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Mayfield School in Kent was delivered to BIM Level 2 by Ramboll. Image: Hufton+Crow

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Interview: Ramboll’s Graham Stewart

‘We are at the point where BIM is routine’

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BIM is becoming routine at Ramboll, but some companies are overselling BIM to clients, says Graham H Stewart, UK head of BIM at Ramboll.

Back in 2012 Ramboll set a target of measuring quality and efficiency in BIM with an aim to improve by 15% by 2015. Have you hit that target?

Yes we have, but getting the data to define the precise percentage is very difficult. When we set this target we didn’t realise how difficult it would be to measure. I think it was important that we had something to work towards, but now we have truly invested in BIM we realise that measurement is extremely hard. It is like comparing apples and pears as every building is different, there are so many factors and variables involved.

Another aim was to make BIM routine by 2015. Did you achieve this?

Almost. We are at the point where BIM has become routine in all but a very few parts of our UK business. We have been working in 3D for perhaps 20 years, so we’ve always had a semi-BIM culture.

We have been upskilling the workforce over the past four years by bringing in training and skills and this year, due to the government mandate, there is a real increased focus on BIM across the business – it’s one of the key elements of our business plan for 2016.

We have set up BIM leaders in all teams and created a virtual support network. Now we are taking the next step and rolling out BIM awareness training to every one of our 800 technical staff in the UK in the first half of 2016.

What areas of the business took longest to implement BIM?

Our structures team was always ahead of the pack really and probably inevitably led the way, so more focus has recently gone into training our MEP, transport and infrastructure teams to get the skill levels aligned.

As an international company how is BIM being embedded globally?

Over the past year Ramboll Group has been developing and implementing a strategy that will incorporate the whole of Ramboll’s business. In the UK we have concentrated on getting it right here and we are now sharing that experience with our colleagues overseas to help build a global approach.

There is a lot to learn from the progress that has been made in all our global offices and we are all contributing to this project. For example, our Nordic colleagues have pushed ahead with Industry Foundation classes (IFC), so there is a lot we can all learn from each other.

The key part of the strategy is to standardise our approach across all our offices and teams, which have all been moving at different rates. We are aiming to create a baseline strategy that will work in all offices in all countries and then develop plug-ins that will allow for regional and other variances.

What reaction are you experiencing from clients?

Clients are utilising varying degrees of BIM. A lot of clients say they want BIM, but often they don’t know exactly what they want. We work hard to manage clients’ expectations, they hear about the government mandate and want to use BIM, we help them on that journey.

How do you ensure clients get the right level of BIM?

It is easy to sell some clients on the BIM dream and some clients have experience of being sold a little short. Clients have come to us on occasions after talking to other professionals being convinced that they need COBie data sheets etc when realistically these will just end up in the bottom of a drawer.

What we need to do is manage client capabilities. Obviously we can work with them to build their capabilities, but we should only be providing them with data they can and will use. It’s all about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. That’s what we specialise in doing.

So are companies over-encouraging the use of BIM?

I have seen this happen. I think everyone, contractors, consultants, engineers and architects, need to be mindful that these are not our projects, they are the client’s projects. We need to make sure we are not using and pushing BIM unnecessarily. At Ramboll we would talk to the client to understand their needs. Often we recommend utilising BIM, however, in some cases it may not be needed and just designing in 3D, and not providing some of this detail, will be more appropriate. Basically, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t deliver it.

Is Ramboll leading on BIM and what companies are falling behind?

Leading, who knows, perhaps not? What I would say is that  we are ahead of the curve, which is where we want to be. If you are leading then you potentially have much higher R&D costs. At the moment we are right where we want to be.

As far as the industry goes I’d say that a lot of Tier 2 contractors are perhaps falling  behind. The Tier 1 contractors are really upping their game and the architects are now really pushing BIM as well, but the supply chain still has a lot of work to do to keep up. The industry needs to demonstrate the value to these companies as they are almost becoming the missing link.

It is easy to sell some clients on the BIM dream and some have experience of being sold a little short. Clients have come to us on occasions after talking to other professionals being convinced that they need COBie data sheets etc when realistically these will just end up in the bottom of a drawer.– Graham H Stewart, Ramboll.