3D Views: Preaching to the non-converted

Conversations about BIM often take place among those already committed to BIM, but how to reach the rest of the industry? We asked David Frise, chief executive at the Finishes and Interiors Sector (FIS) trade contractor association, social media strategist Su Butcher, and Raj Chawla, vice chair at BIM4SMEs, on how to bring more people into the BIM conversation.

Instead of preaching to the converted, how can the BIM world engage with people who are not yet using BIM?

SB First, stop using jargon. No abbreviations without explanations! Then we must go to places where our target audience is, and use the tools they use. BIM advocates need to visit existing communities of construction professionals, and listen to them and talk to them there. Third, we have to understand the people we want to involve, and make the case for BIM in their language and their values. People won’t invest in something new just because it’s new – they need facts.

DF The most-often heard response we get from members is that their clients are not asking for BIM on projects. The response is perhaps because you have a large subliminal sign above your door saying: “We don’t do BIM”, so why would they ask you?

We try to place BIM as another manifestation of the digitisation of the industry and that in the same way that you wouldn’t think of working on site without a mobile, in time site information will be in a digital format. If you don’t believe it will happen to you think about Kodak or Nokia for the impact of digitisation on an industry.

RC It is all about clarity and tidying up mixed messages. First, clarity must ensue in the definition of the mandate. Second, the staged delivery of information for use in “construction” must be structured as prescribed in the various process documents and standards. The focus being the ability to migrate this information into a database. If you can do this, you are doing BIM.

There is still a huge impression that software is BIM. For the avoidance of doubt, software is a tool to support the implementation of BIM. When described, not as BIM, but a technological advancement in digitising their business, the reception is very different.

Should we be playing up a particular aspect of BIM more?

SB I think we should focus on aspects that benefit all construction professionals, and therefore would appeal to those who aren’t already advocates. A key one is process efficiencies. Simply by not entering data twice, you’re saving time and money. For example, the Cubicle Centre has made a killing by making its internal processes more efficient using BIM. We could all do that, and it is easier to handle than cross-organisation collaboration.

DF Rather than focusing on technology we should be looking at processes that add no value and in many cases destroy value and remove them if possible or make them work better. In BIM4FitOut we have focused on how contractors will save money through the adoption of BIM. We have initiatives like BID4Free that will set out how members can tender for projects using BIM in a more efficient way. There is no point using BIM to replicate bad practice.

RC There is a lot of hype about cost savings with BIM. The benefits are felt up the food chain but not ordinarily at SME level. What isn’t explained is the savings and benefits due to lean working. If you are doing a task, that takes 10 minutes and now you can do it in 1 minute, you are saving 9 minutes. As they say, time is money. Embedding efficiencies in a business is also cost saving and appears as profit in the balance sheet if done right. 

Do BIM seminars and conferences need to have a wider appeal?

SB I certainly get the impression that some BIM events can be massive love-fests for one piece of software. People won’t come if they don’t think they’ll learn anything valuable – time is money. Just having lectures will not convince the sceptics either, we need to have workshops, not talking shops. Think about building your events around surgeries and practical advice sessions, punctuated with a few presentations, with plenty of time for discussion. 

DF Yes, but you can only talk about it for so long. Most people in the industry have day jobs not directly related to BIM delivery and they are not getting attracted to these events. Seminars need to address the issues that confront people now and we have to tell a story about how that might change and how and why they should become involved now. If we are to change the way we do business we need to engage all aspects of the business not leave it to the “BIM” guys.

RC The BIM seminars and conferences are becoming like old school reunions and are becoming very incestuous. There is a desperate need to have a wider appeal. Digitising the built environment, ‘Digital Built Britain’ and not BIM should be the focus. 

The conferences should be advertised and published in the national press. In addition to the architects, engineers, contractors and facility managers BIM should be able to capture the interest of financiers, lawyers, IT professionals, ontologists, telecom and telemetry specialists, instrumentation specialists, mathematicians, systems and solution architects etc, all becoming stakeholders in digitising the built environment.

It may be acknowledged that there is a need, but the masters of the conferences need to change the direction and become agnostic.

Do you think there are any aspects of BIM that put people off? 

SB Our industry is notoriously siloed, it is true, and I don’t think its enough to expect the next generation to break these chains – I remember being in the generation who was going to transform construction, and it didn’t happen. But the impression I get talking to people in construction products is that they are most wary of being sold “a solid gold watch for a dollar”. There isn’t enough advice genuinely independent from those making money from BIM. Until this changes, scepticism will continue.

DF I think there is a fear from people that they will attend a meeting or event and be embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, everyone is an expert except you. The truth is more likely to be a scene from W1A, lots of nodding and agreeing but not much understanding. We talk about learning the language of BIM and try to reassure members that almost everyone around the table is learning.

RC There is a misnomer that collaboration is a deterrent to BIM. Projects, no matter how large or how small, do not get delivered without collaboration. There are joint ventures, alliances and coalitions being formed to deliver projects on a daily basis. If this is not collaboration, then I don’t know what is.

What elements of communication around BIM do you think are working well?

SB I was impressed with the ThinkBIM conference I was asked to chair in Leeds in April. Most of the afternoon was spent in small discussion groups – very effective. It doesn’t have to be only face to face either – new technology can help. I’m working with The B1M to make videos about Social Media and BIM – the videos are hosted on YouTube, which are easy for people to share on using email, for example. The best communication is focused, clear and useful.

DF Right or wrong the UK has a strategy in place for the adoption of BIM. This has brought together groups to discuss issues and start to develop new ways of working. We will start to see real savings when we genuinely work in a common data environment, where there is certainty about definition and requirements. This will remove so much duplication and error (the non value adding activities). Perhaps the sign over the door is not “We don’t do BIM” but “We don’t want to change”.

RC Over the last few years there has been a contrast in the understanding of BIM. The advent of the process documents and the standards has made BIM a little clearer. The BIMers in the industry are now dancing around the same mast, some in the opposite direction, but this will correct itself.

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