DAILY NEWS Nov 15, 2011 4:57 PM - 0 comments

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Get your head in the cloud

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By: Michael Laurie, P.Eng.
2011-11-15

Over the past decade a paradigm shift has taken place as control of valuable real estate industry data has been transferred from the exclusive domain of professionals to the building owners.

That means that ordinary information has to be transformed into value-added proprietary knowledge by enhancing it with extraordinary insight. The goal may seem daunting, but the fact is that there are already many inspiring solutions available in the marketplace that meet or exceed current industry needs and demands.

The Building Information Modeling Data Platform

With a Building Information Modeling (BIM) software platform, for example, it is possible to quickly and affordably create an accurately and realistically represented 3-dimensional digital model of an existing building. The model can be populated with a practically unlimited amount of diverse data and then accessed securely and remotely. The model and its components can also be emailed or uploaded digitally.

Once the original model is created it will serve a variety of purposes for the entire lifetime of a building. But at the same time it also becomes a living archive of valuable encyclopedic data. Using the BIM platform as a "data cloud" or centralized repository of information eliminates redundant or fruitless searches for data while it also maximizes teamwork and minimizes miscommunication, frustrating design conflicts, project delays, or costly errors.

Simultaneously share the BIM with an entire team of health care professionals, contractors, investors, and architects, for example, and when any participant alters the design or contributes fresh data the changes are instantly viewable by others on the updated interactive model. Problems often arise from using information that is obsolete because plans constantly change during an ongoing collaborative project. Architectural blueprints are no longer in synch with the actual plans of the "as-built" structure on the ground, for instance, or time-consuming meetings to share data have to be organized before the project can proceed. But the BIM handles those critical details and solves those frustrating dilemmas automatically, instantaneously, and in a way that is visible and transparent to everyone involved.

Measure Success with a Data-Rich Yardstick

Take the data category of building measurements, for instance, as one small example of BIM empowerment. Populating a database with square footage provides a type of static measurement. But that kind of information has severely limitations. Knowing the basic dimensions of a room will not, for example, eliminate the need for a window covering contractor to measure for curtains. Even if another contractor just measured the windows in order to provide a bid, the next contractor who comes along has to do it again because they don't have access to their competitor's measurements. But with a BIM platform all those valuable statistics are preserved and archived where they are easily retrieved. That can eliminate redundancy while it saves time and money.

  • The BIM might also reveal that some rooms are vacant or are used for storage, for example, so before even visiting the site the contractor knows that there may be no need to install window coverings in those particular parts of the building.
  • More importantly the accounting department and building manager also know that key bit of information so they can avoid being charged by contractors for unnecessary curtains.
  • The BIM model can also be configured in such a way that it not only shows the current dimensions of each window but it also describes the amount of solar heat and light that comes through each window, along with manufacturer specifications regarding window glass insulation or tinting.
  • Perhaps the space is an office and the occupants have been complaining about noise from nearby traffic. In that case curtains with acoustic properties might be the best solution. If the tenants complain about glare, thicker curtains could be the answer.
  • But if they are bothered by uncomfortably chilly temperatures then window coverings that allow more solar warmth into the room might solve the problem - and save the building owner from having to pay for a newly upgraded HVAC system.
  • BIM intelligently informs all of these decisions, and that extraordinary insight multiplies the value of commonplace data exponentially and suddenly reveals to everyone involved the real potential for saving time and money.

When smart BIM enhanced information is used in lieu of conventional data, in other words, the data cloud becomes highly unique and exceptionally resourceful and adaptable.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

Instead of simply offering traditional measurements, for example, the BIM could provide BOMA-certified measurements. That kind of simple adjustment in the quality of the data has the potential to translate into thousands of dollars of added rental income or market value. For every building component or characteristic BIM offers similar flexibility and insight.

The roof may have potential for harvesting solar energy or water resources, for instance, but using BIM and energy analysis software it is also possible to calculate the rate of return for leasing out a portion of the rooftop to a cellular telecommunications provider. Generate reports that show side-by-side comparisons of various retrofitting strategies to conserve energy or qualify for LEED certification while also comparing those to conventional modifications. Analyze the resulting data in terms of carbon tonnage as well as dollars and cents, based on site-specific data such as the climate, local utility rates, and available energy rebates and tax benefits.

Do it all in a matter of minutes, not hours or days, and perform all of these tasks and tests in a virtual environment before actual investing in any brick and mortar changes.

The Future is Now

The truth of the matter is that groundbreaking innovations have been quietly evolving and emerging during the past several years, just as other technologies that seem to threaten the industry have also been gaining in sophistication and popularity.

So technology is not the enemy. In this rapidly changing digital age it is actually the industry's greatest hope. But in order for it to serve the industry it has to first be acknowledged and proactively harnessed.

Just imagine, for example, the world of possibility that this kind of BIM platform cloud computing technology offers to everyone in the industry. All it takes to make that vision a practical and profitable reality is to put it to work in the ways it was designed and engineered to do.

Michael Laurie, P.Eng. is President of PLANiT Measuring which provides onsite building measuring and BIM services. He can be reached at mike@planitmeasuring.com or 1-800-933-5136

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