Cloud computing has exploded in recent years with companies of all sizes and across all industries shifting towards Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) models.
BIM is no exception to this trend.
There are a host of benefits for creating, managing and sharing BIM models in the cloud for the (AEC) architecture, engineering and construction industry. Even before the coronavirus pandemic caused a shift to home-working for everyone, different disciplines were often dispersed around the country.
In the case of construction projects, cloud-based BIM is not just about remote working but also about dispersed teams. Project teams are made up of individuals from many different organisations such as architect practices, engineering firms, main contractors and specialist sub-contractors. Cloud-based BIM offers many advantages to these teams, whether they are working remotely from home, in the office or on-site.
Below is a brief outline of the main advantages.
Seven benefits of cloud-based BIM
Reduced IT costs
One benefit of working in the cloud is the cost savings and payment options that it can offer. Capital expenditure (CapEX) is significantly reduced as there is no need for organisations to buy the physical computing servers and storage needed to manage their project data.
Instead, most cloud-computing services operate either on a pay-as-you-go or subscription service, which means you only pay for what you use.
In addition, custom licensing (for example, paying for a set number of users or concurrent users) and cloud storage options give you the flexibility to change with the requirements of the project.
Instead of paying for licenses and storage that you don’t use, cloud computing allows enterprises to expand the system quickly as the project progresses.
Most importantly for BIM models, cloud-based systems are accessed via a web browser that allows the user to load and view large and complex models without the need for an expensive, high-specification computer. Large models can be processed and optimised at speed into a common format that makes it possible to load in a web browser.
BIM and cloud computing together create a scalable solution for teams and projects of all sizes.
Cloud-based BIM allows architects, engineers, and contractors to easily access their 3D models from virtually anywhere. Storing BIM information in the cloud means stakeholders can upload and access the latest version of their models, and work from a single source of truth.
Model revisions are always up to date, with the ability to roll back to a previous version whenever necessary. All the design and BIM data is accessible in one place.
Cloud-based BIM also cuts out the need to install large software programmes directly onto the computers of all the people working on the project, which also often requires efforts by the IT department.
On large scale projects with multiple contracting companies working together, a centralised system such as 3D Repo allows you to merge the design files together from many different popular file-formats including Revit RVT, IFC, Bentley DGN, BCF and many more.
This ease of access is very useful for those BIM managers who work with multiple teams and people working on a construction site. Collaboration between team members can happen from any geographic location whether they are based at home, on-site, or in the office.
Real-time issue resolution
Issue resolution becomes streamlined in the cloud too, allowing teams to address and solve problems either in real-time or asynchronously amongst team members.
Members of the project team no longer need to wait for design coordination meetings to find and resolve issues, instead, they can simply log into the model from a web browser and attribute issues directly in the 3D model for all collaborators to see.
Instead of users emailing information back and forth, issues can be highlighted and resolved in situ.
BIM project coordinators can monitor design team information in real-time, and instantly identify issues such as an object with the wrong height or incorrect positioning and ensure that the issue is resolved before the project moves to the construction site.
Reduced project risks
Communicating issues through email and manual reports can slow down the design process.
A cloud platform can manage all of this by logging all communication and notifying people when issues are assigned to them. All of this ensures transparency and accountability for all stakeholders working to deliver a project on time.
A BIM model online is a visual and more intuitive experience, allowing the user to spot and manage issues and risks quickly.
Improved knowledge and reporting
Before BIM became as widespread as it is today in the UK and in many other countries, BIM processes were left to the few with the technical know-how to make the software work.
Cloud solutions look to democratise BIM data, making it available for all stakeholders.
For example, via 3D Repo’s API, users can link their data to business intelligence tools such as Microsoft Power BI, Node-RED, and Dynamo. These tools make it easy for anyone to understand project data, get insights on issues, health and safety concerns, progress tracking, and ultimately, to make better-informed decisions. With cloud-based BIM, all of this can be done remotely.
Cloud data storage is often more secure than storing data in your own offices. Data in the office is often stored on local laptops, USB keys, and office servers. This data is unencrypted by default, meaning anyone with physical access to the offices or computers can potentially access it.
Cloud-based providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud offer high levels of physical storage security as well as encryption to protect their clients’ data.
Cloud-based BIM is here to stay. Before the global coronavirus pandemic, the benefits of hosting BIM models in the cloud and collaborating across teams via a web interface were already gaining traction.
During 2020, what had previously been a steady march to cloud-based computing for all our applications accelerated to a sprint and then a leap. Now more than ever, people need solutions that can help them work more collaboratively and ensure they can still deliver projects whilst working remotely.
And combining cloud-based BIM with technologies such as Microsoft Teams means that dispersed project teams can collaborate in real-time, carry out online meetings, raise questions and resolve issues quickly and effectively.
Collaboration, communication, and coordination are fundamental to digital construction and cloud-based BIM is one way to ensure its success.