How your ‘BIM champions’ can be the key to success

31 August 2017 | By Eleni Papadonikolaki & Ammar Azzouz

It has been more than a year since the use of BIM was mandated in projects by the UK government. Whereas the UK policymakers have their eyes set on UK BIM Level 3 maturity, many firms still struggle to adopt and implement BIM effectively. Here, Eleni Papadonikolaki & Ammar Azzouz report on Arup’s approach on the management of digital innovation and particularly BIM.

To assess and improve its BIM capabilities and maturity projects, Arup has developed its own BIM Maturity Measure (BIM-MM). Arup’s BIM-MM is an assessment tool to evaluate BIM implementation in projects, combining 25 BIM criteria as indicators of BIM maturity, including, among others, the engagement of ‘BIM Champions’ in projects.

Each criterion has six maturity levels and all Arup’s project leaders use the tool to regularly evaluate their projects based on the criteria. Since the launch of the tool, more than 1,000 projects have been evaluated and submitted. This gives Arup a good understanding of BIM maturity and an incredibly valuable data set for further analysis.

From this extended data set, a significant correlation between high level of BIM maturity and the existence of ‘BIM Champions’ was revealed.

The research reported here is a collaboration between Arup London, led by Ammar Azzouz and Paul Hill in Programme and Project Management team, and UK Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management (University College London), led by Dr Eleni Papadonikolaki, lecturer in BIM and Management. We studied the application of BIM-MM on projects in the UK and interviewed a dozen of BIM Champions. 

A BIM Champion is an individual with the technical skills, knowledge and disposition to lead and guide teams through BIM implementation. It has been shown to be a valuable role, yet, the development and utilisation of BIM Champions varies across companies and projects.

Arup’s BIM Champions are of diverse vocational and professional backgrounds. Some of them have evolved to holding this role from an architectural technologist’s background of 10-15 years. BIM Champions in Arup are usually organically and informally involved in more than two or three projects at any given time and their daily routine is highly diverse.

When asked about his daily routine, Dan Clipsom, an associate in Arup, said: “In my case by leading from the front: working to understand what we can do, how we can do it, and what that means to the wider team around us in order to deliver new things in new ways.

“Using BIM effectively means doing more with less, but doing more doesn’t have to mean producing more, so I engage with all the stakeholders to reassess what they actually need from us and look for ways to do that more efficiently.”

The most revealing finding was the divide of the BIM Champions into “organisational” and “techie” types. On one hand, some BIM Champions focused on organisational issues and the necessity of soft competences to fulfil the BIM Champion’s role. Tom Mossop, an associate in London’s office stated:

“Apart from providing BIM training and being able to delegate BIM work, the most important is to engage with people in teams and the stakeholders, show leadership and facilitate the communications”.

Another associate, Colin Magner of Buildings Midlands, also highlighted the importance of soft skills: “The soft skills are absolutely crucial; the BIM Champion should have a mindset of sharing. It is therefore crucial that BIM Champions want to share tips and tricks, skills and techniques on how to achieve things.

“They should have questioning ability as well. Able to engage with others and asking others what you are working on today, what processes they do, what steps they follow to do so. So for soft skills, you should be prepared to chair what you know, also try and find out what you don’t know yet and what other people need.”

On the other hand, other BIM Champions emphasised on the need for more technical expertise. For instance, Michael Bradbury, an associate in London’s office noted: “Working with the MEP team on how to develop our tools and processes, and make the most of their power: the efficiency and consistency of our documents and how they are linked to each other.

“We are going through the process of embedding more data into our design models with a learning curve of these calculations and checking tools. So, our aim is to use these tools as design tools not only as delivery tools.”

However, these differences did not necessarily influence BIM success in the projects. Both “organisational” and “techie” types of BIM Champions are equally successful in managing and leading BIM implementation. Some of the interviewees behaved more as “hybrids” of the “organisational” and “techie” types.

For example, Amit Dutta, a BIM Manager in Bristol’s office stated that: “My role as a BIM Champion does not involve a lot of hard skills or affinity to IT, on the contrary, understanding standards, procedures. It is more important to understand the interfaces rather than all the BIM stuff.”

Similarly, Neil Robertson shared: “A BIM Champion needs to have time management and deliverables management skills, but also to be able to explain things to people in order to eventually BIM becoming a second-nature to them. A BIM Champion should spread the BIM knowledge.”

Arup feels it is thus important to further develop and nurture BIM Champions as they have the talent to lead a team towards BIM implementation by combining both organisational and technical expertise.

The takeaway message for other construction companies who either have already or are in the process of adopting BIM is to to invest in innovation champions who would transfer the soft and hard skills to the operational levels of businesses.

Even after BIM becomes mainstream, project technical demands will continue to evolve, and the work of BIM Champions will continue being influential and an indicator of success in construction projects.

Surprisingly, most of our interviewees agreed upon detesting the term “BIM Champion” for having a too narrow scope. Indeed, perhaps the term “Digital Construction Leaders” will emerge in the future instead of “BIM Champions” as they will continue to facilitate the digital transition in construction and lead cultural and behavioural change.