Analysis

Are clients’ BIM glasses half full or half empty?

28 April 2016 | By Ben Wallbank, Viewpoint

Are the results of our white paper – BIM: What Clients Really Think – positive or negative, asks Ben Wallbank, BIM strategy manager at Viewpoint.

When you watch re-runs of Dad’s Army do you believe Private Frazer when he informs the platoon that “we’re doomed!” or do you laugh?  

From my perspective the UK Construction Industry is doing very well in moving towards BIM Level 2 – just look how far, and how fast, we have come since 2011. Yet, earlier this month when I sat on a round table discussion at the BRE’s BIM Prospects conference in London the doom and gloom was palpable. 

In an industry employing a workforce of 2.1 million people the change required to achieve BIM Level 2 is a challenge. We still have huge numbers of the supply chain to train up, there is not enough certified training, COBie skills are low, people are struggling with standards and some standards are not fully aligned. And, most importantly, people were saying that clients don’t know how to commission BIM, which of course will limit BIM adoption.

In response to the industry concerns about clients, we recently supported the CIOB and BIM+ white paper, BIM: What Clients Really Think.

It’s quite a dense read, but full of fascinating facts, figures and opinion, some negative and some positive. I read it and was pleasantly surprised at the results. However, I fear that some will look at the figures and that well-established British character trait would again rear its head with cries of “we’re doomed!”

So why am I filled with optimism?

The white paper is a survey of all client types, not just government. BIM is only mandated for the eight major government commissioning departments, not for the private sector. The strategy was always that this would “pull” the market and that a private sector “push” would follow. 

Although those delivering government-procured projects are more obviously and immediately affected by the mandate, the survey results indicate to me that the astute players within private client groups have realised that as the wider industry adopts these new technologies, they too will benefit from reduced cost and risk.

Private sector clients who retain responsibility for their assets are actively redefining their deliverables to include asset information. This information can only be produced efficiently by generating most of the data from a Building Information Model. 

Of course, not all construction clients have long-term interests in their assets – developer clients commission many projects. Ultimately, all the developer clients need worry about is selling or letting a new development. Why should a developer client bother asking for BIM deliverables? My expectation was therefore that the survey results would reflect low levels of adoption and understanding currently. While there was a bit of this it was less marked than I expected.

Finding that more than 50% of the clients have already been involved in projects with BIM Level 2 deliverables is a huge surprise (remember Level 2 includes the production of digital structured asset data). 

There is an understanding from the clients that they, like the rest of us, need education and training with 74% saying that BIM-experienced clients are needed to make the benefits materialise.

Even more surprisingly, a majority of clients think that the benefits of BIM at the operational phase are already materialising with 65% of believing that BIM will be a catalyst for more and better collaboration. A further 53% think better margins and productivity will be achieved through BIM. 

Given the huge amount of work that we are putting into COBie, the fact that the mandate has only just come into force and that many respondents will be developers with little interest in whole-life asset data, the biggest surprise is COBie, with 20% of clients already having it embedded in the capital delivery phase. 

This is good news indeed. Some of the negative comments actually reveal an understanding that a client needs to define what parts of their asset are maintainable and require COBie data. 

Given where we are in BIM implementation I think these are remarkable results. 

The industry depends upon its clients. Though the white paper illustrates that (as with the rest of BIM Level 2 adoption) we still have a long way to go, when I raise my glass to our clients I can emphatically say it’s half full, not half empty.

Private sector clients who retain responsibility for their assets are actively redefining their deliverables to include asset information. This information can only be produced efficiently by generating most of the data from a Building Information Model.– Ben Wallbank, Viewpoint