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Building Information Modelling (BIM) is being described as a game-changing technology and even a cultural shift for the construction and smart buildings sector. Meanwhile, cloud computing has moved from an essential backstage structure of the internet to becoming a household name, representing a new age of information and communications technology (ICT). These two forces are now coming together to drive building design into the future.

“BIM in the cloud helps multidiscipline design and construction teams improve project outcomes by moving computation-intensive tasks to the cloud, enabling more rapid visualisation and simulation and optimised collaboration with access to intelligent, data-rich models”, according to Autodesk, a leading BIM technology provider.

BIM was originally introduced to support design and construction efficiency, and to reduce the cost of construction for building structures and mechanical, electrical and plumbing plants and networks. It quickly developed into a basis to support specialist simulation analysis such as people movement and occupancy, microclimate and carbon reduction. With the introduction of cloud computing and storage, BIM allows greater ease of access and collaboration from stakeholders anywhere in the world, opening up new possibilities.

“Our increased ability to allow mobile access from any device has improved our employee access to critical functions while in the field or working from home. The use of mobile technology, cloud computing, and custom databases have allowed us to improve many of our processes”, said David Reinhart, senior technology developer at SWCA Environmental Consultants in Phoenix, Arizona.

“We have built mobile apps for use on Android tablets that improve the accuracy and efficiency of field data collection. Data collected in the field imports directly into resource-specific databases, which automate analysis and reporting tasks. Cloud-based project web sites and web apps have helped us improve communication and collaboration between project teams, and have also been a powerful tool for public outreach”, he added.

The UK government has shown strong support for BIM and London’s Crossrail project, one of Europe’s largest construction projects currently underway, is serving as the ideal case study for BIM cloud technology. The substantial rail system will run from the city of Reading, west of London, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, via London Heathrow, the world’s busiest airport. Using 62 miles (100 km) of new tunnels, the Crossrail project hopes to alleviate congestion in the capital while offering improved travel options for London’s citizens, commuters and visitors.

Perhaps most interesting is what impact BIM may have on the all too common problem of London’s major construction projects running wildly of budget. The 90,000 seat national football stadium in Wembley, for example, had an original agreed fixed price of £458m, and an eventual cost £827m. It was a similar story for London’s Millennium Dome and the Jubilee Line underground expansion. A recent announcement from the BIM enabled Crossrail project, however, states the construction is currently “on time and within budget”.

The use of BIM on the project is the result of a partnership with Bentley Systems, who announced that the common data environment (CDE) for the project has officially been moved to the cloud. The CDE has been set up on a hybrid cloud-computing platform powered by Microsoft Azure and managed by Bentley’s AssetWise software.

“Crossrail is leading the world in demonstrating the value of BIM to realise greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness in project delivery and asset lifecycle information management”, said Alan Kiraly, senior vice president of Bentley Systems.
“We’re proud of our work together with Bentley Systems”, said David Epp, alliances director for Microsoft. “We are particularly impressed by Crossrail’s groundbreaking ambition in building both a digital and physical railway and are delighted to have had the opportunity to come together with Bentley to address the challenges and requirements of this world-class endeavour”.

Microsoft Azure is a secure cloud-based platform that has proved very advantageous for BIM users. Where previously BIM data may have been kept isolated, it is now increasingly understood that it can only reach its full potential when CDE is shared on the cloud. The BIM process comes with its own approach to workflow in which all relevant stakeholders need real-time, reliable access.

Placing the CDE on the cloud also offers significant advantages for BIM’s 5D modelling process, essential for deploying sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure. The implications of cloud based CDE through BIM software for construction projects in the new era of smart buildings and cities cannot be understated. BIM continues to develop to meet the needs of modern construction in the 21st century.

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