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There has been significant praise heaped upon the UK government for its building information modelling (BIM) adoption strategy. “The UK’s approach to BIM is seen as the model by the rest of the world,” said Gavin Bonner, Global BIM Manager at Cundall.
Its mandate on BIM use in all public sector projects has driven the adoption of the technology across the UK construction sector. However, some are now beginning to suggest that this strategy may be causing fragmentation rather than facilitating collaboration as it intends.
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.
“If BIM is about collaborative working, managing information and 3D geometry, which bit is causing the problems?” asks Anne Kemp, director of BIM at Atkins. “If the technology takes care of the 3D part and there are processes and tools to manage information, then is the concept of working closer together with partners and suppliers the real challenge?” she continues.
It is these questions that led Kemp and others to establish the UK BIM Alliance, a group of around 50 organisations and BIM promoters, such as the BIM4 Group and BIM Regions, with the aim of maintaining momentum on Level 2. Whereas, the UK BIM Task Group (re-forming as Digital Built Britain) is largely focused on defining Level 3.
“The more I get involved in BIM, the more I believe this to be the case. You may be asking why the country needs another BIM group, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s still much work to be done. This is especially the case now that the government wants to make BIM Level 2 ‘business as usual’ by 2020 across the private, as well as the public sector,” states Kemp.
It is exactly this which has prompted Kemp and others to diagnose a fragmentation problem in the sector. Not simply between companies vying for public sector projects and those more interested in the private sector, but also between designers, owners and other elements of the early construction process.
“Those working at the front end of the design/build/operate cycle say that clients, owners and facilities managers are either not aware of BIM or simply don’t care about it – and don’t even look at the building model,” Kemp points out. “Architects and engineers would like more input from them, particularly around the issue of how much data the model should hold, what they will find useful and what is superfluous.”
BIM’s collaborative elements also depend on early and late stage players in the construction process to come together, however many clients wait until design stages are finished before selecting later stage construction partners – making it impossible to enable vertical collaboration along the timeline of the project.
Clients “also see current procurement processes as a barrier, making it difficult for a client to ‘buy’ a collaborative approach. Often clients don’t decide who will carry out the later construction and final management of the building until way downstream, leaving it too late for the M&E team, for example, to have any influence on the design,” explained Kemp.
There is another prohibitive factor that Kemp, Chair for the UK BIM Alliance, would like to address. Building owners and facility managers, on the whole, find BIM and the options surrounding our transition to smart buildings, far too technical. They are essentially just interested in the business case for implementation. The UK government soft landings initiative made it clear that these parties are an important part of the BIM transformation, yet overly technical processes hold them back.
“There’s much detailed BIM talk by evangelists that most people, including facility managers, find too technical. Facility managers are concerned by their own ‘proptech’ issues, not least the huge impact of smart buildings and the internet of things,” suggests Kemp while outlining the UK BIM Alliance’s key objectives.
“Crucially, most owners and facility managers are still sceptical about standards and formats such as CoBIE and there is minimal evidence of take-up at handover stage. So there needs to be much more collaboration around how it will be implemented. In other words there is often too much emphasis on the technical side and creating very complex building standards and not enough on the value proposition.”