Abigail Robson

Name: Abigail Robson

Research Title: The development of contractor costing in Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Name of Director of Studies: Professor David Boyd

Key Contact Details: Email - abigail.robson@mail.bcu.ac.uk

About the Project: Building Information Modelling (BIM) offers a tool to enhance information management and collaboration on construction projects. This research aims to establish the contractor’s needs within this environment, and present ways that these needs can be advanced through the development of contractor costing within the supply chain enabled by BIM.

Cost information is widely used as the basis for decision-making in the construction industry to achieve value and economy. Research into BIM’s capability to increase the accuracy and speed of measurement through automated quantification is widespread. However, research into the enhancement of information management and collaboration, in relation to the nature of contractor costing information and collaboration is absent.

The aims of this research are to explore the theory and current practice of contractor costing as a decision-making tool to improve value and economy in UK construction practice in order to make two new contributions:

  • The exploration of theories of cost alongside theories of integration of supply chains in the construction industry
  • Development of a model of efficiency in construction supply chains

Research Activities: This research is a collaborative project between Birmingham City University and Willmott Dixon Construction (WDC), a major contractor in the UK construction industry. The collaboration involves WDC’s sponsorship of a three year PhD studentship, started in February 2013, to examine the practical problems of costing in the construction industry from the contractors’ perspective. The research involves as much practice as it does theory. The fundamental aim that the research overall, and the model arising from this research, will enable more efficient building.

The collection of data to achieve this research aim builds on the collaborative nature of this research between the University and WDC, which provides access to relevant company information, processes, staff and construction sites within WDC and a number of its subcontractors, over a period of up to two-years for data collection. This opportunity for collaboration alongside the philosophical research position of social constructionism has led to the methodology of participant observation. There will also be an in-depth review of documents and semi-structured interviews.

The documents will be collected primarily from private databases which will be specified as, but not limited to, pre-construction bidding cost data; on site production cost data; on site real activity cost data; final account data and final ‘as built’ cost data. The meetings chosen for observation will be scheduled meetings relating to costs during a project’s lifetime of which WDC hold three during pre-construction phase and three during the construction phase.

The interviewees will be chosen based on their job role and expertise. Within WDC this will include the Commercial Manager, a Design Manager, Estimator, Programmer, Supply Chain Manager and Site Manager. The University and WDC will select a number of sub-contractors from WDC’s local supply chain forum who represent a range of trades, and could possibly be working on one particular project that can be followed, and negotiate participation in the research by a managing director, site manager and site supervisor from each sub-contractor.

The meetings observed and interviews held will be audio recorded, transcribed and analysed via qualitative data analysis and software. The type of transcription software to be used (conversation analysis or discourse analysis) will be explored as part of the research. An analytical method will be chosen that is based on grounded theory and the need to balance between key features in the data and allowing the richness of the material to remain will also be explored.

Findings: The research will look at the problem of costing in construction practice by comparing observations of the real world with the literature review and theories of costing, supply chain and economic logics.

The data collected will be brought together to make sense of what is observed and final conclusions will be drawn.

Achievements: The research will aim to generate a conference paper on BIM and costing, as well as journal papers on supply chain capability and total supply chain evaluation.

Affiliations: Willmott Dixon Construction and Birmingham City University have entered into a partnership to conduct this research through funding this three year PhD Studentship.