Opinion

Why we must take BIM back to basics

15 January 2021

Even those who see potential benefits are faced with wading through a set of seemingly incomprehensible standards, using terms and abbreviations unknown to anyone other than an elite few. Nigel Davies, UK BIM Alliance

Just before Christmas, the UK BIM Alliance revealed the first details of its Back to BIM Basics initiative (https://www.bimplus.co.uk/news/uk-bim-alliance-launches-back-bim-basics-initiativ/), designed to address the slow rate of adoption of BIM among SMEs. Here, Nigel Davies details why this initiative is necessary.

The UK BIM Alliance is hard at work on a series of educational videos, webinars and online conferences to help the construction industry better understand the benefits, challenges and best practice of all things BIM.

This Back to BIM Basics initiative was launched at the tail-end of 2020 as a collaborative effort by many of the UK BIM Alliance Community Groups, returning to the fundamentals necessary for any company or project of any size, discipline or experience to fully exploit BIM for themselves. It’s about taking a breath and objectively addressing what BIM means to today’s construction industry.

BIM has become perceived as reserved for a minority of experts with little practical benefit against the cost of implementation. Just today, an architect I spoke to openly admitted: “BIM is the most boring bit of project delivery to me.” It is seen as a technical specialism rather than an essential process. Why is this?

BIM has been synonymous with the purchase of new applications, developed to enhance and replace “traditional” CAD software, adding, in simple terms, a whole new dimension to the generation of project deliverables. Above and beyond the third dimension and the additional coordination challenges that brings to many, consider also the additional data requirements that are expected, changing the way data is developed, stored and exchanged.

In an industry where profitability is ever decreasing, is it any wonder that architects will not justify the high costs of subscription licensing necessary for the tools, building services engineers push back against “abortive work”, cost consultants aren’t geared up to interrogate the information produced, and clients are not willing to engage in the process?

Even those who see potential benefits are faced with wading through a set of seemingly incomprehensible standards, using terms and abbreviations unknown to anyone other than an elite few, complex unrelated working processes, unclear and ambiguous expectations (even the experts don’t agree on everything – just follow Twitter for endless debate about what is right and wrong), all of which have little or no relation to the majority of practices’ operations. Isn’t it crazy that the standards seeking to standardise BIM are seen as the very thing hindering their adoption?

Getting back to practicalities

The Back to BIM Basics initiative has been launched to address these very issues: to get back to the practicalities of implementing BIM successfully, avoiding oblique and irrelevant terminology, and helping the majority of business understand how they can improve without large investment or specialist staff. To me, it’s very important to look at the problem from the perspective of the smaller practice and understand why the utopian ideal of “full-lifecycle management” and “everything is required or it’s not BIM” is neither possible nor relevant to many. Without knowing where to start, without finding an entry point for each individual, adoption will never be successful. Others on the committee responsible for putting this together agree

Jason Whittall, UKBIMA West Midlands, sums it up as: “We have recognised that it is not always helpful to say ‘go and read the standard’ to individuals and organisations looking to implement BIM. This campaign aims to provide an easier route into understanding the basic principles of information management and how this applies to different types of business.”

“It's about demystifying the complexity and focus on the basics that can be applied to drive improvements,” states Andy Boutle, UKBIMA East, “helping prepare those who are yet to start or are at the beginning of their journey.”

Duncan Reed, thinkBIM and UKBIM Yorkshire & Humberside, explains that it doesn’t have to be additional work, but instead “remind people of all the digital stuff they might be doing already and how this can become better structured and then used collaboratively”.

“The understanding of BIM today is very different to what it was eight years ago,” says Pam Bhandal, engagement co-lead at the UK BIM Alliance. “The Back to BIM Basics campaign will help to get everyone on the same page, but at their entry point on their journey to digital transformation.”

Most importantly, this will not be a bunch of “experts” lecturing the “amateurs” about the theory and standards. We’re working through a series of interviews with industry practitioners who have their own experiences to tell. The best people to explain what needs to be done, what challenges to expect, and how to overcome them are the architects, the cost consultants, the engineers, the contractors, the manufacturers, the facility managers, and the clients who are going through this themselves.

Expect to see more progress on this in the coming months. If we can’t simplify the intricacies of BIM using language everyone can understand, in recognisable situations that everyone in the industry can relate to, we’re not doing the job of the Alliance. High expectations indeed, but something that will benefit the industry like never before.

Nigel Davies is director of Evolve Consultancy and co-chair of UKBIMA South West.