With the recent release of the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) and Australian Procurement and Construction Council’s (APCC) “Framework for the Adoption of PTI and BIM,” are we still dancing around the inevitability of a BIM mandate?

Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) construction industry bodies and government must welcome the release of a focused framework for project team integration and BIM which “raises the flag” and progresses the debate on collaborative and productive design, construction and building life cycle management.

ACIF and APCC’s framework document provides an in-depth analysis of the landscape of BIM adoption in ANZ, including reaffirming the seven work programs that buildingSMART Australasia recommended in 2012. What it lacks, however, are tangible solutions, clear ownership of commitments to change, and a timeline.

Industry needs leadership on BIM. It is heartening to see a clear understanding of the benefits for both government and industry but stronger recommendations on BIM adoption and jurisdictional responsibilities are required. In the framework, there is a hint of powerlessness on the part of industry by saying “industry is but a servant of those who commission new assets.” It seems service providers are still in a reactive space waiting for their customers to demand the change that is available through new technologies and approaches.

UK Mandate 2016

When Mark Bew, chair of the UK Government BIM Working Group, chairman of the UK Government BIM Task Group and buildingSMART UK, delivered the keynote speech at the buildingSMART Australasia conference in Sydney last year, three critical themes stood out:

  1. a sense of urgency and a compelling reason for change was created via a deadline
  2. UK implementation would not have even started without the appointment of a Chief Constructor, currently Paul Morrell
  3. the concept that it’s okay for Government to tell industry what it wants as long as it stays away from telling industry how to do it

What is interesting is that the last point contrasts to how the Government here in Australia is approaching BIM – generally abstaining from the conversation for fear of interfering with the marketplace and creating red tape. What has been clear for some time and what the UK strategy demonstrates is a definitive need for leadership in order to achieve greater advancements and returns.

In Australia, the latest statistics from the ABS tell us that the value of construction work within the Building and Engineering Construction Industry is $215 billion dollars [1], that construction (excluding its service industries) is eight per cent of GDP [2] and employs 1.1 million workers or 9.1 per cent of the labour force [3].

Given the comparative statistics that the UK knew at the time of creating the Government Construction Strategy[4] in 2011 – the UK construction sector was seven per cent of GDP, it expended £110 billion and it employed two million workers [5] – shouldn’t we be placing a larger emphasis on improving our industry considering it is as large a contributor to our economy and our workforce as the UK’s is to theirs?

Should Australia Make a Date or Continue Organically?

In late 2014, Mitchell Brandtman 5D quantity surveyors conducted a straw poll of 137 industry stakeholders with varying degrees of BIM, posing the simple question, “Should the Australian Government mandate BIM?”

The results showed that over 66 per cent of all respondents said “Yes” to a Government mandate.

Designers generally agree with a mandate (68 per cent) and contractors agree to an even greater degree (83 per cent). Owners unsurprisingly are more reluctant, only 36 per cent agreeing. A breakdown of the results can be viewed here.

Clients will always expect better design within a well-coordinated project that is on time and within budget. BIM simply assists in delivering these outcomes and facilitates the improvement in best practice. The project team should apply BIM because it makes business sense to do so.

The reality, however, seems to be that customers don’t want to dictate to the supply chain as it might create limited choice and less competition, “breaking” the circle of innovation. The supply chain is looking for a guarantee for their investment before they push an innovation that isn’t fully in demand.

Australia and New Zealand’s skills and innovations in the field are well documented and respected internationally, but if all the stakeholders in the ANZ construction industry are waiting for someone else to act on BIM, is ANZ going to miss one of the greatest opportunities for exporting design and construction services to Asia and the UK as the mandates in those countries take hold?

Missed opportunities are one thing, but without a sense urgency, will ANZ be exposing itself to more international competition from Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, UK and US as those countries innovate in response to their decisions to mandate?

Fixing the Broken Circle: Industry or Government?

Coupled with the recent release of the framework, we are also anticipating the imminent release of the Guide to Procurement using BIM and PTI. This document may prove more valuable to assisting industry stakeholders in their adoption and implementation investments and strategies. It will also add further rigour to the Framework’s promise of “a step by step guide” to address the issues and challenges of BIM adoption and project team integration.

Without clear leadership and ownership, however, it is difficult to see how quickly and how extensively a guide will be adopted.

Given that we know that owners are reluctant, why not change the decision stream? Say “Yes” to BIM for the benefit of public asset management and in turn the innovations derived from this Government decision will see private sector owners choose BIM and industry stakeholders innovate and evolve or disappear. After all, public sector construction work is only 9.8 per cent of our industry as a whole – just $21 billion. The chance to improve productivity and output by influencing the other 90.2 per cent of our industry is too big of a chance to pass up.

Only after there is a “Yes” can industry turn its mind to the “how,” like engaging with educational institutions to pave the way for our future technology disruptors to emerge and improve the processes and lead Australia in the advancement of BIM and PTI.

[1] 8762.0 Engineering Construction Activity, Australia – Total Value of Work Done; 8731.0 Building Approvals, Australia – Total Value of Building Jobs Public & Private Sectors (Sept 2014).
[2] 5206.0 Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product (Sep 2014
[3] 6291.0.55.003 Labour Force, Australia (Nov 2014)
[4] Cabinet Office, Government Construction Strategy (May 2011)