Despite the skillset constraints, Qatar’s current Building Information Modeling (BIM) standards are comparable to any developed market, but how does the construction sector move up to the next level? Syed Ameen Kader finds out.
Why Qatar started adopting building information modeling (BIM) for its construction projects is perhaps self evident. The construction sector has seen fast transformation in the last few years. While Qatar – on its way to build the country for the future – kept on executing ambitious projects, it also made sure that the sector remains receptive to new ideas, technologies and solutions that came its way to build faster and better.
Today, almost every large construction project uses BIM for some element or another, throughout the building lifecycle – be it planning, designing, engineering and construction or operations, management and maintenance. The question now is how can Qatar’s construction sector make the best use of the latest developments in the BIM space and leverage upon its full potential.
Implementation of BIM in many modern projects in Qatar is indeed a major evolution for the sector considering the fact that it does not have a long legacy of technologies in construction. The industry has been constrained by issues relating to shortage of skilled manpower, and the disparity in skillset and level of educated workforce available to it. In spite of that, Qatar’s construction sector has come a long way in terms of BIM adoption. But where does the country move now from here?
Lack of standardisation
With Qatar witnessing its ongoing construction boom, the country has to adopt a national approach towards developing BIM standards. A variety of international standards are available worldwide, and are used by different countries. In the Middle East, however, at present, there are no fixed BIM standards being followed, with companies taking international standards as a guideline, or taking bits and pieces from those to tailor-make what suits them the best. That said, if one wants to draw a comparison, Qatar’s BIM standards are in line with UniFormat – a commonly used BIM process in the United States (US) and Canada; or the level three that is followed in the United Kingdom (UK).
Christoph Weber, managing director of Hochtief ViCon Qatar, says, right now, all major projects in Qatar demand some level of BIM of the designer and contractor. “Quite often these are very high levels, even in international comparison. Some developers in the region even mandate BIM levels to contractors, which are very close to what is called ‘Level Three BIM’ in the UK,” says Weber.
The level two is a process in which separate disciplines create their own models, but all project data is shared electronically in a common environment.
However, the practice of mandating BIM is primarily driven by private sector, and not followed across the board. So Qatar has still some distance to go in terms of adopting the level three in depth. It has to overcome a number of technological hurdles first. “The readiness of the supply chain (designers and contractors) right now is one of the greatest obstacles. International consultants and contractors have small teams, but are reaching their limits,” Weber says, adding that most, though not all, regional and local players are slowly catching up, with a rare few of them being quite advanced.
In simple terms, level three is basically a fully open and integrated process where models can be shared among the project team members on a web-enabled BIM hub.
However, developed countries are now looking to upgrade their BIM standards. The UK, for instance, is targeting to achieve the level two by 2016. The level two is a process in which separate disciplines create their own models, but all project data is shared electronically in a common environment. This is a bit complex but offers more freedom and diversity.
One also has to take into account that the US and the UK have made it compulsory to use BIM in construction projects, while Qatar has not. And rightly so, because the country’s workforce – primarily brought in from both developing and developed countries – does not necessarily have same levels of skillset or education. Making BIM mandatory under a law can hence jeopardise the process of free and smooth BIM adoption. Furthermore, it is difficult to develop any specific standard which is comprehensive enough to cover all complexities in a project. A standard for Qatar’s BIM industry needs to be an open, diverse and evolving process.
No legacy baggage
Interestingly, Qatar has the advantage of being a young and developing construction market. In the absence of legacy baggage, Qatari companies can take a fresh approach to adopting BIM. This allows them to try out new solutions and implement advanced BIM systems right from the start. They also do not have to worry too much about integrating old systems with the new ones. Often, for companies, it is a challenging task to migrate from one system to another or integrate the two. That is not the case with Qatar, providing breathing space for international designers and architects to introduce innovative solutions. “BIM has arrived in Qatar with the involvement of professionals from the global design and construction firms,” says Allen Jay Holland, BIM manager, design division, KEO International Consultants.
He explains BIM is essential for the delivery of today’s complex construction projects. “It provides a virtual prototype through which the design may be refined and improved prior to the actual commencement of construction. BIM is also a valuable tool for the builder’s use during construction, and at the completion of construction, an ‘as-built’ BIM may be used by the owner or operator for facility operations and maintenance activities,” Holland adds.
“The readiness of the supply chain [designers and contractors] right now is one of the greatest obstacles.” – Christoph Weber, managing director of Hochtief ViCon Qatar.
Bentley’s sales director, project delivery, EMEA and Turkey, Andy Glyde, says, “By insisting on the use of BIM right from the planning stage, the project owner can ensure that the information generated is mobile and can be readily shared across disciplines as the project moves from one phase to another.”
He says that in the case of many rail and road projects in Qatar and the extensive construction efforts associated with the country’s hosting of the mega event, the spotlight is sharply on ways to complete all major projects on time and within budget, but without compromising health, safety, and environmental best practices.
“Then there are the remaining challenges associated with the adoption of BIM. Today, the requirement for BIM is being written into contracts more and more, and the take up has been extraordinary. But the need continues in Qatar for real education in BIM best practices,” explains Glyde.
According to him, there is a plenty of BIM technologies in the market, but BIM is not just about a product or a fancy 3D model. Rather, it is about improved workflows and processes that centre on sharing enriched information throughout the lifespan of the infrastructure. “Hence, the focus needs to be on how we can most effectively and efficiently use people and processes to not only create infrastructure, but also maintain it for many years to come,” Glyde emphasises.
While much of the focus is currently directed to 2022 World Cup related projects, foreign construction companies working here appear to have adopted a short-term approach to the manpower issue. Generally, the workforce is hired on a project basis from different countries and then given short induction or training before being sent to worksites. Barring some local and foreign companies, new entrants are not seen to be adopting any long-term strategy to develop skills of their workforce.
Louay Dahmash, head of Middle East, Autodesk, says, “Qatar is probably early on the BIM adoption curve. There will definitely be a significant demand for a number of highly-skilled BIM engineers in the years to come, especially with fast-improving projects with pressing deadlines. There definitely has to be the commitment to train local talent and make them BIM enabled.”
He reveals this is not a long-drawn process as it takes generally few months for trained manpower to pick up the pace on BIM solutions and tools.
On the right path
Dahmash believes that Qatar has the resources to not only attract and develop BIM talent but also become a centre of excellence in the region when it comes to creating a modern construction industry based on BIM. “We definitely see Qatar becoming a hotbed for well-trained BIM engineers in the long term because of the amount of skilled work that will need to be done over the next 10 years,” he adds.
The trend has already started with a few private entities and government institutes taking initiatives to train and develop a skilled workforce. Hochtief ViCon Qatar, for example, offers training and certification programmes for BIM managers on projects it is involved in. The company also jointly organises the BIM User Days, a non-profit series in partnership with the Qatar University and the Teeside University. “This event series has been an invaluable opportunity to bring together regional experts and interested parties from all areas of the industry, and to increasingly involve students and young professionals to be prepared for the growing demand in Qatar and the Gulf,” says Weber, whose company works as a software neutral consultant and has been part of many construction projects including the Lusail City for years.
“There will definitely be a significant demand for a number of highly-skilled BIM engineers in the years to come, especially with fast- improving projects with pressing deadlines.” – Louay Dahmash, head of Middle East, Autodesk
Industry professionals in Qatar are also engaging themselves on various forums and social media platforms to share their knowledge and experience. Doha BIM Users Group is one such community on LinkedIn, which was created by Holland last year, and already has a base of close to 450 members.
With the industry coming together to play an active role in developing and promoting BIM best practices, it is only a matter of time for Qatar to become a regional leader in this space.