Raj Chawla, Vice Chair at BIM4SME analyses the challenges, issues, and benefits that the SME community face in the BIM process, arguing that to participate is necessary to gain efficiency
What is Building Information Modelling (BIM)? It is a revolution that is occurring in construction and the built environment. BIM is a process that allows the structuring of digital information for use in design, construction and management of facilities and assets and is a progressive way of working. Unlike other industries, this sector is very slow in the uptake of technology and has been extremely inefficient.
The government’s construction strategy has mandated the use of this process for its projects from 2016. At the heart of the strategy is cost savings and efficiencies. 99% of the industry is made up of small to medium enterprise – SMEs – and it this group that will be instrumental in making this strategy a success.
So does the SME community need to engage with BIM? The answer is very obvious to some, but the SMEs wishing to engage are asking a very basic question. Is BIM for me? This stems from the various definitions or interpretations of the mandate. Is BIM to be used on “all central Government construction procurement”, or “all public funded projects greater than £1M”, or “the adoption of BIM technology by both public and private sector involved in the procurement and delivery of buildings and infrastructure”. These are just some of the many other citations that are offered. It is all about clarity and tidying up mixed messages.
This confusion “deters participation and more significantly, the necessity to participate”. This uncertainty has been voiced right across the supply chain. It is even prevalent in local government and within quangos, but it will eventually need to embed.
BIM as Digitising the Built Environment
The acronym BIM is also a culprit here. The acronym was contrived by software vendors and sends the message that BIM is some kind of software. To shed this acronym and adopt a strategy of “Digitising the Built Environment” makes the uptake agnostic. It is a delight to see that the next evolution in this journey is referenced as “Digital Built Britain”.
While a lot of us know that BIM it is about migrating structured information and data seamlessly, it is not that obvious to the masses. Once you drive this home, the idea becomes more receptive. How this information is migrated is academic.
The software vendors are providing crucibles for the migration of this information – some do it well and some not so well. If one puts their mind to it, the information can be migrated using a spreadsheet. The industry is bombarded by software vendors and it is causing serious affixation to a point that it “deters participation and more significantly, the necessity to participate”. There is still a huge impression that software is BIM. For the avoidance of doubt, software are tools to support the implementation of BIM.
When described not as BIM, but a technological advancement in digitising their business processes, the reception is very different. With the analogy; the BIM process is like quality management; it is embedded in a business as a back office activity and is considered daily in the work place.
The SME community has a wide berth and encompasses lawyers, financial institutions, consultants, professionals, contractors, a huge supply chain, operators, and not forgetting clients. These are the masses and the masses are very significant in ensuring that Digitising the Built Environment is a success.
To distil – in the first instance clarity must ensue in the definition of the mandate. Secondly, the staged delivery of information for use in “Construction” must be structured as prescribed in the various process documents and standards – the focus being the ability to migrate this information once, accurately, and error free into a database. If you can do this, you are starting to practice BIM.
Now for a little bit of business school regurgitation – usually for a business to consider efficiency there is an underlying threat. Until the threat is prevalent, efficiency measures do not kick in. There is a lot of hype about cost and efficiency savings with BIM. These benefits are usually further up in the food chain and not ordinarily at SME level. What isn’t explained is the savings and benefits due to lean working. There is a philosophy of Kaizen which has been around for years and is the practice of continuous improvement. If you are doing a task that takes 10 minutes and now you can do it 1 minute, you are saving 9 minutes. As they say, time is money. Embedding efficiencies in a business is also cost saving and appears as profit in the balance sheet if done right.
When talking to SMEs, I tend to use a simple analogy of the hammer. At present the industry is using a hammer, whereas all that is being asked is to use a nail gun. It does the same job, but with enhanced speed with more accuracy and consistency. Now you have to make the investment in the nail gun and the air cartridges. For BIM, this is an investment in time, resources and educating oneself to continue to better oneself. Kai (change) zen (good). Change for good.
The connection and understanding between the prophecy of BIM and lean and efficient working is still leagues apart in the construction industry. Some do it very well, and some not at all. The industry is very fragmented and works at different speeds.
Trying to convince businesses, especially in the construction industry, is not easy. There is too much jargon, mixed messages and distracting pollutants and it “deters participation and more significantly, the necessity to participate”.
Each business needs to test itself to see what level of investment is required. The majority of the SME businesses I have visited recently already have most of the essential components in house. A little bit of restructuring of their business processes and appending the BIM process is usually all that is required. It is a business strategy with the mantra, “do it once, do it right”.
The BIM seminars and conferences are becoming like old school reunions, and incidentally, also becoming very incestuous. There is a desperate need to have a wider appeal. But how to get the wider appeal?
To digress a little. Neurosciences is a very specific subject and once again the academics and laureates in this field eventually stalled. This what not due to them not being knowledgeable in their field, it was because their conferences did not have a wider audience. The field needed an accelerant to catalyse the advancement. It hosted a conference – Mathematicians can’t count & IT is for children. It had an audience of some 900, where a usual turnout was 100. The neuroscientist described their problem and within a relatively short period found that their field had accelerated beyond their imagination. This was with help from outside their science.
Digitising the Built Environment, Digital Built Britain and not BIM should be the opening line. The conferences should be advertised and published in the national press. In addition to the Architects, Engineers, Contractors and facility managers it should be able to capture the interest of financiers, lawyers, IT professionals, ontologists, telecom and telemetry specialists, instrumentation specialists, mathematicians, systems and solution architects etc. all becoming stakeholders in Digitising the Built Environment.
It may be acknowledged that there is a need, but the masters of the conferences need to change the direction and become agnostic.
Collaboration and risk
There is a misnomer that collaboration is a deterrent to BIM as it exposes how people work. Projects, no matter how large or how small do not get delivered without collaboration. There are joint ventures, alliances and coalitions being formed to deliver projects on a daily basis. If this is not collaboration, then I don’t know what is.
If we trickle down to the SME level, this is not so apparent. There exists a tension, in particular in the construction and maintenance arenas, that collaboration is singular and is expected from smaller towards the larger, and there are many cases where this is true. The reason this occurs is the simple misunderstanding of risk. It is this misunderstanding that “deters participation and more significantly, the necessity to participate”.
Collaboration is a sociological and human trait and it is not necessarily enforced by applying processes or legal structures. The basic idea of collaboration is to mitigate risk, but the idea of migrating risk is very endemic in the construction industry. The legal structures in the construction industry haven’t attained maturity in how to handle risk and has caused this short fall in the understanding of how to mitigate, and not migrate risk.
What BIM brings to the party is a high degree of visibility, more resilient information and the ability to test and mitigate risk without migrating it. The measure of collaboration is the ability to mitigate risk between the stakeholders and where the stakeholders are able to do this, collaboration ensues.
Delivering the message
There is huge effort being deployed by the BIM4 communities in rolling out the message. Like BIM4SME, this is voluntary and is being relentlessly championed by groups of people who see the benefits of the process and are transferring knowhow – ensuring others catch-up quickly.
There is a huge change in the design fraternities and the adoption of tools to facilitate BIM. That said there needs to be a lot more done at client level to ensure that the requirements and the compliance burdens are stable for any future BIM project.
Vice Chair at BIM4SME and Projects Director at Nunelah Design Consultants
Tel: +44 (0)20 8422 9919