Q&A: Dr Alan Hore – Ireland needs BIM champions to accelerate take-up

Dr Alan Hore, a leading BIM proponent in the Irish construction industry and head of quantity surveying in the School of Surveying and Construction Management in Dublin Institute of Technology, discusses BIM adoption in Ireland and what the Irish government is doing to encourage it.

The cost of BIM presents difficulties to clients: they assume, quite rightly, that contractors and professionals will have the right skillsets. They don’t see why they should have to pay extra. So not all clients are asking for it.– Dr Alan Hore

BIM’s progress in the UK has been due to a large extent to it being mandated on centrally funded capital projects since 2016. We know that’s not yet happened in Ireland, so what interest, if any, has the Irish government been showing?

It’s been preparing a roadmap, without to date actually putting the money behind it. There have been a number of government-led initiatives. In 2014 the government published its Construction 2020 Strategy, which included implementing a BIM staged development programme to support companies advancing to Level 2 BIM capability. This subsequently led to the development of the BIM Enable and BIM Implement support programmes for Enterprise Ireland clients.

In January 2016 the government launched Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025, which identified technology as a key driver for change in the economy. The report specifically identified sector specific skill needs, which included BIM systems.

And in January 2017 the government launched its Action Plan for Jobs, which included a requirement for the Office of Government Procurement to prepare a strategy for the adoption of BIM across the public capital programme and to mandate the manner in which it is to be adopted across the public sector.

After consulting with public bodies engaged in public works projects, the Government Contracts Committee for Construction has prepared a position paper titled A Public Sector BIM Adoption Strategy which outlines the context and rationale for the adoption of BIM on Irish public works projects and puts forward a proposed timeline for adoption ranging from 12 to 48 months for projects to adopt BIM.

So lots of discussion, but why then has the Irish government been slow in actually mandating BIM adoption?

There are a number of factors. We’ve only just recently come through a painful recession – there have been bigger problems for government to tackle, such as the chronic shortage of social housing and, of course, Brexit.

Another reason is that, unlike the UK, there are no BIM champions in the government to drive it forward in the way that Paul Morrell did. You do need a champion or two. The UK has led the way thanks to Morrell and others like David Philp, Global BIM/IM consultancy director at Aecom and head of UK BIM Task Group, who deserves a knighthood, and Simon Rawlinson, head of strategic research and insight Arcadis UK.

And it has to be said, as of yet the Irish government has not seen the business case for adopting BIM. They know about the £3bn of public expenditure savings that are claimed in the UK but they would want to validate that figure themselves.

They also know there’s a fragility in the Irish construction sector – 90% of companies are SMEs, and they could be cut out if you impose a mandatory BIM requirement. So in many ways the government feels it’s up to the market to respond to their strategic programme of rolling out BIM formally on public sector projects.

How, then, is BIM perceived in the market?

Contractors definitely get it. Tier one are investing in it. However, they have positive and negative motives – they want to improve efficiencies but also to pursue claims more successfully.

The cost of BIM presents difficulties to clients: they assume, quite rightly, that contractors and professionals will have the right skillsets. They don’t see why they should have to pay extra. So not all clients are asking for it.

But there are some who want a digital twin for their building, and it makes sense to have the Soft Landings approach. We are now at a tipping point, with more and more clients expecting BIM to be routine business.

Are there any major projects you’d point to where BIM is currently being used?

BIM Level 2 will be used on Dublin’s new Metro line out to the airport, which is going through planning, and it will be used on the city’s new children’s hospital project.

There’s also extensive BIM use by the Grangegorman Development Agency, which is a statutory agency established in 2006 by the Irish government to redevelop the former St Brendan’s Hospital grounds in the centre of Dublin and create a vibrant new city quarter with a diverse mix of uses.

In my work with the Construction IT Alliance we hear from many Irish project teams working successfully with BIM but also from some struggling with the transition.

Given there seems to be quite a lot of BIM activity already, do you think the government is right to just leave further progress to market forces?

The government is relying on the supply chain to prepare and get ready, but we say it’s their responsibility to lead, in the way the UK government has done.

As a client, government is building schools, bridges and roads so if it wants an agile, smart industry that can do this efficiently, it needs to help organise it and encourage all levels of the supply chain to upskill and prepare for working in a smarter sector.

If government doesn’t play its part in organising a transition programme, we run the risk of losing traction as a capable construction sector and losing out to international competitors.

What we need in Ireland is dedicated implementation resources with government taking the lead. In my view it should follow the plan set out by the World Economic Forum’s 2018 report – An Action Plan to Accelerate Building Information Modelling (BIM) Adoption – and motivate the sector to look at BIM as a value creator not a cost factor. The WEF report suggests a programme built on three principles – motivation, collaboration and enablement.

Is there anything else that’s standing in BIM’s way?

The industry’s image isn’t helping. We need to attract the right people, particularly the young and females. To do that, the industry has to improve its productivity and clean up its image. We need a clean and safe digitalised industry, rather than one that’s perceived by some to be “dirty, dreary and dangerous”. We know it’s a great sector to work in.

Unless we do this, BIM will be harder to adopt across the sector. I wouldn’t quite go so far as Mark Farmer’s “adapt or die” message, but I’d definitely say, adapt and you’ll reap the benefits; and if you don’t adapt, you’ll just not do so well.

Dr Alan Hore is a leading BIM proponent in the Irish construction industry. Head of quantity surveying in the School of Surveying and Construction Management in Dublin Institute of Technology, he was one of the founders of the Construction IT Alliance (CitA) and completed a PhD in Construction IT in Trinity College Dublin in 2007.

He has an extensive portfolio of published work in the discipline area of Construction Informatics and was the principal investigator on the BIM Innovation Capability Programme of Ireland (2016-17). He is currently a member of the BIM Council of Ireland (NBC) and is co-author of the NBC Roadmap for Digital Transition for Ireland’s Construction Industry 2018-21.

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