Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Disruptive innovation in the construction industry

The construction industry has not seen any major technological innovation in the past few decades. A major factor for that is the fragmentation in the industry creating islands of information and tedious processes of exchange. This has reduced the overall construction output.

BIM or Building Information Modeling is a major development in the construction project delivery process. BIM models are digital, easily managed and shared representations of physical and functional data that define buildings throughout their life cycle. From the pattern and definition of disruptive innovation explained by Professor Christensen in “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, it is safe to conclude that the growth of BIM in the construction industry is truly a disruptive innovation.

We can compare BIM to CAD for a better understanding of this. CAD or Computer Aided Drawing was a software that was developed to simply computerize the production of drawings. Before the availability of CAD, architects and engineers still produced drawings but on paper. CAD gave them more flexibility and was thus a “sustaining technology” as it improved the already existing market.

In a similar fashion, BIM also started as a sustaining technology with the idea that 3D models would be an easier way to produce 2D drawings, thus being the next logical evolution to CAD. With the collaboration of more stakeholders such as the owner, contractor and specialty contractor, BIM now has advanced features such as clash detection, quantity take-offs, cost estimation, energy analysis, etc. Although it does not reduce the total amount of work in the design process, it shifts the effort to an earlier stage where decisions have higher impact and lower cost of implication. It facilitates consistent data transfer between project participants and quick evaluation via simulation and analytics.

However, what makes BIM a disruptive technology is the fact that it caters to only a certain segment of the market that can afford it. The high initial cost that includes buying the software and training people to use it, is a major obstacle that people face in implementing BIM in their work structure. To truly achieve all the expectations of BIM, two things must change. Prices must come down and technology should be easier to use. Lower cost will enable usage by a larger number of customers. Easier technology will improve performance and accessibility.

BIM is now moving towards a cloud based system. It will enable AEC companies to rent computing infrastructure, software and systems through the Internet on an as-needed basis. This innovation will to some extent solve the issue of access.  Companies would no longer face the problem of limited storage on computers to handle heavy models. Although moving towards a cloud system would increase efficiency and productivity benefits across the life cycle of a building, this change can be said to be ahead of its time. While BIM is still being adopted by AEC companies globally, moving to cloud can be considered disruptive, but an eventuality. 

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