SMEs can jog behind BIM’s leaders – and enjoy second-mover advantage

If large firms are BIM factories, SMEs are smaller and nimbler, riding in the slipstream of the early adopters, says Bronwen Lohlun, technical designer at architectural practice Arney Fender Katsalidis.

As a smaller company, the prospect of adopting BIM may be scary. Magazines and websites give the impression that everyone else has already invested and is “BIM’d up” and that investing in staff and software is expensive and complex. When interviewing staff, it feels like you are overpaying for skills you don’t understand, and your computers and software are suddenly obsolete.

Some days it may feel like being in school again where the cool kids have the latest smartphones and all “get” contactless while you can’t even figure out how to upgrade your contract and use the touchscreen.

Staff with an appropriate understanding of BIM are hard to find and identify. Graduates may not understand the construction basics, never mind the complexities of BIM. Hiring from established companies can give you skilled staff but not the templates, library or protocols that they took for granted in their previous positions.

Also, like school, as fast as you get the trend, it changes and you have to begin again. This may leave small companies wishing for the days of the hand-drawn sketch and fax machine.

However, being a small company has many advantages. Larger companies, like factories, churn out the same loaves of bread daily. They have design principles, protocols for BIM, project management and detailing, but they are stuck making the same bread. They can’t alter methodology or procedure without overhauling the entire system and retraining everyone, probably, mid-flow through huge projects.

By comparison we look at ourselves as an artisanal bakery, making a few loaves at a time. If these don’t work, you can attempt macaroons instead. If you want to rethink how bread rises, that’s easy too.

Our entire team is a reasonable size, meaning changes can be made quickly and implemented easily. When it comes to the rapidly changing BIM world, being small and nimble is a definite advantage.

As a smaller firm we take advantage of jogging just behind the “leaders”. We have found that we can benefit from second adopter advantage. We are riding in the slipstream of the early adopters and avoiding their mistakes. The experienced staff we hired monitor the latest developments in BIM and follow what others are doing, this then forms the basis of what we choose to pursue and what we do not. 

Smaller also means you can be eccentric, nurture the different. Simultaneously, smaller office size means staff need to be team players. We don’t have a BIM manager, as such, but instead a number of multi-skilled individuals that plug into each other in a company that isn’t yet too big that people don’t talk to each other.

The BIM guys call it “collaboration”. This is a strength. If practices listen carefully and give staff the reins, they will guide you through the challenges – you just have to be ready to reward them at milestones or they’ll jump onto the next passing ship.

It is also important not to be overly worried, or lie about your BIM capabilities. Companies win work for a variety of reasons but it is highly unlikely to be won because an organisation is doing Level 2 BIM as very few companies are.

Focus on what your client really wants, and how you can help them achieve it. Why sell a Lamborghini to someone who only drives it around Chelsea, picking up groceries? It looks stylish but groceries don’t fit in the boot and it will never reach a speed above 60 miles an hour. It’s a waste of your resourcing and no one is going to thank you.

I believe that if you focus on the end goal, BIM will almost happen by itself. Although, having said that, you still have to be prepared to do more than put your toe in the water and make that jump. The initial shock may almost drown you but very soon you’ll be swimming.

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