What does it take to persuade clients of the industry that BIM is a good idea?

Plainly, more must be done than we have been able to do so far, given the reluctance of many, including public sector clients, to require architects to produce a model, or constructors to develop and implement a BIM management plan. So what’s the problem? What are the challenges?

There are a few which can be grouped under five headings.

  1. Communication – we haven’t done as good a job as an industry as we might have to explain the tool and its benefits.
  2. Investment cost – many of us (designers and constructors) haven’t yet been confident enough of the business case for BIM to make the investment in hardware, software and training.
  3. Methodology – we’re still waiting for comprehensible object libraries, complete interoperability between different software platforms, industry standard contracts, and clarity of roles and responsibilities in collaborative design involving constructors and trade contractors.
  4. Skills – we need to buy in or learn different skills.
  5. Policy – clients are working through the issues associated with collaborative design processes, particularly when constructors are engaged before design is settled to become member of integrated project teams.

Clients of the industry are approaching adoption of BIM, and the option of encouraging greater project team integration, with caution. Whilst the challenges listed above are being addressed, primarily by industry, it is understandable that clients are reluctant, for example, to simply mandate use of BIM as a design and construction or asset management tool on their projects.

In the public sector, each jurisdiction and the agencies within them are moving at their own pace to adopt BIM as a tool to design and construct assets, and to manage them after they are commissioned. Some agencies are more advanced than others; those that regularly commission projects to deliver new or refurbished assets, and have significant asset portfolios to manage (including Defence, health and education agencies) are more advanced in their thinking and development of internal policies and processes.

BIM used in the Royal Artillery Barracks (UK)

BIM used in the Royal Artillery Barracks (UK)

Key issues for public sector agencies include:

  • assessing whether the costs of requiring the delivery and use of BIM models are outweighed by the asset whole of life benefits;
  • identifying minimum threshold values of projects on which to require use of BIM to design, construct or manage assets;
  • assessing whether local suppliers (designers and constructors and asset managers) have the skills and resources to build and use BIM models;
  • ensuring smaller firms – whether designers or other consultants, or constructors – that are slower than others in using BIM are not disadvantaged;
  • determining whether existing legislation, policies, or procedures are flexible enough to allow the early appointment of constructors to project teams to be part of the design process; and determining the extent to which internal BIM or other project management capability is required when requiring the delivery and use of BIM models by suppliers.

Other related issues arise in considering the scope for government agencies and private sector clients to encourage those suppliers to bid for design or construction work and then carry it out using teams that integrate designers, trade contractors, and head contractors. The conventional approach common to most project delivery strategies, involves design work being undertaken by designers appointed by a client sufficient to enable the client to seek proposals and prices to construct an asset. This approach leads to constructors (including trade contractors who provide a head contractor with sub-contract proposals) being excluded from initial design.

If a different approach is taken, regardless of the project delivery strategy selected, and constructors (including relevant trade contractors) are involved in initial design as part of an integrated design team, the power of BIM to facilitate more effective collaboration focused on meeting client objectives is optimised. This approach may challenge existing policies and procedures to ensure the selection of suppliers is transparent and deliver value for money, and alternative policies and procedures to be put in place. Again, clients whether public or private are addressing these issues in different ways. Guides produced by ACIF and its government counterpart, Australasian Procurement and Construction Council, identify the issues and suggest alternatives that have been tried elsewhere to inform those who are working in this field.

Because agencies in each jurisdiction are proceeding at their own pace, it is beyond the scope of this guide to recommend or suggest uniform strategies for jurisdictions, or for matter private sector clients, to adopt BIM more widely.

The 2014 McGraw Hill reports on use of BIM globally and in Australia point to the growing adoption of BIM by designers and constructors as a tool because of its efficiencies and cost benefits. It is likely that once the initial investment in systems and skills is made, BIM models and their use will be offered as a competitive advantage by early adopters, and eventually as a matter of course by all firms who wish to continue as suppliers.

It is reasonable to assume that the rate of adoption of the tool will be increased as the number of clients requiring it grows. The challenges presently being considered by clients may indeed have a default response – industry will simply make BIM, and greater use of more effective project integration, part of its business-as-usual kitbag of tools.

The rate at which this happens will be accelerated now with the release of A Framework for the Adoption of Project Team Integration and Building Information Modelling by ACIF and its government counterpart, the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council. The framework provides a step by step guide to the issues and challenges, and solutions, to adoption of BIM and greater Project Team Integration to drive the BIM modelling and management tools. The framework and other productivity Guides can be downloaded free of charge here.