The 3 key pillars of BIM adoption in the UK

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As Peter Hansford nears the end of his Government Chief Construction Adviser role, he provides a retrospective look at the adoption of BIM highlighting 3 key areas that have enabled the UK to become a world leader…

As I approach the end of my term as Government Chief Construction Adviser and the 2016 BIM mandate looms large, it seems a timely opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made with BIM over the last five years.

The adoption of BIM ‘technology’, a complex fusion of ICT technology, process and cultural changes with applications across a wide span of project types, should, perhaps, more correctly be called ‘Digital Engineering’ or ‘Digital Construction’. However, whatever it is called, its adoption must rank as one of those ‘once in a generation’ watershed events, that is starting to change the way the industry operates and the way projects are delivered.

It is perhaps useful to reflect that although the UK was not the first adopter of BIM – five years ago it was a relatively unknown in the UK, and much of the software does not originate from the UK (although this is changing) – there is a growing international consensus that the UK is a world leader in how to deploy BIM in a structured and managed way. I would like to pick out three key themes as to how, within the space of five years, we have come from a relatively unknown technology to being in a commanding position.

Firstly, as we came out of the economic down-turn there was a palpable sense within the industry that things needed to change. However, simply recognising a need for change is only the starting point so we needed the industry and government to ‘step up to the plate’ in making that change a reality. BIM was therefore mandated for use on all centrally procured government construction projects by 2016, as part of the Government Construction Strategy that was published in May 2011.

Subsequently in July of 2013, the industrial strategy for construction, ‘Construction 2025’ was launched. Construction 2025 placed BIM, not as a discrete or stand-alone technology but as central to the overall contextual narrative of the ‘change and benefits’ for the sector.

Secondly, we had a first class adoption plan. Six years ago under the Department of Business, a disparate group of BIM enthusiasts from software, construction (clients, contracting and product manufacturers), government and technical experts from BuildingSMART and a range of sector research institutions, met to consider how the UK could adopt BIM within the space of one Parliament. This work was led by Mark Bew from the Government BIM Task Group and was a real tour de force. It struck the right balance between the client and the supply chain’s aspiration and ability to adopt BIM within the short time frame.

The crucial elements of the plan were:

  • A phased adoption (Level 2 BIM) which was a relatively non-disruptive way to existing sector ways of working which prevented a ‘too complicated’ response for client and supply chain;
  • Ensuring that the clients were consistent and clear about their BIM information needs – to provide clarity, confidence and critical mass in order to allow the market to respond; and
  • Leaving the complexity within the market as part of competitiveness to stimulate innovation.

Without this structured approach it is likely that the BIM adoption would have been slower and less predictable.

Thirdly, mobilisation. BIM mobilisation has captured the imagination of every facet of the industry, big and small – contractors, professionals, product manufacturers. There is a real sense that digital construction is acting as a catalyst for improved communication and working between the tiers in the construction supply chain. The government’s 2016 mandate of course provides the focus point and added impetus to accelerate the adoption.

Is the programme successful? It really depends on what criteria you are judging on. On one level you could point to annual BIM adoption rates published by NBS as evidence of success and the fact that there has been a sustained national effort throughout the BIM programme. However, I believe that although it is undeniable that we have made a good start it is too early to claim success. Success should mean sustained success and at the present time we are still pushing and pulling the ball up the hill. Without us maintaining our efforts and achieving the government’s commitment to the 2016 mandate, it is quite possible that the push and pull would stop and that the ball would begin to slip back.

It is dangerous to predict technology direction in the future but what can be said is that we are only beginning to understand BIM’s true potential. Earlier this year the government published ‘Digital Built Britain. Its central thrust is that BIM and its capacity to access and verify data will bring construction and the operation of assets into a single process – in the longer term linking assets to sensors, telemetry and other data bases to assist in the management of the built environment. This is an exciting proposition.

Should history record that Paul Morrell and I have contributed to BIM adoption then this would be a satisfying achievement. I have never regarded BIM as the panacea for transforming construction, but there is no doubt that it is a vital ingredient.

Peter Hansford

Government Chief Construction Adviser

www.twitter.com/HansfordPeter

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