Explainers

BIM bytes: An opportunity for subcontractors

2 February 2014 | By Assad Maqbool, partner, Trowers & Hamlins

Those that are focused solely on the risks of BIM are missing the opportunities presented by the greater collaborative working that BIM encourages.– Assad Maqbool

The increasing prevalence of BIM is a both a risk and an opportunity for subcontractors. Handled well, subcontractors can have the most to gain from the shift in emphasis in the industry of which BIM is part.

The construction industry in general has a skills and training deficit. Subcontractors will feel the potential for loss of market share if they do not upskill to ensure that they are able to provide works and services in a BIM environment.

Equally, there is an opportunity to invest and develop BIM offerings to market and thereby gain new work. SMEs have a decision to make as to whether this particular investment in skills is necessary and profitable in the context of the supply chains of which they are part.

Part of that value-for-money decision is driven by the uncertainty about what investment is actually going to be necessary to sustain market position and what investment will be wasted: for example, which software is the Betamax and which the VHS? Again, the whole industry is in a similar position in terms of the bedding-down and standardisation of processes. However, subcontractors are arguably in a more vulnerable position because they are less able to influence project strategies and are subject to the whim of the employer, main contractor, or lead designer.

That whim is most keenly felt because of the disparity in the way in which clients are procuring projects. Some clients’ procurements remain unchanged save for a simple addition of “you shall BIM!”, whereas others have detailed requirements as to how BIM should be incorporated as part of the overall project and procurement strategy. Much of this variance is down to differences in knowledge and familiarity, which again presents an opportunity for subcontractors to lead in informing project teams as to the best way to use BIM, before clients have their own rigid requirements.

To the extent that requirements and procurements are poorly strategised, as always, main contractors will look to pass down those risks as far as possible.

However, the real boon for subcontractors is that if BIM is to be properly integrated into a project there will need to be an orderly pre-construction process and subcontractors will need to be engaged early to provide input in an environment of “build it twice” (once digitally and once physically). This should give subcontractors an opportunity to add value at an early stage. Equally, the point of BIM is in part to avoid construction risks that subcontractors would traditionally find themselves saddled with.

Those that are focused solely on the risks of BIM are missing the opportunities presented by the greater collaborative working that BIM encourages.