John Eynon traces the ups and downs of the UK’s journey towards BIM Level 2 and digital transformation, reflecting on the stresses, the strains and the green shoots of hope for the future

Apologies to George Orwell, but Animal Farm is a good read if you get time. The sheep choir being well trained to absorb and repeat the updated mantra. Agitprop rules. OK?!

Perhaps the UK BIM movement is in a similar place. You may have missed it but the publishing of the ISO 19650 standards with the UK guidance earlier this year is now leading to further developments in terms of morphing into further guidance and the framework for BIM in the UK.

You can check out the UK BIM Framework website here: www.ukbimframework.org and the UK BIM Alliance website here: www.ukbimalliance.org.

Gone are the days when any BIM talk was incomplete without the Wedge, and we talked of Level 2. Now we don’t need to, apparently!

The UK BIM journey

Clearly, we’re on a journey and in BIM (Digital? Digital Construction? Digital Engineering?) World (or whatever we’re calling it this week), the rate of travel is speeding up. Standards such as B1192:2007 and PAS 1192/2 are now toast. As is Level 2. Others will follow. New standards are being published and more will be forthcoming in time.

A recent article bemoaned the creation of a two-speed industry: those that have the resources and knowhow to get on with BIM and those that don’t, particularly supply chain and SMEs.

In fact, we have an n-speed industry: many levels, many tiers, from the Tier 1s down to white van woman and man, and everyone in between. This was always on the cards. Around £25m has been spent on the UK BIM programme since around 2012. Most of that money has gone to public sector, particularly government departments and bodies like the CIC and Innovate UK. Very little has gone directly to the private sector and a fundamental flaw of the original UK BIM strategy was that there was no plan for effective dissemination throughout industry. There was only reliance on volunteer networks such as the BIM Regions and BIM4 groups, which received no support or funding, and overpriced conferences, which no one at the coalface can afford either the cash or time to go to. And the obligatory newsletter. I work with the noble UK supply chain on a daily basis. Believe me, even just using something like 4P can be a challenge, let alone the file naming convention!

No wonder, then, that penetration across industry continues to be so low, particularly among key influencers and decision-makers and the stodgy middle management layers.

As we were told many times in the early days by the leaders of the Task Group, the government was setting the question through the 2016 BIM Mandate, and it was up to industry to come up with the answers – with no resources! Good luck on that, then, and seven years later we see the results. A very mixed picture – the proverbial curate’s egg!

Hope for BIM in the UK

But we do see some green shoots, new movements emerging from within our existing tired institutional structures, which are ossified, totally resistant to change and renewal, and too much in maintenance and retention mode with their small parochial agendas. Recent examples I’ve seen are the Digital Twin Fan Club (@thedigitaltwin) and Allister Lewis’s Association of Data-Driven Design.

New needs, new initiatives, new leaders, the old order changeth, new strategies, the horizon is opening up and we need to respond – quickly! Which is what these guys are doing. More please!

As a founding member of the UK BIM Alliance, we set the target of Level 2 across something like 70% of industry by 2020. How were we going to achieve it? How were we going to measure it? We didn’t know, but we had hope. We were young, foolish and in love! :O)

In reality, this digital transformation stuff is going to take at least a generation to be fully effective. There will be pain and blood on the floor. Businesses will fail (a la Kodak, Blockbuster, HMV et al) and careers will be terminated, because the digital vision, skills and capabilities won’t be there.

To get this across the line we need collaboration, vision and leadership on a scale we have not witnessed before in our industry. We have fundamental problems, though, we are fragmented and insular in our organisations and thinking and too many fight their own corner and won’t sacrifice their own agendas for the bigger picture.

The need for digital transformation in construction

In the end, I believe industry will truly get what it deserves and is willing to pay for and support. Jury’s out and we can guess where this is going, and gloom could spread, but too many are still on the race to the bottom in an extremely competitive industry which is still largely unregulated and still has significant issues on safety, quality, diversity, ageism, sexism, mental health, wellbeing, abuse, bullying, corruption, environment, regulation and many more. Some challenge!

However, as I’ve said many times the need for digital transformation is as much driven by external forces as internal, perhaps even more so. Other industries and sectors need our data, and the built environment needs to plug in to everything else! The Internet of Things, Everything, the Universe. I think in the long run the transformation is coming, inevitable and irresistible.

I remain very proud of the contributions I was able to make to BIM4SME, IM Regions and the UK BIM Alliance, and worked with some truly inspirational people. My resources as a micro-SME are very limited, and I’m not sponsored or supported by some international conglomerate, so my contribution has had to scale down over the last 18 months. So it’s someone else’s turn now – we need more to join in and spread the word.

You can join the UK BIM Alliance here: www.ukbimalliance.org.

The future

Sign up for the newsletter, go to the forums, get genned up and get stuck in. There’s lots going on. In conclusion, I do see light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, in the number of younger leading lights we have now in the UK BIM movement, Millennials, Gen Yers and Zers. The light shines brightly and we’re in good hands.

Also, it’s taken so long to get the Level 2 message across industry and we’ve failed to some extent, as even now many are unaware of Level 2 and 1192. As a consequence, the change to 19650 and the UK BIM Framework will fall on largely fertile and virgin ground! Nothing to unlearn here. So…four legs good, two legs BETTER! Ha!

John Eynon is an ageing and argumentative architect, design manager and Bimster and lives on the south coast. You can catch up with him occasionally at www.zenanddm.com.

 

UK BIM, digital transformation,John Eynon

Director

Open Water Consulting

johneynon@me.com

www.openwaterconsulting.co.uk

Twitter: @56jonts

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