SMEs and BIM – size is not important

If you run an SME, whatever you’ve heard, it may be not be as scary or costly as you think.– John Eynon

The target of BIM adoption for centrally funded projects by 2016 is within sight, but for many it still represents a huge challenge and is perhaps a source of both fear and confusion.

SMEs (companies up to 250 employees) represent a significant proportion of the industry and are in many ways its engine room. Most projects are delivered by teams of specialist contractors, many of which are SMEs. They bring specialist knowledge, skill, and delivery expertise to the table, and projects would not succeed without their input.

In addition, at a time of great upheaval and change for the industry, SMEs have unique advantages over their larger counterparts. They are more agile and responsive to change, can innovate faster with shorter command lines, and spend less time agonising over decisions and more time in the acting and doing.

For all these reasons, if SMEs are not on board with BIM, it is not good for the industry. And if you run an SME, whatever you’ve heard, it may be not be as scary or costly as you think! Below are a few pointers to get you started. 

Over the past few years I’ve visited a number of CIOB regions to talk about BIM. I always leave some advice, which can be summarised as follows:

  • Spend as little as possible;
  • Check out the websites;
  • Get the free stuff;
  • Understand UK government strategy and key documents;
  • Read and understand
  • Think about our own role/business/organisation;
  • Attend some conferences, talk to people, join your local BIM Hub.

Remember, though, that working in BIM – or the common data environment to use the official parlance – is still all about information: how it is used, produced, exchanged and communicated. It just so happens that in BIM we can do clever things with it, but BIM is still just about how information travels around the lifecycle.

There is a lot of free guidance and advice available. The UK BIM Task Group website,, is a tremendous source for current standards, guidance, case studies and news, as well as current developments. And it’s all free.

The key documents to understand are:

  • PAS1192/2 and 3, which deal with the processes for capital and FM projects;
  • The BIM Protocol which is a contract addendum for BIM;
  • Government Soft Landings which is the UK government’s version of BSRIA Soft Landings which deals with planning for commissioning, handover and aftercare;
  • COBie UK 2012, which is a way of exchanging data on the BIM environment.

As you begin to review the information, the main questions uppermost must be: “What does this mean to me, my business, my project, my team?” To begin to answer these questions, you must first understand your own business or organisation: What information do you produce? What information do you use? Who uses your information and how? How do you use other people’s information when they give it to you?

Something that should help you is the BIM Investment Matrix, produced by the BIM Technologies Alliance, which is facilitated by CIRIA and allied to the BIM Task Group and composed of the leading BIM software houses and vendors.

To access it on the BIM Task Group website (under the “Resources” tab), you will need to register, but it’s well worth the trouble. The matrix helps businesses calculate the level of investment they will need to make, breaking the whole process down into stakeholders, stages, activities, tools, benefits, training, and indicative costs per seat over three years.

So whether you’re a client, manufacturer, main contractor or subcontractor, supplier, or consultant,
you can find your place in the construction food chain. Working through the tables enables you to come up with your personalised picture and plan for BIM.

You can then use this to inform your discussions with your team, about training and implementation and with external parties such as consultants and vendors.

Inevitably discussion at some point will turn to which software to select, how much this costs, and return on investment.

This will very much depend on the picture that emerges from your matrix exercise. However, if you are “a power” user, then you will be authoring and manipulating models, in which case you will need to invest in authoring software and the associated kit.

At the other end of the scale, ”basic”, if you simply receive information and manufacture and/or install, then you may just need a viewing package – and there are free versions available.

Assuming that models have been built correctly and linked, then file sizes should not be excessive, and should not warrant huge IT infrastructure.

I would also begin by talking to clients, suppliers, and the people you work with. See what they’re up to, what packages they use and how they do it. If some common themes emerge then that might give you a steer on how to proceed.

Return on investment is a tricky subject, because again it will depend on where you sit. There are studies out there, and the figures are impressive. The benefits already realised in the UK public sector have given departments such as the Ministry of Justice the confidence to push on with BIM adoption.

John Eynon is chair of the South East BIM Hub, vice chair of BIM4SME, and director of Open Water Consulting.

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