Saturday, September 13, 2014

Can BIM maturity be objectively measured?

BIM, as a project delivery method, is quite a recent industry initiative to some people.  
To others, it is a very old one that failed to mature with time.
The stance depends on whom one asks, for the definition and likely age of the phenomenon.
Disillusioned veteran BIM-ers from one side will have their set of views. Professionals of various ages that freshly found a promising-looking niche will have another set.  Between them is a range of highly dissimilar answers to the same question.

Regardless of whether BIM is considered to be new or old, nowadays neither small nor large companies dispute that it is being ‘practised’ globally, on private as well as public projects, across the entire building-creating industry.
Even within geographical regions that are considered to be slow-adopters, there is detectable BIM activity amongst the industry stakeholders. Entities of various sizes and various industry roles are jumping anew into BIM waters. This is because of either a mandated requirement, or a company choice to innovate. Those charged with managing the process of BIM implementation within these organisations will often look for other, more BIM-mature regions for clues and advice.

And there lies a potential trap.

The everyday meaning of ‘maturity’ refers to a stage of development achieved on a fairly well defined scale. Taking human development as an example, this is based on hundreds of years of observation and medical research where, while tolerances do exist, the extreme-ends of maturity levels are reasonably well known and agreed on.
More recently in IT, the maturity of tools, approaches and systems is often classified on a more open-ended scale of progress. A ‘mature technology’ in that context may not mean the absolute pinnacle of development for the particular field, but purely something that is more advanced than its predecessor, or a contemporary example of lesser values.
This little subtlety in interpretation of a particular ‘qualification method’ is rarely a problem within the IT industry as most participants are used to working within an ever-changing field that will unlikely reach its full potential in the near future.

On the other hand, the AEC industry is much more conservative when it comes to its tools, systems and approaches and it is not unusual for ‘best practices’ to have survived for hundreds of years, be that in the areas of ‘real building’ or in communication systems supporting the construction processes.
So, when something is classified as being of a ‘Mature BIM’ character, for most participants of the AEC industry this means having reached the level that is the ‘best that there is in BIM’. Just being a bit more advanced in adopting BIM than say an organization that is still considering taking it on, is not enough.

The impacts of this practice can be dangerous for those taking ‘maturity’ as an absolute, and dangerous for the overall future of the industry as well.
Both will suffer from possibly setting the bar of aimed BIM performance too low, based on the adopted experience of ‘mature’ practitioners, without allowing the benefit of the doubt that these experiences, while valuable, cannot be called ‘best practices’, due to the comparatively low numbers of participants, short relative timeframes and lack of measurable and robust results.
The new recruits of the BIM approach will constrain themselves to what others had done and in turn the entire industry will be reluctant to go where no one had gone before.

So, if ‘mature BIM’ is not really a ‘fully mature BIM’ but a BIM that is maybe only a bit more advanced than another BIM, how can the various levels of BIM practised by various industry stakeholders be measured?

They can’t and shouldn’t.
While I personally have developed a set of reliable tools that will enable me to distinguish between a real BIM-mer and a pretend one, be that an individual, a company or an entire region, I rarely share these tools with others.
Instead, I encourage them to face the fact that selecting the right people for making BIM work within their organisation is not an easy exercise.  Checklists and ‘boxes to tick’ will be of little help.
Similarly, to successfully hire a BIM services provider will require much more than reviewing their portfolio and listening to their PR spins.
Apart from suffering from a sense of righteousness, that will in time be seen to be false, reckless emulating of others’ BIM experiences, often in spite of one’s own misgivings of their value and ‘maturity’, can also lead to long term serious and detrimental material and legal consequences.

I also argue that no individual, company or region should embark on any type of BIM implementation without truly understanding and believing in the reason ‘why’ they were wanting to be doing BIM, in the first place.
This goes for an individual starting to learn a modelling package, a company setting out to develop their own BIM standards, or a Government deciding to mandate wholesale BIM deliverables and processes.