Comment: Martin Chambers – It’s a little too quiet for my liking…

Central government departments are continuing to plough their own BIM furrow, but now with what would seem little obvious visibility of joint cross department working.– Martin Chambers

Now that the new football season has started, the stadium chant of “it’s all gone quiet over there” can already be heard. But from what I am seeing and hearing, BIM is currently going through a similar phase in the adoption process. Why do I say this and why might this be?

In 2012/13 we saw the very strong, dynamic and visible leadership of the BIM agenda by the Cabinet Office under the stewardship of Messrs Bew and Philp. Great traction was achieved over what, in truth, was an amazingly short period of time.

But now the noise levels have dropped significantly and the central BIM leadership team appears to be no more. Central government departments are continuing to plough their own BIM furrow, but now with what would seem little obvious visibility of joint cross department working.

On the contractor side of life, I think it’s fair to say that in the competitive tendering market, be that open or restricted, we continue to see only a very slow trickle of enquiries from clients that already profess to or wish to embrace BIM. 

Across the framework arena, however, the situation appears much brighter with an increasing, but still fairly small, number of public sector clients regularly placing BIM more centrally within their requirements. For example, Northamptonshire County Council has of late released a handful of schools projects which fully embrace BIM. Similarly, at national level, the Ministry of Justice has now positively moved matters on to the position where BIM is actually mandated, and only where the business case for BIM doesn’t stack up is the requirement waived. 

But sadly, for the foreseeable future, much of MoJ’s work is still geared at bringing its property portfolio in to the modern era. Digital technology is used to facilitate justice rather than construction, and so projects often revolve around refurbishment and very focused upgrades where the size, type and scale of project, when coupled with time constraints, don’t naturally work in favour of using BIM. That said, the new super prison at Wrexham will surely come to be seen as a fantastic beacon of opportunity for BIM, with perhaps the greatest steps being made in the area of cascading BIM down to the supply chain.   

So why else might my perception be that “it’s all gone quiet of there”. Well, it could just be coincidence that the lull in the Cabinet Office driving BIM has happened just as the demand for construction services has become resurgent, with no signs of abating. That said, I strongly suspect that after this initial drive to get projects to site, including no doubt the dusting off of many that have already been designed, we will start to see an increase in the adoption of BIM for the next generations of new build schemes. The adoption of BIM on the smaller new builds and then refurbishment market will inevitably take rather longer to gain a toehold. 

At the moment and for the foreseeable future, perhaps the greatest strides being made around BIM will come from it being combined with 3D laser scanning. Certainly our view is that this is where we can make the greatest progress over the next couple of years. As one of our initiatives to help push matters internally, we currently have a couple of people going through the NFB’s BIM Champion programme. This is proving a great way of upskilling those that show a real enthusiasm and appetite for the subject.

So maybe it’s not so much quiet at the moment but rather that there is more background noise and it’s that which is disguising the steady progress that’s being made.   

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