The Contrasting Approaches to BIM Adoption in The US & UK
“On my travels around the world – in the Middle East, the US, China and Hong Kong, for example – I always hear the UK Building Information Modelling (BIM) mandate mentioned as a model for public sector construction projects, and we’ll shortly see other countries copying our structured approach,” predicts Gavin Bonner, Global BIM Manager at Cundall.
The UK government currently mandates that all centrally-procured projects be delivered using BIM level 2, which involves developing building information in a collaborative 3D environment with data attached, created in separate discipline models. In their 2016 Budget Announcement, the ruling party also made clear its strong intention to push its construction sector onto BIM level 3 in the not so distant future.
Across the pond, in the US, the culture around building is very different however, namely in its decentralized nature in comparison to the UK. “There isn’t a prescribed structure for [a common set of government practices],” said Roger Grant, program director at the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). “We don’t have one agency responsible for all construction like the UK.”
NIBS is a not-for-profit NGO whose aim is to help make buildings safer and less expensive by bringing together all stakeholders; government, industry, labour, and consumers. They have developed a National BIM Standard for the US and frequently publish updates on BIM best practices. Their downloadable standards have become popular across the world but they have struggled to reach the mainstream their own country. “It can be difficult to get multiple parties to agree on standards when they’ve all developed their own,” says Grant.
US companies were actually early BIM adopters, by and large, but early-stage problems slowed adoption. Since then many other countries, like the UK, have surpassed the US in terms of BIM adoption and especially in terms of government standardization. In the UK mandates have encouraged the construction industry to adopt and use BIM more widely, which in turn led to 15% to 20% construction cost savings from 2009 to 2015.
More recently, a survey within the NBS National BIM Report 2017 suggests a growing impatience and frustration with implementation of BIM in the UK’s public sector. The majority of the respondents claim that many clients in both the private and public sectors do not understand BIM’s benefits, or have an uncoordinated approach to documentation. The survey results suggest that the UK is not a leader for BIM, standing in direct contrast to Bonner’s comments.
“While there is much truth in these claims, I believe we need a more mature perspective on the great strides we have taken to make BIM a foundation of the construction industry. In fact, I’d go further, and assert that the UK’s approach to BIM is seen as the model by the rest of the world,” Bonner stated in reaction to the survey.
Back in the US, there is a growing feeling that the UK style of fostering BIM is just not right for them, and they prefer to implement BIM on a company-by-company, or even a project-by-project basis. “Many are using BIM, and leveraging the values of it in tangible ways,” said Aaron Maller, director of US-based Parallax Team. “What isn’t happening in the US is a country-wide debate, a club-style academic exercise over BIM standards, mandates or requirements, where everyone tries to agree on one ‘hypothetical’ set of standards by which projects will happen.”
This bottom-up approach also has many merits over the UK’s top-down method, like encouraging innovation that can then further develop BIM for a wide range of different projects. Such innovation would be hindered with centralized control strategies such as the government mandate in the UK. “The innovation you are seeing is happening in the larger firms that work in multiple offices,” said Steve Jones, Senior Director of Dodge Data & Analytics, as part of the Zigurat 2017 report on the state of BIM in the US.
“They are now getting smart about picking up on what the other offices are doing and you are seeing these ideas go viral. These ideas will get implemented on projects in those offices, which in turn helps them go viral in those markets. When the project finishes, others begin to copy it,” Jones added. “That’s kind of the viral method that happens here as opposed to the UK, where basically a program gets laid out per the standard and people primarily learn how to do it that way.”
In fact, many in the UK would prefer such an open system rather than the prescribed approach they currently work under. The so-called “model for BIM development” has an increasing number of doubter within its own ranks. “That kind of openness is much-needed at a time when digital innovation is moving at a rapid pace,” said Rebecca De Cicco, director and founder of British BIM consultancy Digital Node. “The UK could perhaps learn an important lesson from our American cousins in that regard.”
The main reason behind the UK BIM mandate is to encourage adoption, in order to foster greater speed and efficiency in the construction sector. So despite fears over a lack of innovation, the mandate has served its objectives, although the UK would be wise to address the innovation issue and build flexibility into its approach.
Equally, the US maybe be benefiting from a decentralized freedom which breeds innovation but BIM adoption is low and the efficiency gains that come with it are not being realized by the majority of the construction sector. A recent survey in the US by Dodge Data & Analytics demonstrated that contractors that do employ BIM are seeing a 5% reduction in construction costs, a 5% increase in the speed of completion, and a 25% improvement in labor productivity.
These two contrasting approaches to BIM have a lot to learn from one another, while other markets should learn from the differences, pitfalls and merits of each system. There is no doubt that BIM has a lot to offer the construction sector, therefore encouraging adoption will bring about those benefits quicker. However, not at the expense of innovation, which is a fundamental force for any industry.
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