Toronto drags its feet in adopting building information technology

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Construction times in the City of Toronto are notoriously long because the city’s bloated bureaucracy includes agencies that don’t talk to each other, creating a lot of overlap. However, while some digital panacea has long been on the city government’s radar, it has ostensibly chosen to ignore it.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology can be used to digitize approval permits and rezoning processes, which currently takes around three years – and, like time is money on a construction site of construction, end users pay the cost – streamlining everything from architecture and engineering plans to communication between different parties, including municipal authorities.

READ: Ontario’s new data standard will ‘level the playing field’ for housing development approvals

BIM has proven itself improve productivity and efficiency reducing the time it takes to generate an expense estimate by 80%, reducing unbudgeted project changes by up to 40%, and increasing time savings by up to 7%. The cost estimate also drops to less than 3% accuracy.

The Home Builders Council of Ontario (RESCON) has been lobbying municipalities to digitize their permitting processes because construction timelines are getting longer, and in Toronto, where there is an abundance new construction but a shortage of trades, costs are skyrocketing. RESCON has proven to be a major proponent of BIM technology, and to elucidate how Toronto city officials are stuck in the past, Richard Lyall, president of RESCON, points out that they still use fax machines.

“Think about getting a new set of tools to do the same job, but better tools and a better way to communicate. It really augments the existing process, but it’s also really just a modernization,” he said. said “BIM modeling can integrate all your purchases and supplies and design elements, as well as all the different parts and identify them in the design itself.”

The technology simultaneously eliminates human error while calculating and cataloging the more abstruse aspects of a project, like supply chain management, forecasting, and even energy remodeling, which can be done in hours instead of several months as it currently takes.

But as Lyall says, the most important thing is that each stakeholder can communicate quickly on a single platform.

“You can submit a draft and the final application goes through one portal to all the agencies that provide approvals for the project, whether it’s transportation or conservation authorities, or the fire marshal’s office. They get everything at once,” Lyall said. “You have your own little network where they can all review things, for the most part, simultaneously rather than sequentially. You also have conflict analysis – when you do a complex project, you have a structural engineer and various contractors, and BIM brings it all together so they can see where the conflicts are, like having a giant electrical cable that , on design, is going through an HVAC system.

However, as effective as it sounds, the reality is anything but, Lyall added.

“With a paper and email based system, a lot of time is wasted because things get stuck, but when you have a more organized system that relies on technical help, you don’t have to deal with nonsense. .”

Not everyone wants more transparency

To be clear, implementing BIM technology would not be without headaches. Whole departments would have to be trained – a huge exercise in itself – and the total expenditure would easily cost tens of millions of dollars. Another issue is that until BIM technology becomes ubiquitous, its full range of benefits will not be realized.

But adoption has to start somewhere and opening the process to all stakeholders through BIM technology would create more transparency and, therefore, accountability. But maybe that’s not in everyone’s interest, surmises Jarkko Turtiainen, vice president North America for Cloudpermit, a software company that “empowers local governments to manage land online”.

“I would say they’re scared to go in that direction and open up to real transparency,” Turtiainen said in reference to the City of Toronto’s building and construction department.

“I can’t say that with no evidence that’s the reason, but in my opinion, if they have nothing to hide, there are companies that are more than willing to provide them with software that creates transparency on both sides. It puts pressure on builders and applicants; everyone has to work together to get things done, but to me, having said that, first, they’ve looked at all the e-permit software that’s out there and they haven’t found any yet, and secondly, they don’t want to go there because everything becomes transparent.

Under the current system, a bureaucrat can send back an incomplete application – Turtiainen estimates that around 90% of applications filed omit important information – and work on something else, but in the digital environment, all of their activity would be logged.

The most glaring inefficiency today is that paper applications do not meet a specific standard and are, therefore, filed without crucial information. A digital application, on the other hand, cannot be submitted until all mandatory information has been provided. In such a scenario, Turtiainen says the time savings would be immense.

“At the moment, it does not tell the applicant what they must fill in, so the [civil servant] will review it and send it back to the applicant,” he said.

No one talks to each other

One Ontario is a coalition that lobbies all levels of government to adopt technology with the goal of establishing an exchange of data and information among stakeholders, as well as creating a roadmap for the adoption of e-permits , to create a framework for a BIM standard and to establish a digital clearinghouse infrastructure. Its coalition members include the City of Toronto, RESCON, and the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA), which partnered with Cloudpermit a few years ago. Turtiainen says the partnership between OBOA and Cloudpermit was aimed at raising awareness among municipalities about BIM technology, because when it entered the Canadian market, there were no more than 10, if not as many, municipalities in Ontario using BIM platforms. digital licensing.

According to Arash Shahi, CEO of AECO Innovation Lab and founding member of the Toronto BIM community, Canada is the only G20 country without a national BIM mandate, and while it’s easy to blame municipalities, he says the government provincial lack of leadership.

“The province of Quebec has launched a BIM mandate, Alberta is working on it, but the Ontario government is nowhere to be found,” Shahi said. “The only absent from the coalition is the Ontario government. There’s a lot of blame at the municipal level, but at some point someone has to get past the political campaign and do something about it.

“When it comes to the adoption of BIM and the technology, someone has to act at the top because there are too many municipalities and they can’t agree on a lot of things. The last thing you want is for the City of Toronto to develop its own BIM strategy and the City of Markham to develop its own strategy.

If municipalities adopt different strategies and platforms, miscommunication will continue to reign – and so will fax machines. However, One Ontario would create what Shahi calls a one-stop permit application, meaning that every municipality and affected party would be interconnected and applications would not need to be submitted more than once.

“We’ve researched this space and 50-75% of Ontario’s building code can be automatically verified on BIM. The 21st century is all about automation, but unfortunately municipalities are still thinking about paper,” Shahi said.

Why the time may not be now

BIM and paper are about as compatible as oil and water, but even in countries like Finland, a country touted in the BIM space for its enthusiastic adoption of the software, not all jurisdictions have jumped on board. As long as old and new methods clash, inefficiencies will persist.

“The way I see the whole process, you can’t run until you learn to walk. Toronto is not yet using full systems and if they jump on a BIM platform now it will slow down the process. It won’t improve speed and transparency, but if they have comprehensive e-permitting software, it will eventually speed up the process,” Turtiainen said.

“It’s not as widely used yet. You cannot have BIM and paper. You have to move to BIM, and then you start to gain efficiency. Industry must work with cities and municipalities to adopt BIM technology and implement the mandate, otherwise there will be no improvement.

Innovation Lab and the Municipal Infrastructure Council are working together to create a BIM platform that municipalities across Canada can use. While Shahi is exasperated by the rate of adoption of the snail, he hopes real change is afoot.

“We have continued to invite municipalities to participate, and again it is moving very slowly,” he said, “but the infrastructure is in place.”

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