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China is an opportunity to sell UK’s BIM expertise

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Rebecca de Cicco, director of Digital Node, outlines how China is meeting the challenge of BIM adoption and the implications for the UK.

China has seen astonishing growth over the last few decades, catapulting it to second place behind the US as a major economic superpower. And while the vast majority of China’s people live in rural areas, with agriculture remaining a key element of the economy, there are millions of Chinese migrating to their mega-cities to find work and a better way of life.

Take Shenzhen, for example, which, over the last four decades, has grown from a small fishing village into a major financial and technology hub creating work, and massive construction projects. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), of the 128 buildings above 200 metres tall that were completed in the world last year, 70% were in China, with 11 being in Shenzhen alone.

It’s perhaps not surprising then that the adoption of better project controls like BIM is fuelling greater interest within the Chinese construction sector.

Government support

As with many countries, the construction industry in China remains fragmented. Successful BIM implementation requires a consolidated approach toward the development of standards and a framework to support a national incentive, but the Chinese still have a way to go and are not in the same position as the UK regarding being pushed by the government.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) is the key government agency that is driving BIM adoption. They produced the 12th Five-Year Plan for the period from 2011 to 2015 that included BIM standards and adoption. However, because the “BIM policy” was seen as merely a suggestion and not mandatory, the level of take-up by the public and private sectors was not broadly accepted.

Greater progress has since been made with the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) as the “BIM policy” has now included the BIM lifecycle where the adoption of BIM will be driven by the government.

The plan is lengthy and outlines the key areas for digital transactions, innovations and technology. It includes various BIM-related policies that incorporate the need to develop guidelines and standards for the industry, how to apply BIM, and to assess implementation so that by 2020, BIM will be “business as usual”.

The Chinese version of BIM

As the Chinese look to what BIM means for them, they are looking closely at how other countries are developing and implementing processes and standards.

As the UK is quite advanced in its level of maturity, they are particularly interested in lessons that can be learnt and adapted to suit their requirements. By no means do I believe they would simply adopt the UK Maturity index, even though it is one of the most exemplar regions.

I also doubt they would adequately utilise the development of the ISO – largely due to the isolated nature of their culture – but I do believe they will ensure a deep understanding of the British and international experiences through training to develop their own solutions to support industry.

The challenges

This first challenge around education and training sees heavy investment. I visited China in December, along with the University of Nottingham and BSI, to deliver training aligned to the UK government’s definition of BIM Level 2 to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD).

EMSD is a Hong Kong government department responsible for the inspection and enforcement of operation and safety of many electricity and gas installations, railways and trams, working platforms on building sites, and many other diverse areas.

Having lived and worked in the UK for 10 years, I now travel a great deal and have seen the challenges of adopting the UK framework. There are cultural challenges, the terminology is different, there are different processes, and plans of work and the structure of businesses are different.

And while we will be delivering the UK experience – providing a basic knowledge of the UK methodology (for example, PAS 1192 parts two and three) – the Chinese will undoubtedly create their own.

Exporting our skills

The UK is at the forefront of the solution towards the consolidation of method and approach, but are still suffering from skills shortages internally. For those companies that are driving BIM and BIM Level 2 in the UK, I believe they will see benefits from being able to partner with Chinese companies to tender for large-scale building and infrastructure projects.

I suspect though that there is a small window of opportunity to export our skills, as by then, the Chinese government will have a more consolidated approach and plan for BIM adoption and training. Having said this, we may see a surge of UK standards-specific training in the next 12-18 months.

The UK has a great BIM framework and its been a global exemplar nation regarding BIM adoption, but, there are still challenges based on regional cultural implications, scale, or government structure. It’s not as easy as saying any one country can simply adopt British standards. This is why the ISO being developed is crucial for a more consolidated approach to BIM language and process.

The UK is currently in a good position, but other countries around the world must address their internal needs, historical framework and existing standards which are now being developed inconsistenly.

For those companies that are driving BIM and BIM Level 2 in the UK, I believe they will see benefits from being able to partner with Chinese companies to tender for large-scale building and infrastructure projects.– Rebecca de Cicco, Digital Node