Britain’s approach to BIM provides a model for the world

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Enforcing the BIM mandate is proving slow, but Gavin Bonner, Global BIM Manager at Cundall argues that Britain is leading the way in BIM implementation

No-one expected Building Information Modelling (BIM) to transform our industry overnight, but new research suggests growing impatience and frustration with its implementation – especially in the public sector.

Half of the respondents in the latest National Building Specification (NBS) survey survey believes that central government departments are not enforcing the 2016 BIM mandate, against less than 10 percent who think they are. Meanwhile, common complaints include the claim that many clients in both the private and public sectors do not understand BIM’s benefits, or have an uncoordinated approach to documentation.

While there is much truth in these claims, I believe we need a more mature perspective on the great strides we have taken to make BIM a foundation of the construction industry. In fact, I’d go further, and assert that the UK’s approach to BIM is seen as the model by the rest of the world.

That is not to deny that more needs to be done to invest in BIM training and skills throughout the supply chain and that a lack of BIM-readiness is slowing adoption. This is to be expected: we’re talking about highly complex technologies and processes, and industry will not develop these overnight.

But I cannot share the opinion of many in the NBS survey that this country is not a leader in BIM. Unlike most other countries, the UK has taken a top-down approach where government addresses BIM at a strategic level. Other jurisdictions have taken a technical approach, which can result in fragmentation and poor adoption if there is not an overarching, clearly-defined roadmap.

The US, for example, has mandates (www.aia.org) based on individual authorities; there is, therefore, no national mandate as exists over here, while 3D modelling is only a requirement at the design stage. Compare that to the UK, where the government’s mandate for BIM Level 2 covers all aspects of delivery at every stage.

Britain’s BIM mandate is a beacon

While I can understand that people may be frustrated by the time it takes for organisations to adopt it, the government’s BIM mandate is something of a beacon to many other countries. On my travels around the world – in the Middle East, the US, China and Hong Kong, for example – I always hear the UK BIM mandate mentioned as a model for public sector construction projects, and we’ll shortly see other countries copying our structured approach. As governments around the world experience increased pressures on the public purse, the need for formalised, structured and state-sanctioned BIM mandates along UK lines will gain further impetus.

I mention all this not to be a Pollyanna, but to give some much-needed gloss to what can seem a frustratingly slow process of BIM adoption. Certainly, there are still significant obstacles to overcome; it’s hard, for example, to dispute the NBS findings regarding the lack of adoption or enforcing the mandate. This isn’t surprising: a large majority of UK government departments are not BIM Level 2-ready and do not have in-house skills to manage this complicated process. This lack of skills and experience extends down the supply chain, where it most needed.

Many clients and those in charge of capital expenditure do not fully understand the BIM process, and awareness of the benefits brought by BIM is still fairly low – although it’s improving. More needs to be done to change the perception of BIM from being thought of as an additional overhead to something that will deliver tremendous savings over the lifetime of each new construction.

The result of this scepticism is that important parts of the process are being neglected: for example, Employers Information Requirements (EIRs) are not being created, or incorrectly used; the same goes for Asset Information Requirements, which leads to a lack of understanding from all parties about how BIM can be used post-construction.

Education and upskilling is obviously an urgent priority; but we also need to see further development of the beginning and end of the BIM process, so that we can help clients and the supply chain to understand the process better and the benefits that it will bring. This more than anything else will make investment in skills and training a priority among government departments and throughout the supply chain.

This is a critical moment for construction in the UK, with a number of strategic infrastructure projects including major investments in energy, rail, and housing. Meanwhile, constructions of all kinds are embracing smart technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT); BIM has a hugely important role to play as we navigate our way through the complex challenges facing us today.

At the moment it is designers and contractors who are driving the BIM process in the UK. However, for these megaprojects (and other smaller ones) to be a success, we need clearer direction, or we will end up with a fragmented workflow and greater confusion, undoing all the positive effects that the BIM mandate has brought so far.

 

Gavin Bonner

Global BIM Manager

Cundall

www.cundall.com

@Cundall_Global

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