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In Common Data Environment Implementation, Strategy Is Everything

 

Billel Dridi tests out the Trimble XR10 with Hololens 2 on a jobsite.

 

“We’re losing money. Handle it.” 

Not exactly the words a manager wants to hear from their leaders — unless maybe you are Billel Dridi. Billel, the BIM/Technical Manager at FAM Holding is the quintessential problem solver, with the enthusiasm and expertise to tackle far-reaching problems in a dynamic industry. (He enjoys architecture and construction so much, he even hosts a podcast called BIMarabia Academy and speaks globally in his spare time.) You might say digital transformation is his superpower.

FAM Holding, a UAE-based conglomerate offering business solutions across a number of industries, has been on a mission for several years to integrate technology into their workflows so they can continue to expand their global presence. As Chairman Dr. Faisal Ali Mousa puts it, “Soon there will be no room for traditional developments anymore as the market is evolving and it demands distinctiveness from the rest.” 

Tasked with making this enormous change happen, Billel delivered. Here, he tells Constructible how he used a common data environment (CDE) to expand BIM from the office to the field and drive efficiency in FAM Holding’s operations. 

FAM Holding Chairman Faisal Ali Mousa Al Naqbi with Trimble Solutions Middle East Regional Director, Paul Wallett.

 

In Common Data Environment Implementation, Strategy Is Everything, a Conversation with BIM Manager Billel Dridi

 

What were some signs that FAM Holding needed a more robust solution for handling your BIM processes? 

Just like the rest of the industry, getting the latest information from the office to the field and back was a challenge for FAM Holding. Uncontrolled emailing and file-sharing between project members was chaotic and impossible to track. For example, most of our company team members were using WhatsApp in their communications, sometimes sharing sensitive documents like checks for verification. This caused problems with traceability and accountability. Or, I might spend hours digging through old files to find a security check from 2014. Worse, we were losing money and experiencing delays on projects because our field engineers weren’t working off the most up-to-date information and construction documents. 


Some of FAM Holding's signature development projects are residential towers that function as a cutting-edge building + an idea. Here is a rendering for the Art Tower, one of their recent projects.

 

How did you determine that a common data environment (CDE) was the right solution?

I have used CDEs before but was never really happy with their performance. I wanted something powerful, where separate team members could communicate in both direct and indirect ways. I was looking for a CDE where we could:

 

  • Set up folder level permissions

  • Easily create, assign, and track issues 

  • Get automatic notifications of changes in work progress

  • Track document changes with revision control

  • Sync and save all our data in the cloud, so we can track the project from anywhere in the world

  • Integrate with advanced devices like mixed reality and laser scanners for high quality control levels and clash detection

  • Increase integrations with other BIM software out-of-the-box

 

Once I found out that Trimble Connect [one of Trimble’s common data environment platforms] had all of these capabilities, I knew that this was the right tool to help us speed up communication and collaboration, and reduce the work of moving data manually between tools. 

We also tested the Trimble Connect support team and found that their online knowledge base was extensive and their direct technical support gets back to us in less than 24 hours. No solution is perfect but Trimble Connect ended up being the ideal choice for us because we had determined our workflow needs first — that was critical to helping us evaluate solutions for alignment with our vision. 

 

Want to learn more about CDEs? Get an overview here.

 

What is your advice for being strategic about using a common data environment?

First, you have to dive deep into your workflows before you search for a CDE. That way you’ll be able to select one that meets your unique requirements. 

For FAM Holding, we knew our procurement department would need to interface a lot with the CDE. They often need to reference project specifications, drawings, and get approvals. That’s why we selected a CDE where it’s easy to synchronize project files so that every time something is changed, the updates are automatic and the procurement team is notified.

Our legal department also needed access to permitting documents, payment trails, drawings, and specifications for a couple of projects that got delayed due to COVID. They were able to look at the complete project history in our CDE and determine how much money was due back to the client because of the delays. Our accounting team uses the information from Trimble Connect in a similar way — they will calculate the project completion percentage before they make their collection calls. 

Our contracting teams in the field needed the ability to create RFIs and generate drawings from the model from their phones. And our sales team often uses project photos or AR or VR walkthroughs of the model. I had to really think about what each department needs from the CDE, what their access point will be, and how the data gets used further downstream.

The workflow Billel created for using a CDE to connect the office and the field.

 

How has it been using a CDE outside of your organization?

About six months ago we started telling our consultants, suppliers, and contractors that we use a CDE and encouraged them to create an account in Trimble Connect. It’s been very successful, now all the consultants interact with me through our CDE. If they send me something in an email, I do not accept it! It’s unofficial at that point. They must use Trimble Connect to communicate with us, so we have a record of everything. This is going to be really important when we implement integrated project delivery. As part of our digital transformation strategy, we are integrating all the consultants from the beginning, especially in the fabrication stage.

 

Have there been any unexpected benefits of implementing a CDE at FAM Holdings?

Yes, actually — I have an example from our procurement department. This is one of those areas of any business that is vulnerable to improper dealings and fraud. WIth everything being digitized and centralized in our CDE, there is no way for bribes to sneak through. Now we know we are using the best supplier or contractor based solely on their qualifications.

Another thing we’ve been using our CDE for is to have manufacturers upload their technical data sheets right into Trimble Connect and link it to the BIM model. That really benefits FAM Holdings because we also manage facilities and it is so easy to find that information when we need it again. 

 

How has using a CDE helped your company digitally transform?

We are the first private real estate developer in the UAE and the second in Middle East to achieve the prestigious BIM Project Kitemark for its digital project delivery and adoption of BIM aligned to ISO 19650-1-2, awarded by the British Standards Institution (BSI). Dubai has a goal to be the smartest city in the world by 2050 and the government is looking for companies with this certification, who have proven they have digitally transformed and are more advanced in BIM than other companies. It’s not just governments either, we have many clients who want to hire teams that can save them time and money.

Using Trimble Connect helped us achieve this certification because it is a clear and proper system that helps protect the rights of the owner and all the associated parties and stakeholders. 

Using a CDE has been a launching pad for exploring new technologies, such as the Trimble X7 scanner. Having a scanner helps us target heritage buildings in the UAE and the industrial areas where the plants and factories don’t have drawings. Without gathering the data on these sites, they can’t even figure out if the expansion they want to do is possible because they can’t analyze costs. We’re also using scanners to target green energy projects. On big projects where there are millions of solar panels, Quality assurance and quality control is not easy to do. So we can offer this service to the government and individual clients. 

 

Some of FAM Holding's signature development projects are residential towers that function as a cutting-edge building + an idea. Here is a rendering for the Snow Tower, one of their recent projects.

 

It is often said that people are the most important part behind implementation of any technology. Did you find this to be true when deploying your CDE?

Absolutely. FAM Holdings has always invested a lot in training. Back in the early days of our BIM implementation, I had each team make a list of the documents and data they needed — for every possible application. We had a lot of meetings. After that, we started with a simple BIM work environment using OneDrive and Google Drive. The goal really was to test people and see if they would use the system or not, how fast they learned, and if they gave valuable feedback. 

It is the same with our CDE. We train as many people as possible, usually twice a week. Without that training, even engineers and designers often miss out on crucial features that speed up the work and reduce errors. We also train as many departments as possible — as I mentioned before, even legal, procurement, and accounting gets trained in Trimble Connect. Right now, FAM Holdings is in the midst of training all our subcontractors and then we’ll jump to our facility management team. 


 

Thank you, Billel! Love his approach? Watch his webinar, How to Effectively Streamline Your Workflows in the Office and at the Field.