Comment: Peter Gracia – The surreal side of BIM

Those of us who have been a feeling a little bit gloomy lately can cheer ourselves up by taking a look at the NBS International BIM Report 2013, which compares BIM awareness and take up in the UK, Finland, New Zealand and Canada. If you are a fan of mind-bending statistics that tend to the surreal then you have to take a look. (Construction Manager also covered the report here.)

It is chock full of statistics intended to make BIM appear like an essential topic for any project. For instance: “In the UK, driven in part by the UK government’s construction strategy, we’re now at a point where only 6% are unaware of BIM…” That sounds impressive until you realise it is derived from the fact that of the 1,350 UK respondents 94% said they knew what the survey they were taking was about. I wonder why the other 6% took the survey at all?

It goes on to point out that “unexpectedly, we didn’t find a link between BIM awareness and BIM usage” and “the UK has the smallest number of those who tell us they are currently using BIM at 39%”. 

The report bemoans the fact that even many of those who are aware of BIM think of it only as glorified 3D CAD, and not the “full rich data set” of a true Building Information Model. 

But really I cannot be too critical of the NBS report because it follows the lead of government proclamations about its hopes for BIM. Those are full of decidedly rose-tinted expectations and projections. Apparently BIM will lead to billions of pounds worth of savings, lower carbon footprints, better safety and will make you look good in a double breasted suit! But I am not sure how this sits with the views of 74% the NBS UK survey respondents who said the industry is not clear enough yet on what BIM actually is. In other words, we do not know what it is but we think it’s going to be brilliant.

The point is the vast majority of the UK construction industry does not know or understand what BIM is, and neither do they care. When the use of computers became widespread in the industry and people swapped their clutch pencils and tracing paper for bits and bytes, this did not improve design standards. Using spreadsheets has not helped us forecast or even monitor the cost of our construction projects with any greater certainty than would a slide rule and abacus.

My prediction for the 2016 BIM Level 2 cut off point is that not one project will have its funding pulled by central government because there is not enough BIM in the recipe.

If BIM is about helping designers better understand the physical constraints upon the structure and installations within it, while providing product and asset data, then it has great potential. However, expecting technology to make us better constructors of projects is fundamentally naive. This game is about people and how much pride and competence they actually possess when they start doing the job, and not how much meta data you can extract from an electronic model. 

Peter Gracia FRICS FCIOB FCIArb is an adjudicator and arbitrator

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