How BIM Becomes Business as Usual – Interview with Marzia Bolpagni

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marzia Bolpagni, an advocate for BIM in business and education. She’s the Strategic BIM Advisor at Mace in London and works actively in the standardization of BIM practices.

Marzia became interested in BIM during her studies at the University of Brescia in northern Italy: “I was very lucky to meet Professor Angelo Luigi Camillo Ciribini, one of the most important innovators in our sector, especially in Italy. His teaching method was very international and demanding from a student’s point of view.”

Making Headway in Finland

Ciribini encouraged Marzia to go north to study for her Master’s thesis. At VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland she focused on a specific topic: how BIM should be implemented in public procurement. “I consider VTT’s Markku Kiviniemi and Kristiina Sulankivi my father and mother on BIM,” says Marzia. They considered her to be an expert on the subject matter, which was inspiring for a young student.

VTT published Marzia’s thesis in 2013 and it is available online. The research has not collected dust – the German and Russian governments have used it in implementing their BIM strategies.

Marzia Bolpagni

From Boston to London

Marzia continued her work as a researcher in Italy at the Construction Technologies Institute of the National Research Council. She started on her PhD at Politecnico di Milano. She wanted to work with the best in her field and to find a client organization that was already using BIM daily.

Marzia’s wish came true in Boston, where she connected with Dr. Luciana Burdi, Deputy Director of Capital Programs and Environmental Affairs at the Massachusetts Port Authority. The Port Authority had integrated BIM and lean construction. “Burdi is a brilliant Italian woman in a leadership position in a foreign country. She’s a role model for me,” Marzia says.

A year after returning to Italy, Marzia continued her PhD in London at the Ministry of Justice. In April 2016, BIM Level 2 had become mandatory in centrally funded public projects in the UK, and the Ministry’s Digital Estate Team lead by Matthew Watchorn was among the first to put the policy into practice.

Helping Clients Implement BIM

Today, Marzia works in London as the Strategic BIM Advisor at Mace, an international consultancy and construction company. Mace’s business activities give the organization an overview of the entire life cycle of the built environment.

In her current role, Marzia communicates the message that BIM is for everyone, not just for experts. She’s worked with clients and sees them as the key to realizing the full benefits of BIM. She believes that companies should promote and use collaborative procurement and involve stakeholders early in their projects.

Looking at the construction industry from a different point of view, Marzia has realized how slow the implementation of BIM still is. She believes that people, not the technologies, are the main obstacle.

Even young professionals, perhaps because of their educational backgrounds, are not embracing BIM as one would assume. “It is not beneficial to talk about BIM in general, but rather we should be discussing how to integrate the technology into daily work. We need to upskill people and make them rethink internal processes,” Marzia states.

Standards and Dictionaries

During her studies, Marzia became familiar with BIM guidelines used in various countries. In Boston, she encountered “LOD”, a standardized metric for building information models. She found the topic quite confusing: “People use the concept for different purposes. For some, it’s a geometrical detail of a project; others associate it with attribute information. It can be associated with individual model elements or the whole model. We have LODs that use letters or numbers on different scales. LOD can mean Level of Detail, Level of Definition, Level of Development, and so on.”

After Marzia published an article on LODs, CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, asked her to lead a task group aimed at standardizing the concept. For over a year now, she’s been working with experts from 11 countries, trying to find a consensus on what LODs are and how they should be presented, verified and validated.

The team started by thinking about deriving needs from the different purposes of particular information. Instead of LOD, they now use the term “Level of Information Need” originally introduced by ISO19650. Their work should be public by the end of the year.

Implementing BIM collaboratively and across borders is not easy without a common terminology. The BIM Dictionary project tries to solve this problem by harmonizing the meaning of terms, abbreviations, and synonyms across several languages. This is a project within the BIM Excellence (BIMe) Initiative, a not-for-profit research-driven effort undertaken by volunteer researchers from both industry and academia. Marzia coordinates the project’s teams as an Assistant Editor. She also leads the Italian team of six members.

Making BIM Business as Usual

Marzia is an example of a person who acts as a link between academia and business. She believes that academia can supply fresh thinking, introduce and test new technologies, analyze processes and policies, and provide an international perspective to local businesses.

Marzia asserts that researchers should improve their communications with non-experts and interact and familiarize themselves with the work of companies. That way, win-win relationships become possible.

“In Europe, the level of BIM implementation is really heterogeneous. In Scandinavian countries, BIM is almost business as usual. My colleagues from Norway said that asking why you use BIM is like asking why you use email,” Marzia says smilingly, “and maybe email is not the best example as more agile ways of communications are emerging now.” She understands that there are still problems with interoperability and data integration and people’s attitude in embracing change. The publication of ISO 19650 and the standards at CEN TC 442 will help to unify European BIM practices.

Marzia sees the future of BIM as a part of digital innovation in the construction industry. BIM as a concept is still evolving and over time it is possible it will merge with other technologies and ways of managing information.

“It is important to work on the educational side as well. The curricula should explain how to work in a different way. Clients need training on how to procure collaboratively and set information requirements differently,” Marzia concludes.

You can connect with Marzia on Linkedin and Twitter. Her email address is Ma.bolpagni(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com.

The title photo is courtesy of Mace