An Example from the Construction Industry
In today’s construction industry, the workflow of building users is the last parameter taken into consideration during the design-build process, if, indeed, it is considered at all. Buildings are designed and built with little or no reference to the workflow that the building will house. Such a building will almost inevitably be unsuccessful, where a successful building is defined as one that facilitates the workflow of its inhabitants. (We are making an important distinction here between the success of the building and the success of the process of building it.) Buyers accept successfully completed unsuccessful buildings because that is the way it has always been — but it doesn’t have to be that way!
A few pioneers are breaking the old paradigms, and the results of their work serve to emphasize its importance. Take the work of Gensler, a global architecture, design, planning and consulting firm working with clients to support their strategies and improve business. Gensler’s whitepaper, These Four Walls: The Real British Office, explores the effect of workplace design on productivity, job satisfaction, recruitment, and retention. In one of the case studies cited, a client states that since moving into new offices designed by Gensler, staff retention has improved 150 percent. Since the cost of turnover is variously estimated as 30 percent to 150 percent of yearly salary, such a reduction will add significantly to that company’s bottom line. Gensler, in fact, practices what we call workflow-driven design for office spaces.
Workflow-aligned building design can improve productivity 19 percent.
Gensler's whitepaper, which examines such designs in the UK, cites a British Council for Offices (BCO) estimate that building construction, building operation and staff salaries are in the ratio of 1:1.5:15. Another BCO paper cites an estimate that a 2 percent to 5 percent increase in staff performance can cover the total cost of providing their accommodation. In fact, the Gensler whitepaper estimates that, accumulating the impact of workflow-aligned design on job satisfaction, recruitment and retention, the potential productivity increase is on the order of 19 percent.
The principle of designing to workflow extends to all manner and nature of building, as well as to the surroundings of the building. The trend toward requiring developers to design Master Plan Communities (albeit fairly primitive and with little feedback from the users when finished) rather than racks of housing, acknowledges that a community has a workflow, a sequence of interrelated activities that take place within it, and that designing to that workflow improves quality of life in that community, which in turn gives greater value to the community and consequently to the developers’ profit line.
Leaders in educational reform are arguing that school design can impact educational outcome as much as curriculum design. Innovative healthcare leaders are pointing to the impact that facility design can have on outcomes in their industry. This realization that the ability to execute soars when form follows function is repeated again and again in multiple sectors of our society. The eventual waste caused by ignoring this principle is incalculable, as is the impact on the non-profit sector, which is frequently called on to mitigate the results of dysfunctional design.
So why are buildings not designed from the workflow out — a design/build process driven by 6-dimensional modeling? Real 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-dimensional models (as described below) are readily achievable today at modest cost using existing technologies and building on legacy applications where it makes sense to do so. Real 3- and 4-dimensional models are used routinely in a few industries, even among the construction trades. In some industries, 5-dimensional modeling is also routinely understood and applied — when a salesperson shows a rendering of a kitchen with alternate pricing and delivery estimates for different components, this is 5-dimensional modeling. In airplane and petrochemical plant design and manufacturing, however, 6-dimensional modeling has been in use for decades. Most airliners are flown and optimized in simulation long before the first prototype is built and tested.
Business Information Model (BIM): a 6–dimensional dynamic virtual surrogate of a business and the environment within which it operates.
But for the construction industry, 6-dimensional modeling requires a paradigm shift in the approach to construction, and there, we suspect, is the sticking point. As other industries are achieving success by partnering with their clients, the building industry must learn to build for their clients’ workflows. This effort cannot be in name only, or it will fail and lead to even more waste and dysfunction. The construction industry is slowly and reluctantly admitting the need for BIM — but it prefers to define a BIM as a “Building Information Model.” Well, the initials are right, but in practice this kind of BIM routinely stops at the fifth dimension. That is why we prefer to define a BIM as a “Business Information Model.” Actually, to avoid misunderstandings, we usually call our BIMs 6-dimensional models. These are models of a physical building in its physical environment and of the workflows that both operate the building and operate within the building.