In defence of the term ‘BIM’

Is the ‘BIM’ word passe? Certainly not, say longstanding BIM champions and frequent contributors to CM and BIM+ John Adams and Dan Rossiter. 

While our industry is striving towards collaborative working and better information management processes, something strange has happened – Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become something of an unfashionable word.

There is a growing number of professionals within our industry waving the flag of an anti-BIM movement. This is because the once dominant and revolutionary buzzword has grown to mean so much it can mean almost nothing at times in the eyes of some. 

However, not everyone is in a rush to leave this acronym behind. We would argue that BIM needs to keep its place in the construction lexicon to support our journey to the digital industry we know we must evolve into. 

John Adams – Director of BIM Strategy

Whilst I share the frustration of many that BIM has become the byword for anything digital in our industry within certain circles, I believe the rush away from the term only serves to benefit a tiny fraction of our industry while abandoning a huge majority who are nowhere near using BIM Level 2 as part of their day-to-day work. 

Removing the headline act of nearly a decade of constant publications, events and investment is akin to pulling up the ladder on the BIM treehouse – if you’re not in already you’re no longer welcome. 

The construction industry has a long and deep supply chain and many businesses I meet are only just becoming aware that BIM is something to do with 3D models. Those already in the treehouse know it’s more about process than it is about models, but there are literally millions of people who work in our industry who don’t know this, and redefining the rules of the game will without doubt make the UK BIM Alliance’s work to make BIM business as usual by 2020 even more ambitious than it already is. 

Rather than looking for a new tagline for our conferences and leading-edge working groups, we need to reclaim BIM, and turn up the volume on the consistent messages we’ve refined over the last few years. 

BIM Level 2 is well defined, deliverable and doesn’t need to involve replacing all of your IT kit and employing a whizz kid who can use a highly specific piece of software. Everyone in the know should be telling their contacts to visit the official website for BIM Level 2 (, and explaining the business value of starting their journey to a digitally collaborative way of working.

We’ve got a lot of people to educate and engage, and BIM has been one of the most successful verbal hooks we’ve invented since CAD or CDM. BIM is our word and it’s brilliant, and at a time where DE, VDC, IPD, AI, IoT and many others are emerging, BIM needs our help to reinforce its meaning and relevance on the digital journey we’re all on together.

Dan Rossiter – Senior BIM communicator, BRE

When we discuss our (special) relationship with America it is often said that we are divided by a common language. However, you don’t need to go across the pond to see this level of division. It might be what you call a bread bap, local youths, or even BIM.

Recently there has been a lot of negative press around the use of this three-letter acronym. Many call it too broad, undefined, or not fit for purpose. To those people I say you are wrong.

BIM in the UK has always been about one thing: improving how information is managed to inform decisions, reduce risk and deliver better assets. This can be seen clearly by checking the introduction to PAS 1192-2 which gives the “fundamentals of BIM Level 2”.

In brief: Own what you produce and reference the work of others, define requirements, assess the supply chain, provide a platform to share information, agree methods, follow those methods, deliver digital outputs. That’s it. None of this digital engineering, smart cities, drones, photo telemetry, real-time analytics, Internet of Things, or generative design. Just good old-fashioned quality assurance. Even at ISO, the preferred BIM definition is simply using digital information to make better decisions:

“Building Information Modelling (BIM): use of a shared digital representation of a built object (including buildings, bridges, roads, process plants, etc.) to facilitate design, construction and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions. ISO 29481-1.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is a world much bigger than BIM out there; it is only a small piece of our larger digital puzzle. The UK’s Digital Built Britain Strategy encompasses BIM as well as the other digital facets to facilitate the UK in making “fully computerised construction the norm”. Each facet has its own role to play.

As convenor of terminology at ISO regarding construction information, I have two roles when it comes to terms and definitions: Help define new terms and prevent synonyms from appearing.

If we are just going to replace BIM with another term then we are not going to learn from our mistakes and all we will achieve is poisoning the next well.

However, if we instead embrace BIM as a term that is limited to its original purpose, then we can draw a clear distinction and focus less on what we call it, and more on how we deliver it.


When “millennials” was first coined there was a battle to name it, which took years to resolve. A myriad of names were suggested – Generation Y, the MTV Generation, Echo Boomers. A similar concept is being reflected in digital construction currently. Be it communities, institutions, or individuals, there is a value attached to being the one who defines our future. However, there is a real risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in doing so when it comes to BIM. 

BIM is the foundation of our digital change movement. Without it, our shift to a digitally built Britain, and our ability to lead global digital adoption will be lacking a fundamental element to success – a defined structure.

The sooner construction puts BIM back in its rightful place as one of the most clearly defined and adoptable change agents today, we may be able to put the race to name it to bed, and really start taking advantage of BIM.

Image: Profitimage/Dreamstime

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  1. One of the bits of fall out with the perceived falling out of love with ‘BIM’ is that I hardly ever read the articles anymore and I doubt I’m alone. This, surely, is a symptom of something. I did read this one, however.
    In 2009 I wrote a short, drab and lightweight piece called Drawing is dead – long live modelling (in order to attract attention) as a preamble to what I thought was the important part – an open call to action by all the various participants and tribes involved in development, including importantly, the government with its various hats (legislator, funder, asset-holder) pointing out that [probably] only it could complete the virtuous circle.
    To my astonishment that piece has subsequently been referenced extensively, especially the part where I cut up the words from various definitions of BIM extant at the time, threw them on the table and rearranged some of them into what seemed a consensus definition (I jest not).
    Again the important part to me was to put something out upon which to seek active comment and improvement wiki-style. Precious little response came but for some time, in the absence of much else I suppose, that ‘definition’ seemed to gain traction in citations.
    So forgive me for having a certain cynicism when it comes to supposing there is any common understanding of ‘BIM’. Two years after that paper and by absolute coincidence, the government did do exactly what it suggested and announced its ‘mandate’ (involving a degree of compulsion/putting up some cash in order to secure the future wellbeing of its own estate).
    So getting back to John and Dan’s contributions there is pretty much nothing in their discourse I would care to disagree with but to me it proves exactly the opposite of the conundrum posed. BIM should actually mean something but in general parlance has come to mean very little that is tangible. They both direct the reader to where sensible discourse takes place, point out the problem of educating a lot of people (I prefer the notion of edify but that is a rather picky distinction) and refer to a world much bigger than BIM.
    They specifically refer to BIM as an acronym and for me this is one of the problems. BIM is an abbreviation and (sorry to be patronising – year 9 English lesson?) all acronyms are abbreviations but not all abbreviations are acronyms and ‘BIM’ would have been better served not becoming an acronym – in the most part the territory of trivial marketing imprecision and ‘brand awareness’. BIM is certainly the biggest ‘brand’ in the industry in terms of, for example, bums on seats at events. We tend to be naturally more precise (ie not trivial) with plain old abbreviations and not use them as euphemisms for the other things such as those listed and described for ‘BIM’ in the two excellent contributions.
    10/10 for the articles maybe 3 for the title – but that is exactly what I did with my title in 2009!

  2. I agree with John Adams. In 2011 I set up my own design company Architectural BIM Solutions convinced that BIM was the future. I bought the latest AutoCad Revit Suite software including training at Autodesk and went to all the BIM seminars.
    After five years trading In the most cut-throat Architectural Sector in my living memory, I folded the business. In that time I never made a single penny from Revit – most of my work involved Autocad which reflects the apathy and lack of investment of the sector in BIM.
    I still believe that BIM is the future and at the same time worry that inexperienced Technicians/Architects are programming the Revit software without enough building construction Knowledge and are embedding mistakes which will be repeated each time the Job template is copied.

  3. @Keith, thank you. While we accept the critique for the title (maybe we should have gone with ‘BIM is dead, all hail BIM’. Interestingly, I seem to have found an uncredited copy of your 2009 on a BISRIA page:

    I’m glad you find the post agreeable (I’ll spare you my rant on abbreviations, acronyms, initialisms). There is no doubt educating and edifying our industry is a top priority. We may never get a common understanding, but I’m confident we can get pretty damn close.

  4. @Paul, sorry but I have to disagree with several of your points.

    BIM doesn’t rely on IFC. The UK implementation (branded BIM Level 2) only needs a small bit of the IFC schema to do COBie and doesn’t need an IFC file to be produced at all.

    You might believe our opinion is ridiculous, but I am frequently auditing for BRE and see first-hand how organizations try to rename BIM; whether you believe it or not. This is often because they can’t/won’t follow the Standards, or want to try to coin the next new buzzword. ‘Digital engineering’ is a great example of this.

    However, you are right that there is an issue. Terms like Scan2BIM, computational BIM and others show a misuse of the term, much like we saw with the term ‘green’ in the last decade. Only through clear pan-industry messaging, through organizations like the UK BIM Alliance, can we educate out the proliferation of ‘BIM wash’.

  5. Thanks Dan
    In 2009 there wasn’t much about so this kind of thing happened – I have absolutely no problem with that – and what you have found is the bit I was asked to do by govt (with a CPIC/RIBA hat on). The really good bit, however, was a table of what has become known as the ‘actors’ and especially their representative bodies where appropriate, and what they ought to do in the coming years (2009 onwards) to get BIM fulfilling its promise. The paper went up on an early industry wiki site (that I happened also to be responsible for) run by the RIBA and the table (as was the ‘definition’) was up for grabs for consensus amendment (of the what but not the who except for additions) and had spaces for endorsements of the actions. Govt (BERR as was) signed and so did RIBA and CIAT (actually twice each as they were both members of CPIC which also signed) but to my recollection no other body did.
    Irony upon irony – I have looked but can’t find a copy of the original full document and that RIBA wiki is long since closed down.

  6. Great articles and interesting discussion. Perhaps it not a case of either/or but more like both/and, and perhaps other things as well! BIM as an acronym isn’t perfect in terms of explanation but it is a hook that most people will recognise now even if they have only part of the story. We need all the tools and hooks for communication that we can get our hands on , to get the message across and to move industry along.
    BIM will work for some, digital/something for others. There’s no need to lose sleep over this – we’re in transition and will be for several years yet. So long as we’re making progress, converging on process, standards and implementation that’s ok. The picture is a work in progress, we’re not finished yet.
    Perhaps in time we will look back to a time when we called all this “BIM”. I’m not so worried about WHAT we call it, it’s about what we DO. As long as we’re using perfect data, across the board, consistent, complete, unambiguous, then at least the industry will have the chance to access all those benefits and efficiencies we all talk about.

  7. On Keith’s point about the vast amount of 2D work still being done, I feel your pain. We starting building high voltage substations with Inventor in 2010. Almost 8 years later we have over 700 in our vault and have shared only a half dozen in that period of time. To make matters worse, those we shared with were primarily data center builders who wanted our models to import to Revit. Only one of our utility clients has even expressed interest in receiving them. Not sure what the answer is but if anyone needs a substation model, we have hundreds of them.

  8. If nothing else, it’s a keyword that helps quickly identify information requirements in contracts & targets information production/management discussions. How many contracts I had to search through just to find employer information requirements before the term BIM was widespread! I can now keyword search and find all requirements in one place.
    Yes the word is widespread in terms of definition, suits me as I then know any information production, management or exchange requirement will be within it. I just make sure that it’s not used verbally in any discussions I host as I am only interested in the actual activities and outputs.
    If you try to rebrand the term, the same dilution will occur so please don’t push for that!

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