Recover fast, secure projects 

COVID-19 has shaken up our daily lives but the time has come for construction and real estate sector to (carefully) reopen. Companies are recovering their production as fast as possible to avoid costly delays and double down on submitting dossiers to secure future projects. 

In this unprecedented context, collaboration in construction is vital. The sector is demonstrating an incredible capacity to reinvent its work processes in a very short timeframe. More than ever, cost control is a key to keeping ongoing business on track and avoid 10-20% of unforeseen expenditures. Cost control of work packages and activities must include any assumptions that were made, where did the estimate originate, who provided the information, and at which level of confidence. This essential information will allow to properly allocate the tight budget over the life of the project.

Savvy organizations already take actions to integrate BIM with estimating, scheduling and costing, including the generation of bills of quantities, and derivation of productivity rates and labour costs. This process – called 5D BIM in the jargon – is going to be widely used but the levels of maturity vary.

 

Why COVID-19 accelerates BIM adoption

Uncertainty becomes the norm and scenarios can change quickly. Being responsive to changes is crucial to reveal bottlenecks early. The process of taking off measurements and quantities from a set of drawings is time consuming and error prone: a typical estimating over a €10M building project takes 2-3 weeks and 5-10% of quantities slip through the net.

By contrast, a cost estimating from a BIM model takes 2-3 days, even if every components in the building are not modeled. This offers the chance to explore different scenarios, immediately reflecting how a change in the design impacts both the programme and budget.

Because project managers are now urged to work earlier and more iteratively than in a traditional process, the adoption of cost control using BIM is likely to see a steady growth over the coming 12-18 months. To do so, it is important to implement the right workflow.

Three pillars for effective cost control using BIM

The crucial aspects to increase by an order of magnitude the effectiveness of cost control are:

 

  1. Seamless collaboration – Budgets, building specs, progress reports or building models are made and owned by different people, at different stages of the project, and using different tools. This information is scattered in PDFs, spreadsheets and other native files working in silos. The data becomes static and outdated the moment it is added to a file. However, cost control must comply with frequent changes due to scope redefinition, unforeseen events or unclear pricing methods.  When the BIM model is revised, the round-trip of extracting quantities, adding costs, commenting and reporting must be achieved without leaving the common data environment.
  2. Robust – With the perfect BIM model, a full quantity takeoff would almost take no time. But it is like unicorns, it does not exist. BIM models are never perfect nor complete. Actually 40-80% of costs can be directly derived from the BIM model. Other material quantities must be found in drawings and written documents. Why? Simply because modeling every components does not worth the effort. This is the reason why the system should be able to deal with a subtle mix of automation and manual work without breaking up the workflow.
  3. Visual – With BIM-based quantity takeoffs, estimators can measure, count, and price building objects such as walls, doors, and windows. The quantities stored in tables must provide a visual connection with the 3D model and a dashboard including KPIs, where each value is grouped, classified and colored. Otherwise the takeoff cannot be trusted, making under- or over-estimating difficult to detect.

 

Where cost control and construction technology go in the future?

The most attractive promise for the future of construction technology is artificial intelligence. Imagine you can determine any cost on the fly or get informed with instant feedback about any deviation in your project against benchmarks. The challenge is big as it involves 3D engineering, natural language processing and deep learning to mention a few, all of that in an heterogeneous environment. But the future is bright and this will come very soon.