BIM: the clock is ticking

Deadlines make things happen. On May 31, 2011, the UK Government Construction Strategy signalled the intention to mandate collaborative 3D building information modelling (BIM) as a minimum requirement by 2016. Essentially, the clock had started ticking for level 2 (L2) BIM compliance on all public, centrally procured projects.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude heralded the introduction of specific targets for BIM as a new dawn in the development of a modern, competitive industry. According to Mr Maude: “This Government’s four-year strategy for BIM implementation will change the dynamics and behaviours of the construction supply chain, unlocking new, more efficient ways of working. This whole sector adoption of BIM will put us in the vanguard of a new digital construction era and position the UK to become world leaders in BIM.”

If we fast-forward to 2014, roughly half-way towards the effective action date, has the reality on the ground matched the rhetoric?

The numbers are positive. The latest NBS National BIM Report found awareness of BIM has become almost universal throughout construction, rising from 58 per cent in 2010 to 95 per cent in 2013.

In terms of application on site, figures from marketers Competitive Advantage for 2013 show BIM being used for 3.9 per cent of all UK construction projects, representing some £3.8 billion in value. Come 2016, its penetration is forecast to rise to 50.8 per cent of total work, worth £55.1 billion.

Furthermore, an architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) supply chain survey, undertaken by BIM software solutions 4Projects by Viewpoint in February, found 75 per cent of respondents believe the UK government was right to mandate L2, along with associated industry foundation classes (IFC) and construction operations building information exchange (COBie).

However, only 2 per cent of that same AEC sample believe they are actually L2 compliant and, to put matters into perspective, 65 per cent still only use e-mail as their primary information-sharing mechanism.

BIM provides a golden opportunity to drive efficiencies and deliver safer, more sustainable solutions

It seems clear that, while understanding the direction of travel might be one thing, determining the business case for how and when to jump aboard the BIM train is quite another.

The industry still has ground to make up, as Rebecca Hodgson-Jones, head of BIM at Sir Robert McAlpine, and steering lead for the BIM 2050 Group, acknowledges: “The government task group have set solid foundations which will enable the industry to deliver improved outcomes and, although we still have a long way to go, with many challenges ahead, BIM is here to stay and momentum is rapidly building.”

In her analysis, BIM opens the door to the kind of industry-wide progress the built environment sector has been seeking for some time. “BIM provides a golden opportunity to drive efficiencies and deliver safer, more sustainable solutions,” she says. “Numerous industry leaders have commented on the need for the construction industry to become technology-enabled and we now have the perfect storm. Capability in the market is evolving and the gap between aspiration and capacity is closing.”

Collaboration is key, she concludes: “Successfully implementing BIM requires co-operation from the complete team. It is essential those engaged at the outset are on board.”

With construction rethinking how it does business, this technology-driven cultural shift must be directly manifest in appropriate contractual terms.

The existing legal landscape, however, is not an ideal place to start such a journey, as Chris Hallam, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, explains: “Collaboration is not a new concept for the industry. For over a generation, the government and industry stakeholders have striven to create a Utopia of a more collaborative construction industry.

“The problem is that the majority of construction contracts are not very collaborative. The relationship between parties often ends up being an adversarial one, with each party incentivised to look after its own interests, rather than the wider interests of a project.”

For the industry to get where it wants to go, things will need to change. Old ways of working will be out and, in the opinion of Mr Hallam, BIM has the potential to fulfil the transformative role and be the engine of change needed, pushing and pulling construction across the innovation threshold.

With the BIM boom imminent, the priority is getting firms over the decision-making hurdle and into the game in time to make the most of the opportunities emerging

The market is ready for new mindsets and legal models, he concludes, as evidenced by the results of a recent survey undertaken by Pinsent Masons. “There is a feeling that BIM and associated technological advances are fostering a more connected, communicative and joined-up approach in the construction industry, particularly among the ‘leaders of tomorrow’,” he says.

This could be a catalyst that finally drives the construction sector towards a truly collaborative way of working. If so, it is inevitable that forms of contract will need to change.

“This sentiment is supported in the survey,” says Mr Hallam. “Two-thirds believed that the existing forms of contract and approaches taken to contracting are not fit for purpose in a BIM-enabled world. Further, 69 per cent said that existing contracts fail to adequately address the means by which collaborative contracting can be achieved. This is evidence of an industry crying out for a different approach.”

This appetite for change is being fuelled not just by government policy, but by opportunity for competitive advantage for business differentiators, according to Steve Spark, vice president business development, EMEA, at 4Projects by Viewpoint. “For project delivery teams, benefits can include improved cost efficiencies and control, time savings, risk mitigation and defect minimisation, reduced resource consumption and waste costs, plus better workflow management,” he says.

“For asset managers, on the other hand, benefits are being realised in terms of reduced cost of construction, operation and maintenance, enhanced facilities management, smarter decision-making on design issues, better lifecycle management and ‘soft landings’.

“For all concerned, supply-chain integration and process management hold the keys to unlocking project and asset data, and to bringing home the benefits. Ultimately, it is all about the data.”

To turn information into intelligence, project data communication needs to be in a language and format that each individual recipient can both understand and use in their own business environment, as well as share with other actors, no matter what their respective system.

The universal platform that enables this degree of integrated workflow and unleashes the true collaboration potential of BIM, the game-changer for construction, is a common data environment (CDE), as marketing programmes manager at 4Projects by Viewpoint Adam Page explains.

“The 4Projects CDE brings together all project information in one place. It is the central point for data. Multiple parties feed their data, such as documents, drawings and plans, into the CDE and, even though each stakeholder might be using different software within the BIM technology eco system, it all integrates so it can be accessed by everyone – there are no technology barriers,” he says.

“Utilised across the full lifecycle, the CDE is vital for control and visibility, efficiency and performance, plus delivery of the quality of information necessary for asset-phase utilisation. Who you are dictates what data you need from the CDE, with data the key driver for BIM.”

Satisfying data requirements is not just a matter of what is accessed or shared, but how, when and where. Collaborative BIM needs to be easy and cost effective to rollout beyond organisational barriers across a diverse supply chain. There should be no limits on users and no need for IT or procurement departments.

The answer, according to Mr Spark, is software-as-a-service (SaaS). “This is the beauty of SaaS – it offers the flexibility of having all the functionality of a comprehensive BIM eco system, but simply in a browser,” he says. “With the BIM boom imminent, the priority is getting firms over the decision-making hurdle and into the game in time to make the most of the opportunities emerging. SaaS takes away the ‘fear factor’ and puts all your players on the pitch.”

In the current market, with recovery only recently the word on construction lips, clients, designers, contractors and suppliers alike are all under pressure, both to enable innovation on live projects as a matter of urgency and future-proof investment at the same time. The combination of inclusive interoperability through CDE, plus speed of deployment, affordability and flexibility via SaaS, help create optimum conditions for return on investment (ROI).

A recent SmartMarket report for McGraw Hill Construction found 75 per cent of BIM users reported ROI benefits. Market confidence is building and a sense of urgency growing. Latest figures from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors show 72 per cent surveyed now believe it is crucial to invest in BIM within the next 12 months.

Engagement is everywhere and the benefits of BIM are all dependent on who you are and what you do within the construction lifecycle, concludes Alun Baker, managing director EMEA, 4Projects by Viewpoint. “Clients are concerned with whole life cost, from concept to operation, and efficiencies that can be made to bring this down,” says Mr Baker.

“Contractors want to win BIM work which could be adversely affected if they don’t adapt. Driving the efficiencies of BIM helps them in their involvement in the lifecycle.

“Therefore, across the board, the business imperative is clear – the time to act on BIM is now.”

To find out more contact 4Projects by Viewpoint on 0845 330 9007 or e-mail