Australia is an interesting place. We are highly competitive, we love to hear the score and we constantly compare ourselves and our places to the rest of the world.

BIM is now emerging as the catalyst for change in the way we build worldwide. The recent 2014 McGraw Hill Smart market report on the value of BIM found US contractors to be far more advanced in BIM implementation than all other regions surveyed. However, when reporting a positive Return on Investment (ROI), the US trails Japan, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil and Australia and New Zealand.

When we look to the UK, the Government mandate for 2016 is crafted in a way that pulls contractors toward BIM and pushes the industry to deliver the expertise via a national standard and supporting education.

The strategy has resulted in a rise in activity with McGraw Hill reporting a 37 per cent take-up of BIM in the UK over the last year. However, reporting a positive ROI proves more elusive and along with the US, the UK trails all regions except South Korea.

So is the BIM / Lean mandate in itself able to achieve the UK Government’s 20 per cent capital cost reduction target or is this really going to be achieved by an industry that wants change?

Australia has a strong base of early adopters – those who have chosen to follow the BIM path and did not have to be told to follow it. We are very self-motivated and this has led to the development of world class modelling skills in the design space. Australia chose BIM as opposed to the UK being told to do it and those in the US being sold the idea by software vendors. Our challenge is to take BIM beyond national standards and design and into 4D and 5D model data innovation.

Real quantifiable savings

Globally, three quarters of all contractors surveyed by McGraw Hill report a positive Return on Investment (ROI) through BIM. Dig a bit deeper however, and hard evidence or analysis to support this view is not easy to find. Often, this is the information that is needed to help people and organisations make a decision to move into 3D and then into the BIM world.

On a project by project or company specific basis, the evidence is less formal but it is compelling that a move into 3D and then BIM is a more certain place for our industry and most importantly significant savings will be returned to the business when it reaches a level of maturity and proficiency. The analysis of ROI that individual companies are reporting is also evident across the supply chain.

Australian designers chose to work in 3D on all projects because it’s more efficient. At last year’s RTC Conference, both Sydney-based architect Rod Perey and interior designer Ceilidh Higgins reported that their projects achieved a 30 per cent saving in man hours for design when working in 3D rather than 2D.

Likewise, many subcontractors have chosen to work in 3D because it’s better for their business. Mechanical contractors are very well positioned and are reporting labour savings of up to 30 per cent through integrated supply chain workflows and where contractors support the use of ‘blue banger hangers’ and pre-fabricated riser, corridor and plant room modules.

It’s difficult to find reports from Australian contractors on business improvements because they are only just implementing BIM on a project basis. I am not aware of any local contractors that have completed implementation of 3D or BIM at an enterprise.

In the US it’s quite different because the American General Contractors Association were one of the founding partners of the BIM initiative. There are several examples of general contractors such as Turner that have adopted BIM as an enterprise system. TURIS is an organisation that is focused on implementing technological advancements to achieve greater efficiencies in construction businesses. TURIS believes that general contractors are actually builders of concrete structures because contractors purchase the materials. The organisation reports labour savings of between 5 to 8 per cent on concrete production for entire projects.

It is these savings that remain in the pocket of the business that invested in the innovation and then implemented reliable systems to boost their performance. The expectation of owners or even contractors that they should share in those savings is misguided. Even so, there is compelling evidence for owners and contractors to seek out businesses that already work in this way as they deliver greater certainty in quality, time and cost for the build.

In 2009, my 5D Quantity Surveying team worked on the award winning Southbank restaurant precinct – RiverQuay in Brisbane. The designers of the project chose to adopt BIM even though it was not asked for by the client, project manager or contractor. When it came to construction, it was the structural steel sub-contractor that showed the foresight to use the design models as a basis to create fabrication models.

Even though the overall project suffered from delays and significant variation, the structural steel sub-contract (15 per cent of the entire build) did not incur any delays and variation costs amounted to just two per cent. Most interestingly, these variations were agreed prior to fabrication of the steelwork.

More recently, our team was engaged by the contractor on a $1.8 billion public tertiary teaching hospital to work exclusively with models to drive savings. On Stage One of the project, with just four 5D QSs they measured over 60,000 cubic metres of concrete, 800 tons of post tensioning, 4,500 tons of steel reinforcement and 200,000 cubic metres of formwork for a 150,000 square metre hospital and a 95,000 square metre carpark in a little over four weeks. This provides the clearest evidence to me that as the business case for 3D modelling strengthens through the supply chain, the adoption rate of BIM will naturally accelerate as the ‘What’s in BIM for me?’ becomes more obvious.

Business strategy drives ROI

Whilst the strength of the advocacy of BIM in Australia and the number of organisations collaborating and conversing on how to improve it is essential, developing sound business strategy at the individual level to improve ROI through better design and model data management is likely to have a greater impact on adoption rates.

As the industry debates the need for a national standard, what may serve us better is focusing on standardising the metrics that can report the ROI coming out of better design and model integration of 4D and 5D.

We know early decisions have a high ability to influence time and costs. BIM is going to be applied differently for different projects in Australia. The aim is to look beyond the issues of where we should be on the BIM journey and focus efforts on what savings we can achieve individually and generate these discussions at the initial stages of design. This may create far greater success in leveraging BIM’s benefits throughout the design, construction and post construction phases for those in the project team who choose to adopt.