Comment: What do we need from the next construction minister?

If our new construction minister is to help the UK to digitally build the world, BIM will be critical. However, resolving the barriers to BIM adoption means reducing risk and anxiety among the stalwarts of construction. – Jason Ruddle, Asta Development

As the UK election campaign draws to a close, the construction industry is also waiting to see where the ministerial construction brief will land. But few briefs survive from one governmental phase to the next so, whatever the outcome, it seems unlikely that Nick Boles will remain in situ.

Whatever the shape and flavour of the new administration, we certainly hope it recognises the critical nature of the construction appointment. The economic importance of the sector is irrefutable and the launch strategy paper for BIM Level 3 recognises the UK’s potential as a global trailblazer in digital building.

But once the appointment is made, what do we actually want to see from the new minister? The BIM strategy will roll onwards; the opposition has been broadly supportive and shadow construction minister Iain Wright has spoken of his intention to back the Construction 2025 strategy, should he take over the construction brief. However, there are several things which the new minister will need to consider quite carefully, if he or she is to give the industry the support it needs.

Resolve the long-term future of the BIM Task Group

Although its stay of execution extends through the Level 2 deadline, and it received budget to mobilise Level 3, that won’t be enough. It remains effectively in limbo. The current BIM tsar, Mark Bew, tends to speak in generalities when asked about the future.

This uncertainty must end as soon as possible – this organisation must encourage and facilitate change in an industry which contributes a massive £90bn to the UK economy each year and provides 10% of our jobs. It is also the team representing the UK on the EU BIM Task Group, which kicked off in March.

Play an active role in enabling the cultural shifts involved in BIM

This will take many more years to consolidate and will be the foundation for securing Level 3 benefits. If the first phase, towards mandatory Level 2 BIM, was about savings and making the outputs of each stage of the construction value chain comprehensible and accessible to the next, then the subsequent one will be about efficiency and collaboration.

BIM take-up is growing, but it remains a task-in-hand for many organisations and is foreseen to remain uneven across different disciplines. We must eliminate swathes of duplicated work, and information is not yet fully and seamlessly transferrable.

It demands fully open data standards and better methods of data transferral: delivery through data schemas, such as IFC, has been a positive step – and COBie is moving in the right direction. But inertia remains: many people remain cagey about information, wary of breaking boundaries and collaborating outside their organisation. It is incredibly tough to release long-held convictions or to change hard-wired, long-standing processes and ways of working. However, that must improve if BIM is to become a universal reality.

Focus on information management, not modelling

Major strides have already been made, with 4D planning now giving way to 5D to bring the costing and commercial elements into alignment with other aspects, including visualisation. This is something Asta has had firmly in mind for some time.

However, it may be time to take a step back and release the misconception that everything needs to have 3D visualisation at its heart. BIM is more than broadening access and the ability to move 3D models along the chain. To deliver its full potential economic benefits BIM cannot only be about information modelling, but about information management. That means the “information” aspects must be brought to the fore.

What we need most in our next policy driver is a champion

If our new construction minister is to help the UK to digitally build the world, BIM will be critical. However, resolving the barriers to BIM adoption means reducing risk and anxiety among the stalwarts of construction. Helping them to transform with long-term support, understanding and investment must therefore be pulled to the front and centre of the brief.

As the new minister looks for ways to realise the full economic power of the UK construction industry, we need tangible support for those driving the industry. It will require a leader to do more than talk policy, but invest time and effort to understand the end-to-end dynamics of construction. They must not only mandate change, but encourage, incentivise and stimulate innovation in British IT, as well as construction.

The UK construction industry is ready to help drive economic growth and is well poised to do so. But we need a minister who will build on the work to date and give the industry the support it needs, so that we can achieve the twin goals of a Digital Built Britain and world leadership in BIM – and do it together.

Jason Ruddle, managing director, Asta Development, has more than 25 years’ experience in the construction industry delivering key software solutions, products and services to national house-builders, contractors and the supply chain. He is a highly experienced construction software specialist with a background spanning training, sales and business leadership

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