As the construction industry in Australia continues in its efforts to derive maximum value from Building Information Modelling (BIM), a recent report provides an interesting snapshot on how our industry is progressing overall and what we need to do going forward.

Analysing survey data collected from construction firms in nine of the world’s top construction markets, the Business Value of BIM for Construction in Major Global Markets report released by McGraw Hill Construction earlier this month highlights a number of areas where important progress has been made in Australia but demonstrates that more needs to be done in order to unleash the full power of BIM as a transformative tool.

Importantly, the report suggests that despite having been slower than their counterparts in the US and Britain in adopting BIM initially, contractors in Australia some other countries are now catching up and overtaking these early adopters.

Whilst virtual coordination among trades and communicating the design intent remain among the top-valued pre-construction activities for use the technology, major uses of BIM amongst contractors include multi-trade coordination, modelling for constructability, determining quantities from a model and schedule (4D) and cost (5D) integration.

The report also highlighted differing uses for BIM amongst different types and sizes of contractors. Whilst general contractors were more active (compared with contractors overall) in their preference for visualisation of design intent, for example, trade contractors were more active in using BIM to determine quantities from a model.

Also, relative to contractors overall, large contractors make greater use of BIM for multi-trade coordination and virtual job site planning and logistics.

Encouragingly, the study indicates that Australian and New Zealand contractors are slightly ahead of the game in terms of deriving business benefits from investment in BIM in some areas, albeit with our market needing more time and experience to match benefits claimed by contractors overseas in other areas.

So what does all this mean?

ACIF and its government counterpart the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) have long argued that the full benefits of BIM as a tool for enhanced productivity cannot be realised without re-thinking the selection and management of project teams. The push for project team integration to allow bespoke trade contractors (those producing unique elements whether structural, façade or services) to better contribute to design is gaining momentum here and in other countries, but as the report shows, it still has a long way to go.

Collaboration amongst members of project teams in the construction industry is a good thing. It is a vital input to efficiency and productivity, reduction in wasted effort, and minimisation of disputes.

BIM will produce best results (design to achieve project sponsors’ objectives, minimal changes, optimal buildability, designed-in operational efficiency) when all those who can contribute are involved in designing and planning for the work they will perform for the project.

Having a main contractor/project manager and bespoke trade contractors as part of an integrated team driving collaborative use of BIM, means they can ‘pull’ the design documentation they need to install, and commission. The wasteful ‘business as usual’ approach is to ‘push’ on to them the documentation designers think they need or are accustomed to producing.

This in turn means that designers should have more time, and fees, to produce what is needed and valued, without wasteful iterations of documentation that are not needed.

There is a large gap between best and least use of BIM to drive more efficient pre-construction activities. In the US, 82 per cent of contractors treat multi-trade coordination as a top pre-construction activity, compared to 28 per cent in Germany. The Australian position will be released in a dedicated Australian report expected early in 2014. If the results are closer to the German numbers than the US results, we have a big job to do.