BIM – it’s in the game

15th March 2021

Justin Fisher, Product Manager, Housing reflects on his approach to Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Reflecting on my approach to this subject in the past and those sources of inspiration in BIM history that’s influenced me. My top three are:

  1. Knight Lore: released in 1984, this game changed the action-adventure market by introducing isometric 3D graphics that added depth to the visual content on-screen.
  2. Doom: a move to first-person perspective 3D gaming introduced in 1993. What a game: it increased the concept of immersion within a game.
  3. GTA 5: the legend of first-person shooters, this blazed onto our consoles in 2013 and redefined the open-world 3D game environment. And who can forget the Easter eggs?

At this point, you might think I’ve lost my mind, or merely my direction; wasn’t this supposed to be an article about BIM? Where is the mention of carefully crafted Revitt artefacts following the completion of a flagship new-build scheme?

To bring it back on track, let me ask this question. Five years since the mandated adoption of BIM level 2 for construction projects which received government monies, what has the impact been for social housing providers implementing 3D modelling as part of their asset management strategy and system platforms? Let me help here; your answer is probably best expressed with the ‘shrug’ emoji.

If a picture paints a thousand words, 3D modelling makes information sing. So how do we manage to enrich our carefully curated asset management data with modelling? With new-builds making up less than 1% of all social housing, and providers having an existential decision whether to pause development activities to pay for essential building safety remediation, modelling to complement stock-wide data was never achievable using the new development approach. Embedding frequent use of the technology for such a trace percentage of buildings was always going to struggle. By merging game engine techniques and well-trodden stock condition principles like ‘extrapolation’ and ‘archetypes’, can we bridge the gap to achieve that panacea of a completely modelled property portfolio underpinned by complementary and robust asset data?

Social Housing providers have adapted remarkably well to the Covid-19 challenges. The unsung IT teams suddenly became heroes as they rolled out hardware and software to make this fantastic digital transformation happen, practically overnight. We all learned to meet over Teams and Zoom. We became more tolerant: not flinching when someone had to drop off a call for a home delivery, or the dog walked in with a squeaky toy halfway through an important presentation (colleagues will testify that my dog does this most days). And let’s not not forget our repetition of the most used phrase of 2020: “You're on mute". We did all of these things, and we did them with humour and kindness. Admittedly, the experience isn't as rich as co-located face-to-face meetings, but we were forced to make it work – and the sector has responded.

Again, you're likely thinking, 'What's this tangent now?' But the same pertains to using generic 3D models to increase BIM uptake. Social presence theory teaches us that richness in the media sharpens our communication and understanding; the same technique can be applied to 3D models using a game engine proposition for swift construction in a media that millions enjoy in their leisure time. Archetyping and extrapolation principles can be applied to complete the stock portfolio's coverage and then overlay these models with the critical, specific asset management data. This lifts the experience and gives it its richness. Add in realtime IOT outputs, and you're entering digital twinning territory.

Gamification, literally applying game design elements in non-game contexts, has received plaudits in online educational software. The level of interaction and engagement with students allows them to become immersed in learning activities and keeps them returning for that 'one more go'. Increased teamwork levels, motivation upsurge from point systems, and a compelling storyline are the hallmarks of online gaming. Why not add these to your BIM environment? Well-positioned ‘Easter eggs’ mean users will explore the environment, naturally increasing their knowledge of the data and aiding in their understanding. And what would a game of GTA 5 be without those sharp touches of humour baked into the gaming environment? There are echoes of this in legacy repairs diagnostic systems: who doesn't have memories of finding the animals among the graphics and seeing what they would say when you click on them? Game engines allow the humour to be more subtle and a little more three dimensional.

Say you’re focused on a model of a generic boiler. It’s overlaid with actual make and model data, linked to the specific operating manual and previous LGSRs, complete with the next servicing and replacement dates, supported with full repairs and servicing history, guided for repair diagnosis with the fault codes assigned to the particular appliance, colour-coded to warn the user if the boiler is out of service, or is due to be swapped in an upcoming planned maintenance programme. Isn’t that true building information modelling?

Traceability has run through this entire example and hopefully convinces you this is a serious approach to lift the data stored in our integrated housing and asset management systems to the next level.

So what have you got to lose? Millennials are becoming the decision-makers; they're life-long gamers and digital natives. These tech-savvies hold both the purse strings and a love of gaming that might make this work. BIM: is it in the game?

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