Analysis

Speaking the international language of BIM

3 June 2015 | By Jason Ruddle

Jason Ruddle, managing director of Asta Development, on BIM as the common language of international construction – and how fluency will bring commercial advantages.

A constructed language, such as Esperanto or the lesser-known Interlingua, are consciously devised, rather than naturally occurring. They’re designed for better, more efficient communication; planned, considered and agreed upon – collaborative by their very nature. 

Does that sound at all familiar? It does to us. BIM is also a constructed language in some ways. It certainly has its own lexicon, and rules. It is designed for the exchange of ideas and for better communication. Seeing BIM in this way unlocks a different way of thinking about untapped business opportunity in the international construction sector.

BIM has been placed firmly in an economic growth context by the UK government, under the Digital Built Britain theme for BIM Level 3. It conveys a tacit intent that Britain should lead the world in the ways of BIM, and holds a tantalising potential for BIM to help the sector drive growth and greater economic strength for the UK, by reaching across geographic boundaries.

Driving international growth

Not all countries are as ready as Britain. Early in 2015 the EU Public Procurement Directive saw the first formal vote by the European Commission to modernise processes in the EU with BIM – but it aims to encourage rather than impel change. So far among member states, only the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Norway actually require BIM for centrally-funded public sector building. This ruling does, nevertheless, mark a turning point, which could support the growth of a stronger sector.

The business potential of a more integrated European construction sector includes easier international growth for all parties involved in the BIM workflow. With a unified approach to codifying, sharing and exchanging information in place, starting new operations in a new EU market could be far more efficient and bring to life the equal opportunity to tender for public procurement contracts that is enshrined in EU treaty.

Commercial clients would certainly grasp this: it would free them up to source the world for the best designers and architects. They could look anywhere for tender bids. Contractors could more easily manage projects anywhere, if they knew that local planners, project managers and even subcontractors were “au fait” with BIM. International BIM libraries would grow quickly and naturally, instantly expanding the potential for sourcing specialist components from anywhere.

This process will inevitably accelerate as BIM becomes a more widely understood and practiced approach, and we use it to knock down the communication barriers between countries, as well as between professions.

Shared imperative

We should all be actively participating in the internationalisation of BIM, if we want to secure all the business benefits it delivers. Although a government mandate can give BIM a real push, the biggest impact on its take-up depends on recognition of all parties, including clients, of the benefits of BIM, as well as the easy availability of common standards and technologies to support implementation at every stage. This will include not just those tools widely used for 3D design or for planning and project management, but to those that support all professionals in the work-flow from concept to finished building operations.

We need look only to the momentum that has been achieved in Sweden for evidence of what is possible, even without government mandate. The Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) will demand BIM, starting this year, while Locum, Sweden’s largest healthcare facilities provider, has already started doing so, and is already looking at 25% cost savings and time efficiencies.

Tomas Marklund, international sales director of Consultec Group AB, an Eleco company, told us: “Once the early-stage players, ie property owners and consultants, understands the economic values of BIM and start requesting it as they are starting to do in Nordic countries, BIM will quickly become a standard in the commercial building sector.”

BIM is already stimulating unprecedented voluntary collaboration. Organisations such as BuildingSmart are proactive in driving openness and international discussion. The UK is playing its part: the EU BIM Task Group has embarked on a formal programme of international meetings this year, to confer and try to share best practices with other European BIM groups – amongst which the Swedish BIM Alliance is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very active.

We have, in our own company, actively engaged all our international and European resellers around BIM this year – not only for the purposes of promoting our BIM planning software but to help them support an industry whose needs are changing rapidly.  

International by design

As BIM evolves beyond its early roots, it has the potential to become a lingua franca for our industry. There is precedent: in the space of one generation, English has become the EU region’s undisputed lingua franca, according to some EU observers. They go on to say that it is to be celebrated because it makes “communication quicker and doing business easier. But most of all, it allows Europeans to connect with each other.” 

All the construction industry players of the UK share a responsibility, as well as an opportunity, to help other countries learn the language it is helping to design and develop painstakingly.

Only when we all speak the same language will the construction industry and its customers both unlock the true economic value of BIM.

Jason Ruddle has more than 25 years’ experience in the construction industry delivering key software solutions, products and services to national house-builders, contractors and the supply chain. He was formerly managing director at timber frame manufacturing and engineering software developer, Consultec UK.