Analysis

It’s time for a joined up approach on certification

19 September 2016 | By Dan Rossiter

BIM certification is now established, so perhaps the providers themselves should gain UKAS accreditation, says Dan Rossiter, senior BIM communicator at BRE.

BIM certification is quickly transitioning from a niche qualification to an established and recognised industry benchmark. At the time of writing, I am able to identify 32 different organisations that have achieved business certification in BIM from four different providers: 16 from BRE Global, eight with BSI, four with Lloyd’s Register, and a further four with Ocean Certification. And, of course, there are many more currently being processed.

The impact of these schemes has been notable. BIM was mandated by central government as it was hypothesised that it would allow the government to achieve improvements in the cost, value, and carbon performance of its assets.

A key factor then is to ensure the capability and capacity of the supply chain to achieve these improvements. Certification schemes have been developed to achieve this by allowing organisations to present an independent assessment of their organisation as evidence of capability. This is also reflected within PAS 91 as BIM certification is included as an allowable exemption from table 8.

As an auditor for a BIM certification scheme, I often speak to organisations that we have audited, as well as those we have not (we are still friends despite the loss of business!). Consistently, I am hearing the benefits of PQQ exemptions, particularly from organisations whose work is mostly through the public sector to the point where the cost of certification is more than recovered through the time saved, in many cases providing a ROI of less than 12 months.

There is also growing evidence of an additional business benefit. I am often told that to complete BIM certification organisations conduct an internal review of their processes, during which they identify weaknesses and make improvements. This not only paves the way to BIM certification but also to greater efficiency through improved business processes. 

More interesting, however, are the conversations I have with organisations who are not certified. 

It appears that failing to win work is a key trigger to investigating certification. Following the initiation of the BIM Level 2 mandate earlier this year, clients have been steadily becoming better informed around BIM, as a consequence the ability to demonstrate BIM competency can (and has been) the determining factor as to whether an organisation is successful when tendering for a project.

Many of the Tier 1 contractors already certificated dominate the national frameworks, meaning that their certification is providing them with a competitive advantage against their competitors who do not.

It appears then that the question isn’t “can you afford to be certificated?”, but rather “can you afford not to be certificated?”. However, there are of course some outstanding issues around certification.

Each of the current certification schemes has been developed independently, with no oversight or accreditation from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). This is not uncommon, and does not suggest the schemes are substandard in any way, not least because the aforementioned providers also provide UKAS-accredited services in related areas. However, what about any future certification schemes from other unaccredited organisations? Some oversight from UKAS would help ensure that future schemes are similarly robust and joined up.

There is also an issue around language. Currently there is much confusion around terms such as verification, accreditation, and certification. ISO 17000 defines certification as an attestation of products, processes, systems or persons; and accreditation as attestation of an assessment body. There is however, no definition of verification; providing confusion within the industry as to whether organisations need to be accredited, verified, or certificated.

With central government’s target of validating information received from the supply chain from October this year, it is clear that the benefits of demonstrating BIM capability will only increase. 

I am sure that all of the aforementioned BIM certification providers would welcome the opportunity to be UKAS accredited (or equivalent). As with any product, person, or service; there is real value in being validated through an independent assessment.