Alignment of Partnering with Construction IT: Exploration and Synthesis of network strategies to integrate BIM-enabled Supply Chains
Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) are seen as innovations that can manage complexities in construction by focusing on integrating processes and products respectively. Whereas these two innovations have been considered compatible, their practical combi-nation has been mainly anecdotal. The Netherlands was the locale of this study, where both SCM and BIM have been popular approaches. The research objective is to explore their real-world combination and propose strategies for the alignment of SCM and BIM, by viewing Supply Chain (SC) partnering as the inter-organisational proxy of SCM. The main question is: “How to align the SCM philosophy with BIM technologies to achieve integration in the construction industry? What aspects contribute to this alignment?”. The methodology was mixed and both qualitative and quantitative data were analysed. The overarching method was case study research and the unit of analysis was the firm, also referred to as ‘actor’.
After a semi-chronological review of the relevant literature, the two constructs of SCM and BIM were found interdependent in product-, process-, and actor-related (P/P/A) dimensions. The study consisted of four other consecutive studies. First, empirical insights into the practical implementation of SC partnering and BIM were obtained via the exploration of five cases. Second, a conceptual model for the quantitative analysis of the product-, process-, and actor-related dimensions was designed. Third, this model and mixed methods were applied to two polar (ex-treme) cases to analyse the contractual (typically SC-related), digital (typically BIM-related), and informal interactions among the involved actors. Fourth, an additional theoretical exploration of the BIM-enabled SC partnerships took place with focusing also on intra-organisational relations within the involved firms. After the four studies, the findings were systematically combined to cre-ate the theoretical synthesis, i.e. generate theory. Three consecutive steps of ‘construct’, ‘internal’, and ‘external’ validity took place after the synthesis, to define the transferability of findings. The systematic combination of findings deduced two routes to achieve SC integration in construction: (a) product-related (emphasis on BIM tools), and (b) actor-related (emphasis on SCM philosophy).
The two observed routes to SC integration emerged from the data of the polar cases. Two com-plementary sets of strategies for SC integration were derived afterwards. These strategies could ease the identification of which route is the ‘closest fit’ to SC integration, and then support the decision-making of how to pursue it. As the concept of BIM is currently a hot topic, it might be wise to undertake a ‘product-related’ route to integration and gradually introduce strategies from the ‘actor-related’ route. However, the ‘actor-related’ route could attain long-term integration and thus, long-lasting relations among the multi-actor networks. The key aspects of the alignment of partnering with construction IT for BIM-enabled SC partnerships are:
- The identification of whether the SC complexity is of process-, product- or actor-related nature;
- The deployed BIM collaboration patterns, i.e. ad-hoc, linear or distributed;
- The SC coordination mechanisms, e.g. centralised or decentralised;
- The relation between formal and informal aspects, e.g. symmetric or asymmetric;
- The emerging intra-organisational relations due to BIM and SCM implementation;
- The hierarchical level that BIM-enabled SC partnership decision-making pertains.
As the construction industry evolves into an information-driven sector, the alignment of construc-tion IT with inter-organisational management is preeminent for managing the inherent com-plexities of the industry. In parallel, embracing inter-organisational approaches for information management such as BIM is a promisingway forward for SCM and construction management.
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