Both around the world and in Australia, recognition of the benefits of Building Information Modelling (BIM) in terms of delivering buildings and infrastructure of a higher quality whilst minimising the cost of project delivery has grown over recent years.

Used to its maximum potential, BIM enables more intuitive ways by which to analyse design options, better ways to deliver design documentation and better simulation and project planning as well as a more intuitive way of working during construction.

Yet in Australia, commentators say we are being held back in this area by a lack of a coordinated approach toward the technology on the part of government and public sector clients.

Rebecca De Cicco, founder of BIM consultancy Digital Node and a founder of Women in BIM, says Australia has good skills in technology but suffers from a disjointed approach across government departments and public sector entities. Many adopt different approaches to BIM from a strategic viewpoint and there is a lack of consistency with regard to information deliverables which are required of BIM across departments and organisations.

As a result, she says, the industry and supply chain is unable to roll out a consistent approach toward BIM and is forced to endure extra time, cost and inefficiency as it grapples with different information requirements on different projects. The lack of consistency with regard to information requirements also impacts upon the ability of the supply chain to upskill and to guarantee effective delivery upon those requirements, she adds. Finally, where information requirements are not clearly defined before preselection of suppliers and the project team, De Cicco says there is a risk of choosing a team which is unable to deliver upon the requirements.

By contrast, De Cicco points to the example of the UK, where use of BIM is now mandatory on government projects thanks to a four-year program to modernise major project delivery practices across the country which the government adopted in 2011. There, the government and industry have developed a set of standards with regard to BIM adoption which had enabled the industry to operate according to a consistent framework when it comes to BIM.

“What I’ve found (in Australia) is that there is quite a varied and disjointed approach toward BIM implementation across each government department and their BIM requirements,” De Cicco said. “Some departments are initiating an approach where their information requirements are inconsistent with other departments.

“Really, that puts us at risk. It doesn’t allow for a consistent solution toward BIM adoption in Australia. It also creates varied solutions for clients in their understanding of BIM and how they are adopting BIM. That confuses the supply chain because not only are we having to understand different approaches and processes but we can’t unify that solution throughout Australia.”

Others broadly agree. Dr Dominik Holzer, a senior lecturer in Digital Architecture Design at the University of Melbourne and founder of BIM Consultancy AEC Connect says the lack of a consistent approach on the government/client side with regard to BIM requirements is well known, and something the industry had lamented for years.

That said, Holzer argues that it is important to acknowledge that with infrastructure generally being delivered by states, it is in fact state departments and agencies who rely on independent decision making, and that efforts to nationalise the approach taken might go too far in some instances if it does not include ‘buy-in’ from these agencies.

Indeed, he says, a more nationalised approach may first require lessons to be learned through the experiences of individual agencies to allow their public service representatives to building up BIM capability. Moreover, he says, progress is indeed becoming evident in some areas – a process he says started in 2014 after the Productivity Commission for Public Infrastructure highlighted the benefits of BIM for the Australian Commonwealth in the context of project procurement.

He points to the recent formation by the Transport Infrastructure Council of a National Digital Engineering Working Group as part of COAG processes to enhance the consistency in BIM consideration and application at a national level.

Going forward, Holzer says the industry and supply chain should help public service administrators to become more aware about how BIM impacts their deliverables. He laments that many government organisations wanted BIM on their projects but lacked a clear idea of exactly what that meant or what BIM could achieve.

Holzer says a push overseas toward the development of international standards (which will largely be based on the UK standard) represents a welcome development but cautions that these should avoid becoming overly prescriptive about how projects are delivered using BIM and instead focus upon providing clarity about the output that is required.

De Cicco says Australia should use the international standard for BIM (currently being developed) to drive standardisation throughout our industry here. She says Australia has a skilled workforce and an opportunity to lead in this area but needed to move away from a siloed approach.

“I think it’s a cultural problem, where we implement different solutions for varied projects and different clients for no reason. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel?” she said.

“I think culturally, we have to come together and say, ‘federally, there will be some sort of initiative in the digital construction sector potentially in the next five or so years, but until then, we acknowledge and review the international approach. We must understand the international standards supporting BIM and should educate our supply chain in that way.’”