Digitalization & Industry: A journey of a thousand miles

Digitalization & Industry: A journey of a thousand miles

Jeremias Burch

BIM Manager Holzbau | 07.04.2020

As Laotse said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This is how I plan my journey with BIM.

Editor's note: This article is based on Jeremias Burch’s speech at Renggli Talks “Digitalization & Art” on 10th March 2020. Sophie Xiying Liu has summarized it.

The way of how people work in the building and construction industry has changed dramatically because of the technological development, just like what has been happening in almost every industry. I experienced how Building Information Modeling (BIM) played this interesting role in the timber construction sector, and I’d like to share my experiences by discussing three questions. 

1. What is BIM? 

„BIM is a method of interdisciplinary cooperation based on an n-dimensional, virtual image of the structure, aiming for performance prediction to be able to simulate, evaluate and optimize relevant economic and ecological effects (quality, costs, time, environment) in planning, construction and operation.“
Source: Drees & Sommer, Glossary BIM Practice Guide (in German), 2016

Even with such a well-structured definition, people still find it difficult to understand the exact meaning of BIM and how to address the challenges like digital planning and the digitalization of the construction industry.

2. Why is this topic so difficult for us?

Firstly, because interconnection is a complex issue. Different teams connect on the BIM platform and information flows among them. Therefore, BIM deals with various players, a large amount of information and the real-time change of this information. 

BIM is like a spider’s web - at different points of the interconnected web sit the different teams with different functions. They do not only change their data but also request data from other teams. So the information flows through the threads of this web constantly. The whole information set can be influenced by any change on this platform. Just like a gentle touch on a spider’s web at one point can move the whole web. The system complexity of BIM is highly difficult to cope with.

A spider web in the morning light
Photo: Bence Balla-Schottner, Unsplash

Secondly, we often confuse “digitalization” with “digital transformation”. Taking music industry as an example: The change from recording music in discs to CDs is a process of digitalization, but the change from CDs to online streaming like Spotify and iTunes is the process of digital transformation. Similarly, in the construction industry, digitalization is the change from drawing plans by hand to using digitalized 2-D models in the computer; with BIM we are experiencing the process of digital transformation now.

The digital transformation from CDs to online streaming has completely changed the value chain of the music industry: From a multi-stage linear process to a streamlined (technology-based) solution that links musicians and customers directly. By eliminating the intermediate stages the digital transformation has shortened the distance from producers to consumers and reshaped the industrial value chain. Digital transformation is not the digitalization of the process. It reshapes the whole process.

Discs, CDs, and online streaming Apps on the first row; Planning on paper, 2-D planning and 3-D model shown on the screen
Digitalzation vs. Digital transformation
Photos, top left to the right below: Luana de Marco, Phil Hearing, Sara Kurfess, Daniel Mc Cullough, all Unsplash; Renggli AG

However, the BIM-based digital transformation in the construction industry faces stronger challenges, which are caused by the conflicts between the conventional organizational structure and the new cooperation platform based on BIM. A typical construction project is managed under a linear and multi-hierarchy structure. However, when we work on the project with BIM, all the teams collaborate on the same platform in a flat structure. So that they can cooperate to find project-oriented and/or client-oriented solutions. The critical question is: How do we reform the project organizational structure in order to align it with the new digitalized way of how we work?

3. What have we learned in the past few years?

Despite long work in BIM and the digital transformation of the timber construction industry, I have to admit I don't know much yet! With the fast-evolving technologies and changing society, it is impossible to build a complete and correct picture of how digitalization can impact the industries.

Nowadays, we all have technologies that seem to be advanced and innovative. So we tend to start working from the technologies, which is a common mistake. Because when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As Steve Jobs said, “You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the Technology.” 

Last but not the least, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step (Laotse). While acknowledging the complexity of the digital transformation and the obstacles along the way, we must start changing, even just from the small and solvable tasks.

Headerphoto: Syed Hussaini, Unsplash

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