Comment: Peter Barker – We’ve reached mandate day – now what’s beyond?

Peter Barker, managing director of the BIM Academy, the BIM consultancy company founded by Ryder Architecture and the University of Northumbria, on the journey so far and the distance still to go. 

Unless you have just returned to the construction and property sector from five years on a desert island, you cannot fail to have noticed the inexorable rise of BIM.

Around 2010, its initial enticing allure was its potential to solve the problems of the sector as it struggled out of recession. Inflated expectations were followed by a trough of disillusionment and “BIM fatigue”. But now it seems we are on the gradual slope of enlightenment towards productivity.

This would not have happened without the influence of central government. This has become increasingly clear to us here at BIM Academy as we have developed our business outside the UK since 2013, and been able to compare the approach which has developed in other regions. Lack of direction, or “laissez faire” policy from government, frequently leads to unstructured practice, inconclusive debate and unfulfilled potential and inertia.

It was primarily with the end-user and operator in mind that the government revealed in its 2011 Construction Strategy that it would mandate the use of BIM to maturity Level 2 on all centrally-funded government projects from 2016.

By the time you read this, the mandate will be in force and the government plans further escalation via its Digital Built Britain programme, as embodied in the Government Construction Strategy 2016-20… and £15m allocated funding in the budget to support it. 

So what has all the fuss been about and who are the winners and losers?

The losers are definitely those who have dismissed or avoided the topic and missed the opportunities to make their businesses leaner and greener, enhance the quality of their output and generally punch above their weight through intelligent use of the digital tools and processes we now have available.

Often the smaller, more agile companies have succeeded where large organisations have struggled to “turn the ocean liner”. Due to the government’s push-pull approach, those expecting government funding to spoon-feed the change have, on the whole, been disappointed and it’s generally been left to the individual organisation to chart its own roadmap to adoption, navigating the apparent myriad standards, terms and acronyms with support from industry groups and educational bodies gradually filling the void.

For architects, the advent of BIM into the mainstream just prior to the global financial crisis offered the seductive prospect of regaining leadership of the design process, which was often considered lost and much lamented. But with a few exceptions, this has failed to materialise and the canny project manager has filled the vacuum as they did in the 1980s and 90s. 

We now frequently see the role of BIM project manager usurping many of the leadership tasks which could rightfully sit with the architect as lead consultant, if there was the will to do so.

Looking beyond this, however, those who have benefited are not defined by their sector or discipline but more through attitude, agility and progressive thinking – property owners and managers, manufacturers, suppliers, designers, contractors, SMEs and multinationals have all seen tactical benefits of BIM once they have taken the initiative.

The greatest prize, which is only now being grasped, is the opportunity for owners to reap reliable information about their assets which can flow from a well-managed and resourced BIM project and BIM Academy has been fortunate enough to have supported several visionary clients in the UK and overseas with BIM for FM initiatives in both the public and private sector.

Indeed, originating from the government initiatives, the UK is now seen as the world leader in digital construction and property initiatives, with consequent benefits to UK organisations working in this sector.

Where we have moved too slowly as an industry is in a collective collaborative approach, applying these smart technologies and management processes to realise substantial tangible benefits. Too often BIM is seen as a “bolt-on” alongside traditional practices. But the momentum is building and there’s no turning back. 

The government’s continuing drive towards Level 3 is to be commended and it is essential to set the bar for 2020 and beyond, but as an industry we shouldn’t be distracted from resolving the real challenges faced by getting everyone on the same page and delivering real value from the Level 2 process, rather than just to be seen to be ticking the box.

We’re not there yet, but to quote the title of Van Morrison’s live album from 1974: “It’s Too Late to Stop Now”.

The greatest prize, which is only now being grasped, is the opportunity for owners to reap reliable information about their assets which can flow from a well-managed and resourced BIM project.– Peter Barker, BIM Academy

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