Interview: Osborne pre-construction manager Fred Mills ICIOB

When it comes to BIM, there’s surely very few who are as evangelical as Fred Mills. He tells BIM+ about what led him to launch the B1M campaign, a BIM-based newspaper and a series of YouTube documentaries.

Fred Mills ICIOB, pre-construction manager at south-east contractor Osborne, is also a part-time film producer, newspaper publisher and university training partner. As co-founder of awareness-raising campaign the B1M and all-round BIM evangelist, Mills is making YouTube documentaries on the subject for online sharing, while also catering for the analogue generation with the publication of a twice-yearly print newspaper.

The success and reach of the B1M – also known as the BIM 1 Million – led to it be named as a finalist for the Construction News BIM Initiative of the Year in 2014 [corrected online – we originally said the B1M won the title]. Mills was named Constructing Excellence achiever of the year in London and the south-east last summer. And he combines this with a demanding – but now part-time – day job.

“Osborne has been really supportive with guidance and mentoring,” he explains. “The work I’m doing with the B1M really aligns with their approach to BIM implementation.”

At the family-owned firm, he works on design-and-build and traditional projects, including schools in the government’s Targeted Basic Need Programme. But what about the RIBA Stirling Prize-nominated Saw Swee Hock Student Centre for the London School of Economics? “No, that’s a stretch too far. I just happened to be in the company when it was delivered!”

At Osborne, he is implementing the BIM adoption curve he is also helping to promote. “I’m really immersed in BIM implementation. I’m one of several BIM champions across the company. We’ve been careful not to create BIM managers – if you give someone a specific role, then it becomes their responsibility alone. So we’ve tried to identify advocates at all levels and sectors of the business, and make them BIM ambassadors.”   

Mills has worked on Potters Gate Primary School in Farnham, Surrey

But he says BIM adoption might be easier at £325m-turnover Osborne than at big top 20 contractors: “It’s a smaller journey to travel, with fewer people to upskill than in a major company.”

The idea for the B1M was born in 2012, as a collaboration with school friend and video producer Tom Payne. It was four years after Mills, now 28, had graduated from Loughborough University, working first as a design manager at Willmott Dixon before moving to Osborne.

“It came out of a pub conversation. I was talking about the challenges of BIM, and Tom was talking about the benefits of video. That’s how it was born.” The first step was an information-sharing and networking website to build a following. Then the newspaper and bite-sized video lectures were launched to give everyone in the industry – from students to senior managers – digestible information.

He explains: “I struggled to find clear, understandable information on BIM. It struck me we were relying on people going to the BIM Task Group website, downloading the documents, and reading them at their leisure – but we can’t expect 2 million people in construction to do that.”

In their quest to reach a mass audience, the pair have won corporate sponsorship to print 3,000 copies of The B1M Mail. Volunteer “distribution partners” – including five in Australia and three in the US – take the paper to universities, BIM events and corporate offices.

Meanwhile, day-long video shoots take them to BIM adopters such as David Miller Architects and manufacturer Cubicle Centre in West Yorkshire to interview staff. The footage is edited into 15-minute YouTube documentaries (see example below).

Mills has also brokered sponsorship agreements with university partners for a series of BIM videos that are used by universities to teach undergraduates.

“The universities haven’t fallen into the trap of creating ‘BIM modules’ – they’re taking it across the curriculum,” he says. “So we’ve found it’s been quite easy to get universities involved – they see it as a way of teaching BIM while drawing on real life industry expertise.”

Reducing his hours at Osborne has enabled Mills to devote more time, in addition to weekends, to The B1M, as well as pursuing his interest in health and fitness, and preparing to become a parent next month. He is working towards his MCIOB qualification, although he confesses he has prioritised other things.

But what prompted him to devote his energy and entrepreneurialism to BIM? Mills says that construction matters – to our economy and way of life.

“I’m passionate about construction. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I see BIM as an opportunity to make it better.

“BIM is often presented in a dry and complex way, and I want to bring some life to it.”

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