The BIM journey… Ready to take to the road?

In the past two years, the industry has undergone something of a BIM baptism. Collectively, it’s sat through multiple presentations, drunk gallons of lukewarm coffee out of those strange dispensers, and gradually come to an understanding of what BIM is, and could be in the future.

But it also stands two years away from the cliff edge of the government’s BIM mandate: from April 2016, all centrally-funded public sector work is due to be delivered using Level 2 BIM, and the construction businesses that don’t scramble onto safe land could end up crashing to the bottom.

At this half-way point, as introduction gives way to implementation, Level 2 BIM is being specified on a growing number of live and tendered public sector projects. CM has spoken to a cross section of contractors and consultants gearing up to deliver PAS 1192:2 compliant schemes, who are finding that all those abstract acronyms – such as COBie, EIRs and PIPs – are taking on legal and practical shape. After two years on the journey, the BIM vehicle is now being thoroughly tested for roadworthiness. But, not surprisingly, implementation issues are being thrown up.

Meanwhile, in late 2013 an article by barrister Tony Bingham in Building caused a stir. Bingham portrayed BIM as an arena where Tier 1 contractors could practice the black art of “risk shift”, or ensuring their margins on fixed price projects by leaning heavily on their supply chain.

1. Do you know that by 2016 all centrally-funded public sector projects in England and Wales will have to be Level 2 BIM compliant?

It may seem surprising, but 46 respondents to the survey (18.7%) were either unaware of, or uncertain of, the all-encompassing scope of the government’s 2016 BIM mandate. Breaking down the respondents by the category of company they work for, awareness was below average among private sector clients (31.6% answering “no”), SMEs turning over less than £20m (21.4%) and medium-sized contractors (37.5% answering “no”). But it was well above average for respondents working for design or surveying consultancies (just 7.1% answering “no”).


Although the piece seemed to have been written from the bottom of a very empty glass, it did highlight the fact that BIM is arriving in an industry riven with faultlines. With some SMEs feeling excluded from public sector work and endemic supply chain payment issues, will BIM just accelerate the division into a two-tier, two-speed industry?

This is the background to CM’s Level 2 BIM Readiness Survey, completed by 246 respondents spread across the contracting, consultancy and client communities. The results bear out the stratification you might expect: BIM experience and know-how vary from one section of the industry to another, and the threat/opportunity paradox is evident in the responses. But there are also some unexpected results that suggest the overall trajectory of the next two years is harder to predict than either the optimists or the pessimists think.


The online survey was completed by 246 individuals in December and January, who collectively made up a good representative sample of the industry.

There were 28 SMEs turning over less than £20m (12.3%), 25 larger contractors in the £20m-£100m bracket (11%), 48 large contractors over £100m (21.1%), 57 design and surveying consultancies (25.1%), 19 private sector clients (8.4%), and 22 public sector clients (9.7%).

There were also 28 individuals who fell into the “other” category, including students, project management consultants, housebuilders and a “visitor attraction”. In some cases, respondents opted to skip questions that were not relevant to them, meaning that not all the total responses add up to 246.

Reassuringly, in terms of the impending BIM mandate, the survey finds that public sector clients are slightly ahead of private sector clients, at least in self rating their BIM preparedness, with an overall confidence score of 3.28 versus 2.33. But worryingly, public sector clients seem to be no more clued-up on the technical requirements than the rest of us: 47% claim a poor knowledge of PAS 1192:2 (versus 53.5% of all respondents); 52.6% say they know little of EIRs (68.8%); and COBie is a hazy concept to 52.6% (55.7%).

That chimes with first-hand findings of professionals working to deliver Level 2 BIM. Louise Roberts is studio director for Capita, whose BIM portfolio includes a £60m project for Manchester Metropolitan University with Sir Robert McAlpine. But Roberts says MMU is still a rarity. “A number of clients are interested in BIM but not committing to any requirement for COBie, there would need to be a parallel step change in their own FM to maximise the benefits. Yes, they are delighted by what BIM offers in terms of 3D modelling, understanding the building at the front end and integration of services etc, but Level 2 asset management appears only relevant to large institutional [public sector] clients at the moment.”

Likewise, at Balfour Beatty Construction Services, BIM director Peter Trebilcock says: “On the government side, at high level clients know exactly what they want. But at the level of local NHS trusts or MOD bases, clients will need help in defining what is required and how to request it.” He adds: “We already deliver lots of data to the client in the spirit of Level 2, but lots of clients are just not interested in COBie – they’re not going to train their FM teams to use it.”

2. How would you describe your understanding of Level 2 BIM as it applies to your organisation?

All those presentations and CPD events must have been working: overall, the number of people answering moderately good, good or excellent reached 116, outweighing the 106 who answered non existent or sketchy. But looking at this split in the separate employment categories, SMEs (11 versus 16) and private sector clients (7 versus 11) were less clued up, while large contractors over £100m (29 versus 19) and consultants (33 versus 22) were clearly motoring ahead on the BIM journey.



3. How would you describe your overall knowledge of the BIM process as it applies to the industry as a whole?

Comparing this graph to the one above, it’s clear that respondents had a better grasp of Level 2 BIM as it applied to the industry as a whole, rather than their specific group. But private sector clients seem to be living in a bit of a bubble, with 12 saying their knowledge of BIM overall was non-existent or sketchy, versus 4 putting themselves in the good or excellent category. The other exception to the general trend was SME contractors less than £20m, who reported slightly less confidence on BIM across the industry in comparison to its impact on their organisations.


But COBie isn’t the only stumbling block for public sector clients. A situation described by both Trebilcock and Adrian Speller, director of Midlands SME contractor and BIM early adopter Speller Metcalfe, is that clients are tendering D&B projects where the client’s design team has built an integrated BIM model – but don’t release it to bidders for copyright or legal reasons. “If the BIM model is there, you use it in the bid period and it makes a better tender. But some clients don’t release the BIM design to all the tenderers, just to the successful bidder, ostensibly because the design isn’t complete,” says Trebilcock.

Speller adds: “The client could have got round this by setting up the appointment properly, but there’s a dearth of clients out there with that knowledge. We have to start from scratch if we want to use BIM in these projects – we basically have to design it again, which negates the time-saving element the government is driving towards.”

As expected, the survey demonstrates a clear divide in attitudes between large £100m contractors and SMEs turning over less than £20m (see over). The reasons for this aren’t lost on the rest of the industry. “If you think of the risk involved in construction, the major contractors see BIM as a massive plus, they see a value to themselves and they see the necessity to be ready,” comments Jamie Barrett MCIOB, who heads BIM-ready QS and project manager Evolution5. “But for Tier 2 and 3, I’m not sure of the support mechanisms we have for them.”

4. Level of BIM experience

Slightly over half of the respondents had some practical experience of BIM, with 36 indicating they had worked on a project that met Level 2 BIM criteria, and 77 having worked on a project with at least a BIM philosophy. In comparison, 91 said they had no “live BIM” experience. The vast majority of SMEs fell into the not-yet-a-BIM-beginner category, while large £20m-£100m contractors clustered in the middle category. Of the 18 public sector clients that responded, 9 had no experience of BIM, but encouragingly the same number did report that they were working on BIM projects.


And you’re more likely to find BIM sceptics at the smaller end of the industry. One director of a regional SME contractor likened BIM to the collective delusion that meeting Part L means building energy efficient buildings. “Politicians can say ‘BIM is delivering’ just as they can say ‘Part L is delivering’. But in fact, Part L is being manipulated so that contractors achieve the SBEM results they need, without providing the optimum design.” Wearily, he says: “BIM will be another element someone will have to stay late in the office and work something out for, then you get back to the real job of putting buildings up the next morning.”

More to the point, he argues that the procurement approach is vital, since public sector clients need to adopt a two-stage tendering process (where an early initial appointment is followed by a period of design development) to realise the benefits of BIM. But while that’s de rigeur on major projects, it’s certainly not typical for the £150,000 to £3m public sector work his company bids for. “For the projects we encounter, there’s a four-to-eight week tender period, then it’s get on site as soon as you can, and build it in three to 18 months. Even on frameworks you get full-on tenders, essentially they just operate as selected contractor lists. But for BIM to work, it requires early contractor involvement.”

5. If you had to implement BIM in 2014 how prepared would you feel? (On a scale of 1-10)

Perhaps our respondents are a cautious bunch, but when we asked them to rate their theoretical preparedness to implement Level 2 BIM on a scale of 1 to 10, the overall average was just 3.81. Private sector clients were most under-prepared, with 60% (9) rating themselves at 1, compared to 33% (6) of public sector clients. Meanwhile, 44% (8) of all the SME respondents rated themselves at 1, compared to 26% (12) of large £100m plus contractor respondents. Consultants spread themselves across the scale, from 22.9% (11) rating themselves at just 1 to a substantial 14.6% (7) selecting 10 – ready to go.


A key area for successful BIM is the interface between Tier 1 and Tier 2/3s, which comes in to sharp focus with COBie requirements. Balfour Beatty’s Trebilcock warns that COBie compliance will add an extra layer of work and complication. “It’s a step change for the industry to manage and capture all that data. It will need specialist training and the injection of some specialist people to make sure we meet our contractual requirements. It’s certainly true that a large part of the team is not ready to provide data in COBie.”

So will main contractors adopt a “survival of the fittest” policy, working only with the subcontractors that can deliver the package, and a meta-package of BIM data for the as-built model? Trebilcock says that’s not the case: “We will look at everyone’s package size and capability. In some cases, we could use our own staff to help them extract the data from a 2D model – we have a team of experts in-house to advise and help. We will expect certain things from designers and the supply chain, and then fill any gaps ourselves.”

Adrian Speller also describes a supportive approach: “We have identified Tier 1 supply chain partners, starting with M&E subcontractors, and have been visiting them to talk through our vision and requirements, saying we’d like them to be able to view the BIM data and to offer them training. There are some very good traditional subcontractors we don’t want to lose the services of because they’re not technically capable, so it’s up to us to provide support and training.”

6. What are the main barriers to implementing BIM in your organisation? (%)

Clearly, contractors’ perspectives on the cost and practicalities of implementing BIM vary according to their size, as this comparison of attitudes between sub-£20m SMEs and larger £100m plus firms shows. Another finding from this question is that 78% of public sector clients highlight lack of knowledge technical issues, whereas private sector clients see the upfront costs of IT systems as the single most common barrier (66.6%). Medium-sized £20m-£100m contractors were particularly focused on cost concerns, with 70.6% selecting both IT costs and training costs as the largest barriers to BIM implementation.


7. What impact do you think BIM will have on your business over the next 24 months? (%)

Again, larger contractors on the whole take a rosier view of BIM than SMEs, for whom faith that it will help win work (47.8%) is evenly balanced with concern that it will add to costs (47.8%). In other notable findings, 65% of larger contractors and 55.5% of public sector clients were optimistic that BIM would bring them closer together with supply chain partners, a confidence that then declined to 47% of £20m-£100m medium-sized firms, and just 34.7% of SMEs. Just 23% of private sector clients thought it would bring them closer to supply chain partners, and the same number felt that BIM would increase areas of conflict with their supply chain. Among public sector clients, that figure was 27.7%.


Louise Roberts at Capita expresses the fairly common fear that BIM will create a digital divide across the industry, with sections of the contracting and specialists market responding to the BIM agenda and others getting left behind. “We work with subcontractors who’s a country mile away from BIM – they might be working in CAD, but that’s probably the limit.” She fears that they’d be excluded from the majors’ supply chains and left to bid for the industry’s beta projects, eventually losing capacity and their foothold in the market.

Evolution5’s Jamie Barrett recognises the danger, but feels overall it is unlikely to materialise. “We entered the recession with a skills shortage in the industry – you couldn’t get good people for love nor money,” he says. “In the recession, the lack of work has masked the underlying problem. So while there is potential for people to be left behind, actually lack of capacity will mean that doesn’t happen. Everything will have to be in BIM, but there will be allowances made.”

With two years to go before the Level 2 BIM mandate takes effect, how do our interviewees view the industry’s overall readiness? At Capita, Louise Roberts is hedging her bets: “Everyone is working very hard to get where we need to be. But in terms of deadlines, I don’t think the industry is ahead of the curve – it’s very challenging.” Balfour Beatty’s Trebilcock, perhaps not surprisingly in the light of the industry’s dynamics, is more optimistic.

But perhaps it’s Speller Metcalfe Adrian Speller’s view that best represents the current situation, and the risks to the implementation phase. “Our main concern is that BIM is taking hold too slowly, we’re not seeing the projects coming through using BIM. The government is pushing Level 2 BIM, but what we lack is an educated client base where the client sets out what they want to gain, from the feasibility stage of the project.“

Clearly, BIM implementation has to be a two-way street, but the clients and their supply chain both have to want to get to the end of it.

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