Reflecting on the current level of construction technology and BIM adoption in the UK, Jason Ruddle, COO at Elecosoft urges industry to grasp the opportunities available
As 2016 draws to a close the future for the construction industry may be a little murky as we wait to see how the Brexit path unfolds, but we do at least know that the Level 2 BIM deadline is now past – something the sector has been very focused on. That means BIM is no longer an optional extra for any construction firm looking to work with the public sector. Before we celebrate and move on, however, we must remember that the deadline marked only the end of an opening phase and the start of the next, towards Level 3 BIM.
It will be easy to get caught up in thinking only about Level 3 BIM as the debate gets underway. But some words of caution are merited. Firstly, few contractors have yet fully embraced BIM even at Level 2. Many have made herculean efforts, and gained Level 2 certifications – many of our clients among them – but the work is ongoing to embed and gain business value. Secondly, the construction sector is only at the start of a journey which must see it transform not just around BIM, but to grasp all the opportunities presented by digital technology, smart materials, new manufacturing, sharing models, evolving the use of 3D printing and more. The future vision for UK construction is not only about BIM supporting the lifecycle and operation of assets, but also about how it dovetails with smart cities and future infrastructure.
In its most recent BIM benchmark, the NBS noted that “there is still much work to do and the journey continues. For BIM to realise its transformative potential, investment and change is needed across the sector.” The report, like others, showed that though adoption is steadily growing, it remains incomplete.
The Farmer report recently released by the Construction Leadership Council was titled “Modernise or Die.” Although an alarmist title, we cannot help but agree with the spirit of the piece: the industry’s future does rest upon its shaking off its reluctance to change. Reforming the labour model itself is certainly a part, but taking advantage of the digital construction opportunity is inextricably linked. Adoption of digital construction tools, processes and workflows, BIM included, are a key part of changing the sector’s dependence on labour. All this can greatly help construction companies unlock the efficiencies and savings that they need to sustain the profitability of current models and create new ones.
Get the basics right
It is important that the sector doesn’t rest on its laurels and rush too fast towards the future before it has fully released the benefits of Level 2. It faces a paradigm shift: where Level 2 required the sector to “embrace change and accept that traditional roles within the supply chain and client organisation may need to be redefined.” Level 3 is fully Open BIM and means thinking beyond exchanging construction information when required, to making information open by default. However, as the Digital Built Britain strategy makes clear: the information is just the start. The ultimate value is about how that data is put to work in the built environment, and how it will be used by those who operate assets. But the information and how to manage it lies at the heart of the challenge for contractors.
Reshaping operations for the longer term creates new priorities. It will be important to fully implement nascent BIM processes for managing and sharing information across the business, rather than only on a project-by-project basis for the purpose of scraping standards compliance and ticking the boxes on tenders. Silos must be broken down in businesses, who should invest more purposefully in software platforms which enable digital collaboration and open information exchange – so collaboration between different specialists inside and outside the business can become the norm. They must prioritise digital and data skills too, which means looking to educational programmes including apprenticeships and higher education institutions which are turning out tomorrow’s digital construction leaders.
Regardless of Level 3 BIM, digital change is not optional, and companies who don’t adapt may find themselves falling behind. Addressing current skills gaps, putting missing tools and platforms in place, and addressing technology challenges at a business rather than a project level will be vital. 2016 is the end of the beginning of the digital construction age; BIM will be at the heart of the workflows and processes that enable construction companies to participate. Getting to grips with the essentials of BIM remains a work in progress for many and must remain front and centre of the priority set for the next year.
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