Why we need to tackle two-tier system of BIM adoption

‘The effect of piecemeal training and implementation has created a two-tier system, with elite supply chain partners benefiting, and the remainder left without the resource, time and investment to embark on this journey.’ Donatella Fiorella, ISG

Donatella Fiorella, BIM manager at construction services company ISG, says the industry needs to deal with the reality that only the industry’s elite are fully advanced with BIM.

“We’ve had to bring more seats in for your session”, was the helpful response from the organisers as I queried the swift room reconfigurations happening around me as I prepared to present at the recent BSI Digital World conference. Encouraging, if a little nerve-racking, signs for a presenter preparing to talk about our educational journey implementing BIM throughout our global business.

This thirst for knowledge is perhaps symptomatic of the situation we find ourselves in as an industry, some six years after the government launched its BIM programme to stimulate digitalisation in the public and private sectors.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is an ever-widening gulf between those organisations that are fully signed up members of the BIM club, and those that want to begin their journey, and perhaps more frequently than we’d like to admit, those businesses that simply can’t get out of the starting blocks.

The audience comprised BIM coordinators, BIM managers and digital specialists from a diverse range of contractors, supply chain, private practices and government agencies. These were individuals who recognised the importance of BIM and the direction of travel that our industry is moving in. And yet, through the questions and conversations I subsequently had on the day, we should all be concerned that we risk leaving a large proportion of key project stakeholders behind, affecting our ability to move digitalisation forward.

So, what’s been happening since 2016, when BIM was mandated by government on centrally procured public works? Well simplistically, those tier one contractors and suppliers that recognised the importance of the government’s BIM agenda have been investing heavily in technology, training and people. Many contractors have also realised that if they don’t invest in training for their supply chain partners, then they simply cannot deliver BIM outcomes to clients.

However, the effect of this piecemeal training and implementation has created a two-tier system, with elite supply chain partners benefiting, and the remainder left without the resource, time and investment to embark on this journey.

That’s exactly the situation that was playing out before me at the conference – and let’s remember that these attendees had the titles to suggest they were already many steps ahead of their peers. What I was hearing repeatedly was talk of a culture clash within organisations. BIM was a role not an ethos. Tier ones understand very well that BIM will never take root within a business without the explicit buy-in of the entire management structure. A BIM title does not a BIM organisation make – especially when those individuals move on and there is no cultural resilience left behind.    

Scratch beneath the surface and you can quickly disappear down a rabbit hole. Anecdotally, we suspect that only around 15% of the UK supply chain has a clear understanding and ability to deliver BIM outcomes. That’s a huge mountain to climb for everyone driving through increasing digitalisation and smart outcomes in the built environment.

Quantifying the scale of this issue is the first stage to understanding how we can narrow this gap and transform perceptions. An immediate consequence from the BSI event has been the instigation of a series of workshops that we are hosting to share eight years of experience to help organisations fast-track their own BIM journeys. But it’s as a broader industry that we have the scale and capability to accelerate those 85% of organisations towards cultural change and into proficient implementation.

The fragmentation of our supply chains means we can no longer rely on a small cohort of partners that “get” BIM. We must have a more broadly encompassing strategy to engage and educate across the entire supplier spectrum. The benefits are clear – better skilled project partners, more seamless integration, enhanced collaboration and better customer outcomes.

The appetite to join this digital revolution is clearly there, the question is: do we have the commitment and ambition to add those extra chairs when our suppliers are reaching out to us?

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