Opinion

Understanding BIM’s role in a wider ecosystem of benefit

Abstract image of a digital ecosystem for BIM benefit opinion
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BIM adoption hangs on everyone in the supply chain understanding its true value and realising their roles in an ecosystem, says Autodesk’s Marek Suchocki.

Most of the construction industry is familiar with the UK BIM policy (2011) set out by the Government Construction Strategy. This policy mandated that for all centrally-procured public projects, the government would require fully collaborative BIM as a minimum by April 2016. This directive marked a significant shift in how construction projects should be approached, and acted as a catalyst to enhance efficiency, transparency and collaboration across the sector.

The UK has been at the forefront of pioneering BIM, pushing the boundaries of object-based modelling since the 1990s and emphasising the value of attaching information to objects. This approach goes beyond CAD, providing 3D representations combined with richer data, facilitating enhanced project delivery and modern management practices.

While the clear benefits ring true for many, transitioning to BIM has historically come with a level of apprehension among smaller businesses. Smaller firms often struggle to justify significant investments in new technology, as well as the additional training and changes to established workflows that come with it.

Marek Suchocki of Autodesk

“It’s crucial for SME stakeholders to fully understand the benefits of BIM and understand their role in structuring data within the broader project ecosystem.”

Marek Suchocki

This is why it’s crucial for SME stakeholders to fully understand the benefits of BIM and understand their role in structuring data within the broader project ecosystem. Despite common misconceptions, effective BIM implementation doesn’t obligate extensive modelling efforts from everyone involved. Rather, it requires a collaborative mindset and willingness to share information using a CDE.

Larger businesses play a critical role in the successful adoption of BIM workflows across SMEs and in the supply chain. They are better positioned to have access to extensive technical solutions, experience and resources, so it is in their interest to take responsibility for fostering a broad understanding of the purpose of BIM adoption and to dispel any misconceptions around the perceived burdens.

A temperature check on BIM

The UK is regarded as a pioneer of BIM technology and has made great strides in driving awareness. In 2011, 43% of industry professionals had not heard of BIM. Today, awareness is much greater, with 73% using BIM as adoption continues to increase.

BIM initiatives have been making waves in several countries beyond the UK – including in Ireland, one of the latest countries to adopt its own BIM mandate. With BIM’s impact spreading across the globe, different jurisdictions are able to learn and adopt good practices from one another – particularly as the technology becomes mainstream – and act as key enablers for industry to work towards developing international standards.

But, according to the NBS 2023 Digital Construction Report, 12% of firms have no plans to adopt BIM, which rises to 19% among organisations with 25 or fewer staff, and nearly a quarter (23%) among those with staff of 15 or less. Cost and time, lack of client demand, and projects perceived to be too small to warrant its use were cited as the biggest challenges to adopting BIM.

Communicating the intention

At its core, BIM can help the industry get better value from public construction investments. However, the road to adoption requires more insight into the value it can bring.  

“Stakeholders need to understand that BIM is not about requiring everyone to engage in extensive modelling; they only need to provide the data relevant to their contribution to the project.”

Marek Suchocki

Object-based modelling within BIM holds significant value because it permits detailed information to be attached to each object within a project model. BIM goes beyond CAD, which allows for comprehensive 3D representations, but also enriches the model with asset data to enable more accurate planning, better decision-making and enhanced project management.

By adopting a CDE where the process of information creation is standardised and used between different projects, confidence in proposals is boosted and consistency improved. For BIM to be truly effective, stakeholders must internalise its benefits and understand their role within the broader project ecosystem. It’s essential to communicate that BIM is not just about individual gains, but also about contributing to a greater good.

A key aspect of BIM is the focus on the "I” – information. Stakeholders need to understand that BIM is not about requiring everyone to engage in extensive modelling –they only need to provide the data relevant to their contribution to the project or asset management process. A focus on information requirements and planning their provision makes the process more manageable and ensures that even small contributions can have a significant impact on the overall outcome.

Supporting the supply chain

Larger businesses have made strides in adopting BIM and are typically already capable with employees who might be highly technical. Here, the biggest challenge is in the extended supply chain, where 2D drawings for details or fabrication still dominate project execution.

“Larger organisations must advocate for and participate in the development of clear, practical guidance from industry bodies.”

Marek Suchocki

Relying solely on larger organisations is not sufficient to achieve true BIM implementation for all construction projects. The full benefits can only be felt when it is adopted appropriately across the entire supply chain. This is all about creating an ecosystem of benefit.

Larger organisations must advocate for and participate in the development of clear, practical guidance from industry bodies, such as nima. Supporting by, for example, providing access to BIM software and training programmes can also alleviate the financial burdens on smaller companies, making it easier for them to integrate BIM into their workflows.

Enhancing construction’s appeal

It’s no secret that the construction industry faces a serious challenge in attracting top talent. In fact, it is estimated that around 225,000 new construction workers will be needed to fill the demand by 2027.

Embracing digital solutions like BIM can inject excitement into construction work, encouraging skilled professionals to remain in the industry, or attract new entrants to start careers within the sector. This not only fosters an engaged workforce, it will also sustain the long-term viability of businesses in the sector.

Like any innovation, people, process and (technology) platforms are the three key pillars to successful adoption – and BIM is no different. To foster an effective and standardised construction ecosystem, collective effort is required to overcome obstacles.

With technology advancing rapidly, businesses within this industry simply cannot sit still. For the long term, adopting BIM is a foundational step that can help ensure the longevity of the business, increase competitiveness and drive cost efficiencies.

Marek Suchocki is head of industry associations strategy at Autodesk.

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