~Reflections~

This is it isn’t it? A few more weeks come our final exams and then another year has passed. I can’t believe how fast time has slipped through this time round. The past 9 presentations have been an eye opener to the fundamental changes we are experiencing in the construction industry. Although some of these technological changes aren’t household names for the bulk of the industry, it is a precursor for what we should expect when our generation of industry leaders start to reach their prime.

Previously, the older generation of construction project managers had perfected the dark arts of managing projects using conventional methods. These conventional methods have been tried again and again to acceptable levels of success. Methods involving 2D drawings, excel spreadsheets, screaming at subbies, Architects, engineers and other industry professionals. These methods were crude and cumbersome, but it worked.

However, as buildings became more complicated, and projects became larger and more spread out, conventional methods of management could not adapt to the demands of a new era. The building industry was crying out for change. Fundamental change that is. We had to find different innovative ways of doing things. Because conventional methods of construction management has been around since the dawn of time, many different approaches have been tried and tested. The only way innovation can happen within the building industry is through IT. IT has effectively given a new dimension to how construction can be managed.

No IT development has driven innovation in construction management more so than BIM. For BIM isn’t just a 3D model with data attached to it, it is a school of thought. A new way of thinking. Data is no longer restricted to a bunch of spreadsheets but geo-spatially referenced to the 3D model. This innovation doesn’t end here. The biggest innovation of all is now that we have ONE model of reference, construction professionals of all corners can relate to and provide input seamless drastically reducing time and costs resulting from clashes.

The Opera House extension is proof of what BIM really is. It is the ability to share information clearly and precisely across one unified platform between all parties such as engineers, architects, clients, and other consultants. For me, this is an exciting moment for the Opera House and also for the construction industry as a whole, for it has ushered everyone into a new era or working and problem solving. The way Chris Linning described how they managed to get 6 different companies under one room solving problems using a unified 3D model, spinning it around, pulling things apart was simply amazing.

It reminded me of back in High School during wood work class where you would sit around with your mates trying to figuring how things worked, or how to make things work. BIM and the work flow potential it brings with the innovation has brought the construction together back to where it was meant to be; different professionals working towards one common goal setting aside self-interests.

In reality, conventional methods had reached its upper limits in managing cost, efficiency, quality and precision. The intervening of IT into the industry did not change what needed to be done, but how it was done. From working in 2D drawings and meaningless data sets, IT has brought the data to life by being able to represent in a 3-D manner. In other words, how buildings are designed, how it’s built and how it’s managed. Previously, all these hows were documented on physical drawings, letters to consultants, marked up drawings, revised drawings and further revised drawings. It’s easy to imagine how this can get out of hand very quickly and even if it wasn’t, it would take great skill and knowledge to manage all these different facets.

Today, all design documentation whether its alterations or revisions are recorded in one accessible model by all parties involved through BIM. Through self-developed IT infrastructure such as Hansen and Yuncken’s HYway system, multiple instances of the construction process can be managed through one interface. Once the building is handed over the client, the client then uses the BIM model to monitor and maintain a building’s life-cycle. Now that we’ve attended all 9 presentations, this might seem like all common sense to us, however, innovation through IT has essentially connected all the dots and filled in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

Although, we are able to do all these amazing things with these new innovations, the way I see it, we’ve only begun to realise the potential where IT can take the industry. We are still far from perfecting our practices using these technologies. As evidence, Lend Lease was able to successfully build the Chau Chak Wing building with great precision using Digital Projects. However, when asked if they would be using such technology on other projects, the answer was although Digital Projects allowed construction managers to build with precision due to its embedded data in the model, they are still far away from utilising the technology on less complicated projects since it was very time consuming.

Unlike conventional construction management methods which have been perfected over many decades, IT innovation although with great potential, will take time for the industry as a whole to accept. Reason being that many professionals who have perfected conventional methods and has built the construction industry upon those methods are unwilling to accept these changes. It is up to our generation of construction professionals to further implement innovations from IT as the industry standard.

For the dinosaurs out there, we appreciate what you have done for the industry during your time, but change is coming and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. So either embrace it, help pave the foundations for using technology in construction management, or risk being left behind.

On a final note, I thoroughly enjoyed these 9 weeks of eye-opening presentations but all good things come to an end. However, for many of us the journey only has just begun. Good bye.

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