architecture) and the structural engineer (who uses Revit Structure) wanted to exchange and cross-link their respective Revit models, so they used the owner's collaboration site to store and share the data. The MEP engineer (who uses an AutoCAD-based solution) needed the architectural DWG files for xreferencing , so for easy access the architect posted the DWGs to the collaboration site and the MEP engineer was automatically e-mailed a URL to bring him into the site and download the DWG files.

As the CD stage progressed and the number of information consumers increased, the electronic design review cycle bore the weight of the information -- using Autodesk's Design Review and Collaborative Project Management solutions to manage the design review process and related files respectively. And the task of communicating the right project information to the right people was enhanced by using the collaborative hub to keep track of who should get what and when.

BIM can deliver tremendous business benefits and improve the ability and efficiency of designing complex building projects. Forward-looking firms also use collaborative project management solutions to expand the effect of BIM -- pushing its benefits to all participants in the design, build, own and operate continuum throughout a project's lifecycle.

Collaborative project management adds structure to project communication and business processes and improves project quality and accountability. Collaborative project management combined with BIM links together the major stakeholders in a building project and enables a shared project vision, all based on the superior building information available from the building information model.

About the Author: AIA

About the Author: Rick Rundell

Rick Rundell

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