Month: October 2021

by Emma Hayes Emma Hayes No Comments

BIM+ Women of BIM Article: Emma Hayes

Welcome to the second interview in our series counting down to International Women’s Day on 8 March: a new interview will appear every Monday morning until then. Emma Hayes is MD of Digital Built Consultants, the Women in BIM regional lead for Ireland and actively involved in academia. Here, she highlights why diversity matters, the benefit of virtual teams and the need for digital champions.

What’s been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?

As a BIM consultant, the biggest professional challenge for me has been to try to convince the industry we work in, which is reputed to resist change, to adopt a new way of working. Research has shown that people’s mind-sets and attitudes are one of the main impediments to BIM adoption.

But in my experience, it is also essentially about good communication especially in when working with virtual teams. BIM technology will become easier to use, but unless the team are willing to engage with the processes, it is more difficult to implement BIM.

My consultancy has adopted a change strategy with clear goals for implementation when working with our clients. We use change management models such as Prosci’s ADKAR model to help define a clear structure for BIM adoption. After that, we work with clients to create an awareness of the need for BIM, support change and encourage a desire for adoption. Coaching, practice and time also help lay the groundwork for adoption. 

It’s important to keep reinforcing and measuring so that corrective actions can be taken as you build BIM into the culture of your organisation. It’s a team effort.

Which project that you’ve worked on has given you the most satisfaction and why?

As a BIM consultant, I am not involved in design and construction projects on a day-to-day basis but tend to be more involved with supporting architecture engineering and construction organisations with their digital transition and BIM adoption journeys.

Supporting businesses with the development of a fit-for-purpose BIM implementation strategy and then helping them realise and roll out this strategy with training and guidance gives me the most satisfaction. I am completely invested in the need for the digitisation of the construction sector and understand that the industry needs the support and guidance of champions in the field of digital construction. 

Which digital innovation in the past year has caught your eye and why?

It is very hard to talk about innovation in construction without mentioning how an entire industry’s way of working was greatly changed overnight with the countrywide lockdowns worldwide over the last year and the current restrictions to try to halt the spread of covid-19. Rigorous site safety measures and more widespread adoption of digital construction processes, in particular remote collaborative working, has demonstrated how proactive and agile our industry can be to rise above a problem.

Although virtual collaboration is not a new technology, I believe remote or virtual teams in particular will become more normal for project teams. This ability to work remotely and to continue to collaborate on projects gives the construction industry opportunities to compete in a global economy. It gives us the tools and the expertise to deliver building projects faster and at a more competitive cost by utilising geographically dispersed teams with different expertise or from low cost centres throughout our network.

BIM will also play an important role in this global shift to virtual teams as it allows stakeholders to simultaneously input data into a central repository from different locations. Adopting international standards such as ISO 19650 for information management will allow us to work consistently across jurisdictions, giving us opportunities to export expertise and share knowledge globally on projects.

Name another woman in BIM who you think is doing great work and why.

I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Avril Behan, director and dean of the College of Engineering and the Built Environment, Technological University Dublin, who has been driving BIM and digital construction, both in the academic world and also in the construction industry. We need champions like Avril to keep the momentum of this industrywide digital transition moving forward.

In your experience, is BIM more diverse than the wider construction industry and if so, how does this affect the working culture?

10 years ago, you could not have predicted the changes we have seen in the industry. A changing industry has led to new roles within the construction teams, with BIM managers, BIM coordinators, and BIM technicians now common titles, as well as roles dedicated to managing innovation. I hope that these emerging roles will attract new and diverse talent to the industry, but it is not evident yet.

Networks such as Women in BIM are encouraging women to follow a career in construction through support and mentoring, which I think will make a difference. It is also well documented that if the construction industry is to continue to innovate and become more efficient, it needs to become more diverse. According to the McKinsey report, Why Diversity Matters (January 2015), gender-diverse companies are 14% more likely to perform better than non-diverse companies, and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better.

Who is the person in BIM that you turn to for inspiration/support and why?

I am very lucky to be involved directly with BIM adoption in the construction industry through my consultancy business, but also I’m involved in BIM adoption in academia through my part-time lecturing on the BIM Masters courses at Technological University Dublin, Middlesex University, and the Institute of Technology Carlow in Ireland. For this reason, I can turn both to industry and academic peers for inspiration and support.

by Emma Hayes Emma Hayes No Comments

What can we learn from ‘The Matrix’? with Emma Hayes

Emma Hayes, Managing Director, Digital Built Consultants, shares her vision of what the future for virtual teams in Irish construction could look like in light of compelling research and the impact of COVID-19.

In 2016, I carried out a research study with Dr Noha Saleeb of Middlesex University in London to understand how globally dispersed teams could effectively collaborate and communicate on projects.

This research has never been more relevant than in the current situation where project teams that don’t need to be onsite or co-located to carry out their work are advised to work from home.

The research considered the global architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry trend towards the use of globally dispersed teams to achieve quality services at competitive costs.

Some organisations call this multi-office execution where a project team shares work with low-cost design centres for projects based out of high-cost offices. The teams collaborate and communicate using virtual methods such as sharing information over a common data environment and meeting virtually using Voice over IP (VoIP) and screen-sharing collaboration platforms such as MS Teams and Zoom.

The research discovered that in order to work effectively across multiple remote teams in different office locations the following factors need to be considered: team collaboration, traditional and virtual communication methods and types of team players.

BIM and collaboration

According to the research, design team collaboration is achieved through a group of multi-discipline skilled individuals with varying values, attitudes and goals working together to deliver a project. Teams of individuals or organisations working together can address problems and deliver outcomes not effectively achieved by working alone or in silos.

Digital construction processes such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) where project information is shared amongst the stakeholders using 3D models encourages the design team to collaborate.

Traditionally design teams have used Computer Aided Design  technology to develop project information along with traditional communication methods such as face-to-face meetings and email to collaborate throughout the project. The adoption of BIM has advanced this process to provide a new method of communicating digital information about a building in a three-dimensional format.

During the pandemic the need for teams to collaborate and communicate remotely is essential for projects to continue while keeping the individuals socially distant and safe from the spread of COVID-19.

One way for the design team to meet and communicate is virtually, using information technology methods such as instant messaging, videoconferencing, computer-screen sharing, and so on.

Research has found that communication technology is more effective when it is used to supplement rather than replace face-to-face interaction. Yet due to the pandemic teams may never meet face to face throughout the project lifecycle. Therefore, it may be necessary to consider alternative methods of virtual communication to simulate the spontaneous face-to-face interaction we’re more used to experiencing.

Introducing avatars

Science fiction films such as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Avatar’ have depicted virtual environments where people can plug in and interact with each other virtually. The people in these environments take on humanoid features and communicate simultaneously with each other.

The computer gaming industry has been using avatars as first-person representations since ‘Maze War’ in 1973 and more recently with massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). ‘World of Warcraft’, one of the most popular MMORPG’s in recent years, allows the players to select and customise a character (avatar) to work collaboratively with other characters in guilds (teams) to complete tasks and defeat opponents.

This collaborative working is supported by internal chat systems where the players can communicate through private chat or guild chat where they can communicate as a group. Gamers also utilise communications systems or VoIP software to communicate with other gamers online.

Technology advancements such as brain-computer interfaces will make this interaction more spontaneous. This is in addition to the presence of immersion using virtual reality, superimposition of virtual objects in real environments using augmented reality and mixed reality using a combination of both.

Ability to adapt

An important factor to consider when adopting virtual communication methods is the ability of the design team to adapt to new ways of communicating.

A barrier to interactive communication and open collaboration with BIM projects may be the lack of engagement by the project team with the tools and processes. For the design team to interrogate and interact with a project’s digital information they must be familiar with the digital tools such as BIM authoring software and review software.

Design teams can comprise of different dynamics, work cultures and levels of experience. The senior team members could be more mature and experienced; the less experienced team members could be less mature, newly graduated, however, more technically savvy. This dynamic may have an impact on how the team engages with the digital tools in a BIM project.

Younger team members who are digital natives are more suited to the BIM process, which entails handling project information contained in a virtual environment accessed at any time as a graphic representation of the building.

The opposite of this may be said of the more mature team members (sometimes referred to as ‘digital immigrants’) who have not grown up immersed in digital technology. The mature team members may retain habits from a non-digital past such as printing documents to read rather than reading on screen or requesting prints of drawings to review rather than utilising digital review tools.

To encourage interactive communication and open collaboration with BIM projects the team needs to engage virtually rather than in a traditional synchronous or asynchronous form, which involves a changing of mindset for the more mature team members.

Research relevance

The objective of the 2016 research was to explore the virtual relationship between members of a design team using BIM processes, understand the difference between collaboration and communication and the challenges of virtual communication between the people involved. This was carried out with case study research along with industry expert interviews and finally experimentation of a proposed solution.

The case study was selected for research as it involved a multi-disciplinary team co-located in three geographic locations where the team members interacted and communicated virtually throughout the project lifecycle and used BIM processes. Clash resolution meetings were carried out virtually with a unified communication platform with VoIP and desktop sharing.

Further research tested the premise that more efficient methods for virtual communication can add value in the workplace between project teams. A traditional face-to-face project collaboration meeting was compared with a project collaboration meeting using a Collaborative Virtual Environment (CVE) solution to carry out the same series of tasks.

Replicating face-to-face

Comparing the results of the research theorised how each demographic responded to different communication/collaboration methods. The field experiments tested whether a virtual environment with avatars for interaction could result in better communication and collaboration through an improved virtual communication environment.

Findings from the evaluations showed a discrepancy between the opinions of the more senior members of the team (digital immigrants) and the younger members (digital natives) who favored CVEs for collaboration and trust.

There were various reasons for the unfavourable results cited by the digital immigrants such as the technology was not responsive enough, it was difficult to view a model on a screen in the virtual environment or lack of experience in the medium.

However, overall the respondents supported this type of technology for future use in terms of being closer to replicating face-to-face interaction than current virtual solutions.

Tomorrow’s world

The future of this type of collaborative environment may result in the ability to attend a virtual site meeting in a BIM model with avatars of the team members walking down the site and interacting spontaneously to resolve issues with the building design before it is built.

It is clear that this global pandemic is very disruptive to our industry. I believe it is escalating the adoption of digital construction processes in particular remote collaborative working.

The implementation of collaborative virtual environments may help to improve the communication and collaboration experience for the project teams. The long-term benefit that this may have for the industry is that remote or virtual teams will become more normal.

As the Irish construction industry competes in a global economy to deliver building projects faster and at a more competitive cost, project teams will be able to utilise geographically dispersed teams with different expertise or from low cost centres throughout their network to collaborate on a project.