In three years I will wake suddenly in the night and, with a rush of adrenaline mixed with some shame and self loathing, the little video recorder in my head will play the highlight real once again.


Why?  Well, recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to an industry event for BIM sponsored by Victoria University and Engineers Australia.  Mark Bew was giving a presentation on data and optimising built assets, and I was asked to take part in a panel discussion following his main presentation.  Should be straight forward I think and a great chance to meet one of the great granddaddies of BIM as well.


Still … why the late night video replay?  Well, when someone in the audience asked a straight forward question, I doubted myself and prefaced my answer with these nine chilling words:

“Well I’m not an expert in the area, but…”.


Putting aside the debate on whether “I’m” counts as one or two words, as well as my exhaustion from some subsequent self inflicted ass kicking, my main thought the next day was this:

Why did I think it was a difficult question?


The question was in essence “who owns the data?” but it was wrapped in many more words.  (Note to self: don’t underestimate the capacity of an audience gathered from an engineering association to use far too many words.)


My answer was “the client”.  But of course I can’t forget the 9.5 words that came before it.


I was correct, but kindly Mark Bew included the important reminder that it must be stated in the contract.  Then Mark spent a few more minutes explaining more as only a man with an English accent and is used to these sessions can.


Before I break this down further, the next question left me speechless.  It came from a bloke who worked for a major infrastructure organisation and his question (don’t forget, many words used) was “how do I get data on my assets”.  But wait, there was one more question, because all good things come in threes.


This one was great.  It must have been, because I had no idea what on earth what he was asking.  I don’t even know if he was asking or just saying things.  Miraculously, granddaddy BIM took it like the pro he is and said a whole bunch of things in response.  I have no idea if either of them felt satisfied from that brief roll in the verbal hay, but as an onlooker I was like the confused four year old peeking through the barn door, wondering what mummy and daddy were doing but too afraid to ask.


I needed to do some high intensity pondering.


I’ve been lucky for a long time – my role has been to learn and to pass my knowledge on to others and I enjoy it immensely.  I pride myself as a ‘BIM translator’: someone who can break seemingly complex problems down so that others can make sense of them in context of their own skills and experience.  The greatest BIM experts in the room are those already good at what they do, they just need the keys to the language and concepts.


As a consultant, sitting around a table and talking with people about their role and their organisation is learning at its finest.  Once we delve a little deeper, BIM has the uncanny knack of doing two things: highlighting problems that already exist, and, not being the solution to every problem.  BIM is a great process and offers amazing tools, but it doesn’t auto deliver change management of work culture, people and processes.


If those same types of questions came again at a table instead of a panel, I believe both the asker and the askee would have come out knowing more.


Q. Who owns the data

A. Do you currently capture data?  Who owns it now?  Do you outsource your maintenance?  Do you maintain your own copy of the data that is held by the FM contractor?  What is the agreement at the end of their contract?  How do they obtain the data on new maintainable assets?  How do you currently procure new buildings, new assets?  Are there agreements in place that request specific information, or do you rely on the supply chain to provide a pdf O+M manual?  What are the project as built deliverables?  Do you achieve full handover successfully, or do the PMs and contractors lose interest?  Yes, I’d love a coffee… do you have any donuts?


Q. How do I get data on my existing assets

A. So, you’re not currently capturing data on your current assets?  If you are, how do you structure that data?  Is it siloed? Is there work to be done to consolidate and validate the data you have?  Is there a need to collect asset attributes that will help you understand your assets better and provide the opportunity for proactive or predictive maintenance in the future?  How do you update the data when maintenance is done?  How do you capture data when new works are completed?  What geolocational information needs to be captured?  What is the benefit for having BIM model information associated to the data?  Is the benefit large enough to justify the expense of maintaining models as well as the data?  No thanks, five donuts is my limit.


Q. Something something something something

A. Nope, I still cannot recall what this lovely chap was asking. I think it was commentary masquerading as a question.  The lesson I learnt about attending a panel session is whether I am prepared to answer off the cuff, or whether it would be better to turn the question into a conversation.  I hesitated because I thought saying “sorry, but I don’t understand what you are saying.  Can you ask me the same question differently?” would not cut the mustard.


The audience got to hear and see some great things that night.  Mark’s presentation highlighted the value of well managed information and how our future will further develop the links and networks between them.  Digital Twins, Smart Cities, IoT, Industry 4.0, and GIS all got a mention and took home a lolly-bag feeling happy.


There is a top tier of project and stakeholders where the investment in technology and processes showcased by Mark makes sense.  The point I made to the audience, without taking away an ounce of what Mark and his team at PCSG are capable of doing, is that there are many more in the industry who are wanting to work with BIM, but don’t know how to get started.  Adding to this inertia is that the obligation to work with and deliver BIM on projects from the client never exists or businesses are under prepared when the obligations do appear (and often poorly expressed).


What do the Tier 2s and SME’s need?  A single approach to working with BIM endorsed by government, and BIM education.  We’ve been talking about it for years, but perhaps now (at last) the ducks are beginning to line up.


Tertiary education has been working away at delivering BIM content to their existing curricula and offering stand alone degrees.  What’s new, also presented on the night, is the establishment of the Australian BIM Academic Forum to share knowledge and define what a minimum standard of competency for BIM looks like.  Still, effective training for those already working is desperately needed now.


Secondly, the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy proposes a common procurement methodology for BIM (digital engineering) across all state government departments.  Importantly it accords with the recently published ISO 19650 BIM standards and the government’s approach is one of collaboration, learning and improvement.  This framework we trust will be adopted in NSW and QLD as well.  It’s probably the best chance we’ll get.


What’s the conclusion?  There isn’t one – it’s a work in progress and we are all just people grouped together in buildings working as best we can.  I am however working to be part of the solution and promise next time I am on a BIM Panel that I will fight questions with questions, or firmly and confidently pass the buck to someone with an English accent.

Will Joske is a senior consultant with BIM Academy based in Melbourne Australia.

Will is also Principal Advisor for BIM at Swinburne University of Technology.