What does the “I” in BIM mean?

by Mustafa Selcuk Cidik

An open approach to BIM connects different stakeholders to each other. Source: http://www.tekla.com/company/building-construction/Open-BIM
An open approach to BIM connects different stakeholders to each other. Source: http://www.tekla.com/company/building-construction/Open-BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) attracts much interest in the construction industry. Among many events, articles and forums about BIM, there is hardly a discussion that does not include “information”. The centrality of “information” in the BIM discourse deserves a critical look at the ways we understand and use the word “information”. I am not going to discuss the different philosophical stances that view “information” differently and their extended implications (although I think it is very useful for everyone to have a sound knowledge about these different stances) but question what “information” may mean in construction projects.

Anyone who has spent some time in practice will acknowledge that construction project environments are not free from politics. Moreover, social and political positions occupied by different individuals and groups in a construction project are subject to change during its course for a myriad of different reasons such as the project stage, contract types, design changes etc. These changes are a natural result of the largely technical dynamics of a project and the social dynamics of the project team.

Although information is generally seen as an objective entity in the BIM discourse, I believe that we should never forget about the social and political positions behind the creation, sharing and usage of the information. What makes information a useful input or output for a particular stakeholder of the project is strongly related to the social and political position of this particular stakeholder. By this I mean that information is inert or abstract when it is not connected to a stakeholder. Information is only meaningful and useful when it intersects with a stakeholder, hence, the stakeholder’s social and political position. Therefore, it is impossible to avoid socialization and politicization of information in project environments where there is common use of information by different stakeholders. Consequently, we should always keep in mind that information is always more than what is shown on the computer screen when we are talking about BIM, Employer’s Information Requirements, Common Data Environment and any other information related concept, procedure and process.

Furthermore, I believe that, we should always keep in mind that even if we manage to create a proper fully inter-operable 6D BIM (i.e. 3D parametric design + cost information + scheduling information + FM information) project, we would still be consciously or subconsciously drawing on information resources outside the BIM environment in order to realize a construction project. Think about the complex network of interweaved relations between professional discourses and trends; social and political positions in the project and in the workplaces; personal issues; limitations arising from codes, laws, construction site characteristics and construction materials; financial positions of the client, designers, sub-contractors etc. We may be very good at prioritizing and processing many different sources of information to take action in different contexts. However, it is hard to say that what we follow is a fully rational or logical process. It would be rather more correct to say that we technically, socially and politically optimize our actions for a particular context and constantly adapt our actions to the unfolding situations. Therefore it is impossible for a computer system to capture and process all the information sources we draw on to make the design, construction and operations happen. At least it is impossible for a computer system to do this the way we do. Even if it was possible, it would be insanely expensive and time consuming so that it would not be feasible. Our jobs may look easy to categorize and repetitive when described as ‘job definitions’. However the ways we skilfully handle the technical and social differences of each and every project, people, and situation on day to day basis are too rich and complex to be captured and processed in a computer system.

There is no doubt that information and communication technology (ICT) has an immense effect on the ways we work and it can greatly contribute to the work performance in a positive way. However, in order to be able to benefit from ICT we should correctly position ICT in the organizations. Similarly, we need to correctly position the concept of “information” in our discourse if we want to understand what is/can be the role of BIM in the construction industry and how BIM should be driven further ahead to maximize its positive impact. I believe that, this can only be possible through a comprehensive understanding of what information is and how and why we create, share and use it.


Note: This is a slightly edited version of the blog posted on Mustafa Cidik’s Linkedin site on 10 June 2014 – https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140610110939-309749689-what-does-the-i-in-bim-mean?trk=prof-post

Mustafa Selcuk Cidik is a PhD Researcher at Birmingham School of the Built Environment. His PhD research aims to explore and improve the use of BIM technology in interdisciplinary design collaboration in construction projects. His research interests cover a wide range of topics that aim to understand the relation between people and computers at different organizational levels and in different professions in the construction industry.

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