Ensuring Australia's future in BIM

Rebecca De Cicco , 14 October 2016

It’s essential that Australia has a consistent approach towards BIM implementation, ensuring its future growth can support international opportunities, argues Rebecca De Cicco.

Globally a variety of BIM implementation policies drive and promote change throughout the built environment. Rapidly developing international standards aim to ensure coherent and consistent approaches across jurisdictions. It is imperative that Australia acknowledges, utilises and addresses these changes. Developing a coherent, consistent approach within Australia, based on international standards, will enable the country to work on the global stage and achieve greater integration with other regions. This will aid the growth of the Australian economy and provide strong opportunities for the export of trade and skills, thereby establishing Australia as a leader in BIM-related processes and procedures.

Disjointed Implementation

Unfortunately, in terms of Australian BIM implementation, we are seeing a disjointed, varied and somewhat naïve approach, both nationally and locally. Individual government departments – at both federal and state levels – aim to promote, acknowledge or create an opportunity for BIM. This fragmented approach is a waste of resources, yet there is no real driver for a federal mandate.

In addition to the poor direction from government, cultural variations in regions within Australia are driving our industry even further from a unified BIM solution. It is a shame that we are not pursuing an approach through tried and tested methods such as the rapidly advanced UK and Scottish BIM implementation. There is also resistance to using ‘standards’ to drive a consistent approach in Australia, resulting in a variety of disjointed methods on projects of different types and scales.

With a relatively small industry in Australia, there is huge potential to drive efficiencies and improve processes, as we are agile and equipped for change. Influencing and changing the future of an industry that is the third of the size of the UK seems a no-brainer. However, in our small and geographically isolated nation, the cultural approach towards this seems to be ‘why do we need to?’ Having lived and worked in both the UK and Australia, I believe our approach to innovation must look outward, not inward. The built environment is a sector with huge global growth opportunities and there is enormous potential to grow local business with these international opportunities firmly in mind.

BIM in the UK

The main driver for a consistent approach to BIM adoption in the UK is the Government Construction Strategy, which was released in 2011. This provides an advanced strategy and vision, and mandates a variety of solutions. The UK government also has a clear focus on export, as exporting skills and expertise will ultimately lead to opportunities.

The challenge now is to follow through with hands-on, practical implementation, and to educate the almost three million people in construction-related employment. This will ensure that the country has the skills, knowledge and required processes to deliver on the incentive provided by the Government Construction Strategy. This is a work in progress, with reports focusing on the softer elements for BIM integration, such as enabling skills and education at a young age.

These are documented in the report ‘Construction 2025’. Released in the UK in 2013, this report explores how government and industry can support future growth and employment in the sector. It includes overall strategies that would positively affect the future of the industry, such as incentivising people, utilising smart technologies and sustainable methods, growth across the economy and strong leadership within government. These are established as key priorities that will ultimately support BIM and a greater digitisation of the built environment.

The UK government is focusing on ensuring that the industry is equipped with the relevant skills and capabilities. Recently formed groups, such as the UKBIM Alliance and WomeninBIM, now work globally to support growing a more diverse sector in regard to people and technologies.

Opportunities for Australia

Australia has a great opportunity to benefit from the UK experience (and without the Brexit conundrum!). There is a clear path to both review and improve the way the construction industry here functions, and to participate in a global context. There are great export opportunities for Australia to larger and economically stronger regions throughout the world. For example, skills shortages in the UK are at critical levels – simply put, they will need to source these skills from somewhere else! The opportunity to source them from regions such as Australia are great, if Australians are well-versed in international adoption methods.  

A prime example is the development of the international standard (now almost complete) focused on the importance of Information Management utilising BIM, ISO19650. This standard is being developed to ensure a level of consistency across the built environment globally in regard to BIM, and will aid the move to an internationally unified solution.

Australians are agile, young and technology savvy, and it would be a shame if our lack of a unified approach to BIM hinders both our own industry and our ability to work on a global stage. The time is now – to change, influence and grow our economy, and ensure our sector stands as a leader within it.

Rebecca De Cicco is Director of Digital Node Ltd / UK and Australia, a BIM consultancy with a focus on design, technology and innovation and a founder of Women in BIM.