Digitalised Construction: Growing relevance of BIM in the development of buildings

The infrastructure sector in India is plagued by project delays. However, the adoption of digital technologies is anticipated to help mitigate the delays faced by the infrastructure and construction sector. Building information modelling (BIM) enables the simultaneous execution of design and documentation. With ch­anges in the design, documentati­on can be easily altered in response to new in­for­mation or changed site conditions. BIM plays a vital role in the overall growth of the construction and infrastructure sector as it offers a multitude of benefits that effectively reduce project delays and enhance execution efficiency. Glo­bally, BIM is evolving into a crucial and mandated process that ensures the meticulous planning, design and construction of buildings.

Project delays in India

As of May 10, 2023, there are approximately 1,684 major infrastructure projects that are ongoing, with investments exceeding Rs 1.5 billion. However, 22 per cent of these projects have cost overruns, while 45 per cent continue to face time overruns. This is primarily due to the inability to manage project-related risks. The ability to manage these risks declines over ti­me. Proper risk management is crucial for op­timal project execution and failure to address the risks in timely manner often results in cost and time overruns.

By enhancing the implementation of project preparatory activities, detailed project de­signs, construction planning, contract management, stakeholder coordination and enga­gement, and the project financial ecosystem, approximately 60 per cent of delays can be effectively mitigated. In India, there are 50 na­tional ministries and over 200 departments at the national level. Further, there are 30-50 de­partments at the state level, as well as an additional 200 subdepartments and divisions at the state and district levels. The sheer number of departments and interdepartments in the country often leads to chaos and delays in project approvals and their subsequent execution. Convergence at all three levels is crucial to effectively address problems related to infrastructure development. A convergence app­roach, both at the departmental and the stakeholder levels, is required to obtain the necessary information for projects.

The need for BIM deployment

The deployment of digital technologies, along with early holistic planning and preparation, is vital for overcoming challenges associated with delays in construction projects. Despite contributing to approximately 8.5 per cent of the GDP and employing 12 per cent of the workforce, the construction sector remains the second least digitalised among the entire gamut of sectors in India. Owing to a lack of digital up­take, a considerable amount of time — app­roxim­ately five days — is lost in every infrastructure project in India as teams struggle to find accurate information and pass it on to the appropriate individuals at the correct time. This accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the overall lack of efficiency.

BIM deployment and its advantages

Conceptualisation, design and execution are considered crucial stages in any infrastructure project. Project conceptualisation encompasses activities such as concept designing, surveying, phase planning and programming, while project designing involves spatial, structural, electrical, mechanical and other technical design aspects. Project execution involves the procurement of materials and equipment, as well as the construction of the project. Signi­fi­cant amounts of data and information are generated in these three stages of project implementation. Despite accounting for approximately 75-80 per cent of the project life cycle cost, the operation and maintenance (O&M) stage is often overlooked. Unfortunately, the data and information generated over the course of project execution are often lost or neglected.

The deployment of digital technology in infrastructure projects helps to retain and communicate crucial information from each stage, which can subsequently be used in the O&M stage. Thus, the issue of losing important project information and data can be resolved by adopting a common data environment (CDE) platform. CDE platforms tend to work separately in each phase of construction. It is essential to integrate the information and data from all construction phases into a common thread, allowing them to be effectively leveraged to­ge­ther. To facilitate effective communication, ea­ch software should be able to communicate within a common environment, and that is whe­re BIM-enabled CDE comes in. BIM-enab­led CDE serves as a centralised platform where all project stakeholders can access and share relevant project information. It acts as a storehouse of various types of data, documents, specifications and schedules, enabling seamless and effective data management throughout the project life cycle.

The aim is to digitally construct a project prior to commencing physical construction. It helps provide advanced information on design, construction, logistics, maintenance, budgets, sc­hedules, accountabilities, and more. With the integration of BIM, any design change will trigger automatic updates across all aspects of the project, thereby giving a clearer picture for enhanced project execution. Moreover, the de­ployment of BIM can address risks associated with engineering, procurement, energy consu­m­ption and other areas to a certain extent.

The adoption of BIM in India should be prioritised as it is multidimensional, where each dimension enhances the level of detail. BIM captures the geometry, time, cost, O&M, as well as sustainability aspects (through 7D modelling) of a project. Digital adoption will facilitate effective control over cost and time overruns. The adoption of BIM by the infrastructure sector in India has the potential to reduce the average age of the entire National Infrastruc­ture Pipeline by 39 months, which equates to roughly three and a half years. Additionally, the implementation of BIM will result in 30 per cent of budgetary savings, 20 per cent of savings in infrastructure maintenance costs, a 20 per cent reduction in inefficiencies, a 38 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, and a 10 per cent decline in water consumption. Further­, BIM yields various other benefits thro­ugh­out the project life cycle such as enhanced construction consistency, efficient engineering, re­alistic budgeting, increased site safety, en­han­ced project risk management, lower maintenance cost and operational disruptions, lo­wer energy consumption, decreased construction waste and reduced O&M disruptions.

In closing

It is crucial to implement BIM across all infrastructure sectors of the country, as its importance can be gauged by its extensive application and benefits. It helps the infrastructure se­ctor in coordinating, planning, designing and constructing and executing the overall project im­plementation with precise and accurate data. Notably, approximately 30 per cent of the global BIM work is outsourced to India. Despite this, the adoption of the technology in India re­mains low. In order to facilitate and promote the adoption of BIM, it is essential for the public sector in India to develop a framework for its deployment. Going forward, the Indian government plans to foster an environment to expedite its adoption by building capacity and standards that can be utilised across the country, as well as mandating the adoption of BIM in projects that surpass a particular threshold. To establish mandates regarding BIM adoption, the government has selected 12 key infrastructure sectors and is in the process of defining thresholds. These thresholds are being determined based on the potential benefits that can be derived. Further, consultations are being co­nducted with consultants and sectoral departments to gather valuable input.

Due to a lack of awareness regarding the potential of BIM, contractors are reluctant to invest in a BIM system, especially as all the projects are not BIM compliant and can increase the cost. It is essential to build awareness amongst the contractors to help them understand that while the benefits of investing in BIM may not be immediately realised, the investment will reap massive profits in the future. The government is expected to announce enabling interventions for BIM deployment. Therefore, companies and agencies are recommended to adopt the technology at the earliest opportunity.

Based on a presentation by Abhishek Agarwal, Senior Specialist Director, Infrastructure Connectivity, NITI Aayog, at the India Infrastructure Forum 2023