To BIM or not to BIM? What a Question!

Peter Barda , 4 November 2014

Peter Barda considers the uptake of BIM, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

What does it take to persuade clients of the construction industry that BIM is a good idea? Plainly more than we have been able to do so far, given the reluctance of many – including public sector clients – to request architects to produce a model, or constructors to develop and implement a BIM management plan. So, what’s the problem?

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

Communication

As an industry, we haven’t done a great job explaining the tool and its benefits.

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.

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.

Skills

We need to buy in or learn different skills.

Policy

Clients are still working through the issues associated with collaborative design processes, particularly when constructors are engaged as a member of integrated project teams before design is settled.

These challenges are being addressed, primarily by the industry. Clients, however, are understandably approaching adoption of BIM, and the option of encouraging greater project team integration, with caution. There is some reluctance to adopt BIM as a tool to design and construct assets, and to manage them after they are commissioned. 

In the public sector, each jurisdiction and the agencies within them are moving at their own pace. 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, are more advanced in their thinking and development of internal policies and processes. Agencies at the forefront include those for defence, health and education. 

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’s whole-of-life benefits.
  • Identifying minimum threshold values of projects on which to require the use of BIM for designing, constructing or managing assets.
  • Assessing whether local suppliers (designers and constructors and asset managers) have the skills and resources to build and use BIM models.
  • Ensuring that 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.
  • 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 that government agencies and private sector clients have to encourage those bidding for design or construction work to use teams that integrate designers, trade contractors and head contractors.

The conventional approach to project delivery involves design work being undertaken by designers sufficient to enable the client to seek proposals and prices to construct an asset. This excludes constructors (including trade contractors who provide a head contractor with sub-contract proposals) from initial design. 

A different approach is needed if we are to optimise the power of BIM to facilitate more effective collaboration focused on meeting client objectives is optimised. This alternative involves constructors (including relevant trade contractors) in the initial design as part of an integrated design team, regardless of the project delivery strategy selected.

This approach may involve challenging existing policies and procedures, which aim to ensure that the selection of suppliers is transparent and delivers value for money, and implementing alternatives in their place.

Clients, whether public or private, are addressing these issues in different ways and proceeding at their own pace. Nonetheless, the 2014 McGraw Hill reports – The Business Value of BIM in Major Construction Markets and The Business Value of BIM in Australia and New Zealand – point to the increasing adoption of BIM due to 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 BIM will increase 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.  

These challenges, and others are being explored in a Framework for Adoption of Project Team Integration and Building Information Modelling, which is being developed by ACIF and the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council. The framework will be launched on 2 December, and be available for download from www.acif.com.au.

Peter Barda is the executive director of the Australian Construction Industry Forum. 

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