Supercharge BIM Workflows with a Single Source of Truth
Learn how Hercuton, a design & build firm, uses a Common Data Environment to boost its business and how Solibri’s new capabilities streamline BIM workflows on CDEs throughout the construction project.
Often, a construction project is visualized as a neat supply chain diagram in which information flows in an orderly manner. Everyone who has worked in the industry knows that’s the exception, not the rule. The information flow is far from well-managed, and errors and rework ensue. However, that shouldn’t be the case. We already have the digital capabilities to perform much better.
We talked with two industry experts to understand construction information management’s present state and the business value of using quality-managed BIM and Common Data Environments (CDEs).
CDE – Common Data Environment
The concept of a cloud server as a project’s federated file repository was established in the early 1990s. It contains folders for each design discipline and uses rights management to secure the information.
A Common Data Environment, or CDE, extends the capabilities of simple file storage. These are sometimes called BIM collaboration platforms but can contain all kinds of digital documents and data. A CDE can provide services like digital workflows, version and status management, issues communication, model viewing, and quality checks.
Several companies provide CDEs as a service. Examples include Autodesk Construction Cloud, Bimsync, and Oracle Aconex CDE.
At Hercuton, BIM is business as usual
Hercuton is a design & build company in the Dutch JAJO construction group. The group is unique in the Netherlands because their services cover the whole life cycle of a building. They are “closing the circle together,” as their new mission declaration states.
Hercuton’s Daan Arts has been vital in instilling BIM across JAJO companies, to the degree that it has become business as usual. “Let’s stop calling it BIM. Let’s just call it the way that we work,” he says.
Arts’s title is no longer BIM Manager – he’s been repositioned as the Manager of Digitalization and Innovation for Hercuton. “It’s because we feel that we are ready to take the next step into the digitalization of this field,” Arts explains.
The company’s digital workflows build on using IFC files enriched with linked data and digital documents on a CDE. They form “the single source of truth” for a project, from the initial brief to the handover and beyond.
“We use Revit to create IFCs. That’s the only reason we have Revit. I want to emphasize this because my project managers and engineers work with IFCs,” Arts stresses. “We are an open BIM organization.”
Getting everyone onboard
Because BIM has become the backbone of the digital construction workflow, the models must be impeccable. Hercuton uses Solibri for rule-based model checking during cost estimation and engineering, ensuring compliance with requirements, and highlighting possible discrepancies between the federated models.
Typically, 80% of construction project tasks are carried out by subcontractors. That’s why it’s essential to include all of them in the digital workflow. Hercuton also offers access to the client. A CDE makes this possible and manageable.
Arts describes the way they work as the so-called hamburger model. On top, there’s the bun denoting the design models – what to build. The bottom bun represents the suppliers’ models – how to build. The “meat” in the middle is how you communicate, by checking with Solibri that the production models comply with the design models and with each other throughout the process.
Integrated BIM workflows on CDEs
Lauri Luoma, Solibri’s Customer Success Manager, works with consulting firms and contractors worldwide. He helps them succeed with Solibri through training, sharing valuable insights, and paying attention to any issues they might have. He’s their voice within Solibri.
Even though CDEs have been around for years, Lauri sees that people still resort to email, instant messaging, and phone calls to exchange information. He does not suggest that every piece of information should be in the CDE, but that everyone should comply once there’s an agreement on what is included.
Luoma suggests that BIM coordinators should start fostering systematic use of CDEs, creating guidelines, and educating project teams on best practices.
“Information management is still kind of a Wild West,” Luoma says. “A CDE should not be just a place to store files but a way to manage revisions systematically.”
Efficiencies through workflow automation
Digital workflows have become ingrained in the everyday life of designers and contractors. When building owners and maintenance companies join in, usability requirements increase. Professional BIM users also wish to avoid unnecessary complexity and manual operations.
Automating workflows and standardizing collaboration procedures is difficult since software tools and CDEs can vary from project to project.
“Our aim is to bring quality assurance to the customer’s workflow and integrate with their existing CDE,” says Luoma.
Solibri has direct integrations with the most common CDEs and issue management platforms, such as BIM Sync, Autodesk Construction Cloud, Dalux, and more. You can find the full list of integrations here.
Solibri has recently been able to streamline BIM quality assurance on CDEs. Using the BCF standard, BIM Collaboration Format, issue management runs seamlessly alongside the model validation and revisioning process. Working directly with IFC models on a CDE is now possible without downloading and uploading the revised models. This allows a CDE to become the single source of truth for both issues and IFC files.
Achieving high-profit projects with quality-assured data
Aalto University’s data-based research has shown that up to 70% of construction workers’ time is wasted on non-value-added tasks. Office staff also uses a substantial portion of their workdays on the unnecessary hustle. Much of this waste results from poor communication, a lack of information, and rework caused by errors.
According to the GRI, Get It Right Initiative, the direct costs of errors resulting mainly from defective or missing data are estimated to be 5% of the total project costs. If you add indirect costs, the total is over 10%.
“The cost of fixing an issue during design is much lower than if you find it at the construction phase,” Luoma reminds us.
Taking better care of BIM quality and using CDEs comprehensively could increase the profitability of construction firms by several percentage points. Companies like Hercuton that cover the entire building process can seize this opportunity easier than projects with dispersed teams. But every project can do it if the participants commit to shared information management.
More incentives from buildings’ lifespan
Construction sites have started using BIM for procurement, planning, and installation. But there is still a data gap between construction, operations, and maintenance. A large amount of valuable information is lost or becomes obsolete.
Around 2016, digital twins became a talking point in property management. Digital twins combine the virtual model of a building with real-time data captured from the physical building. The aim is to make building operations and maintenance proactive and efficient, saving time and cost and improving quality.
This use of BIM as the basis for digital twins further reinforces the need for correct models enriched with relevant data. Trying to fix the models at handover is unnecessary if they have been kept up to date throughout the design and construction phases.
Daan Arts admits that there’s still some way to go before data flows seamlessly across the building life cycle, even within the same group. However, the aim of achieving carbon-neutral construction increases the pressure to manage material and product data better.
Overall, consultants, contractors, and owners now have an unsurpassed opportunity to increase project profitability. The tools are there; it’s now a question of jointly committing to better information management and taking decisive steps forward.