While collaboration is the real key, it is contractors who are best placed to lead the use of BIM on projects


At a recent debate held in the offices of a well know firm of solicitors there was a lively discussion over who is best to take the lead in driving BIM projects in the future. Speakers in the debate representing clients, architects, project managers and contractors presented the case for their business/profession to take the lead role in driving BIM projects in future.

The key purpose was to get people thinking about who is best suited to drive the BIM process and to consider that perhaps in some circumstances different leads may be best for different types of project.

Of course at the outset of the debate, the host emphasised that whilst the debate was primarily for fun and to stimulate thought and discussion, it was more importantly to emphasise that making BIM truly successful relies on collaboration of many parties. Let’s consider the argument from each vantage point.

Most architects do not have the desire, resources, appetite, expertise or financial strength to take on the driving role for the industry

The client: they commission the project, have the end state in mind, will own and manage the asset and their business outcomes are ultimately the most important. However BIM leadership is not usually their core business nor is it their area of expertise. They (and their FM team) will be the biggest users the data and associated BIM models. There are classic examples of clients who are driving BIM forward for their own business such as Crossrail and HS2. Of course all the industry can learn from them but they (clients) are not necessarily the prime candidate in may view to drive it forward across the industry. The vision perhaps - detail less so. Each client might have a different interpretation to suit their own business needs. This may not lead to common industry standards.

The architect: the visionary, the creator and former of the concept which will ultimate meet the client’s needs. They create the initial work, integrate and coordinate the work of a number of others. However most do not have the desire, resources, appetite, expertise or financial strength to take on the driving role for the industry as it takes them away from their design focus. Good things have been done by the RIBA/NBS including the Digital Plan of Work, but this has involved a close degree of collaboration with many others to attempt to satisfy industry needs. There are of course good examples where architects might lead the work of BIM for their organisation such as a local authority such as Alistair Lewis and his work for Hampshire County Council. This does not mean that they can necessarily assume, or want to assume leadership for the whole.

The project manager (clients adviser): They have the ability to organise, assemble the right players and set the strategy. However they may set policy and determine what the outcomes should be but they too are often reluctant to take on board the full responsibility and ultimate liability for the overall delivery and performance. They may of course be commissioned to drive for a particular client organisation such as a University Estates team, a commercial client or an airport body, but may not be as determined to drive the entire industry.

My case for the contractor is simple. Contractors work for a range of clients, public and private, developer and owner occupier. They engage with a wide array of designers and project managers including specialists and statutory bodies. Under the  banner of the UK contractors group I believe contractors can drive BIM forward with the flexibility to suit a range of customers needs, yet provide the consistency which will work for the whole industry – including supply chain and SMEs.

If you were to consider the successful leadership of BIM as putting on a music concert, the patron (client) commissions and approves the piece (design), the composer (architect) creates the vision, and the promoter (project manager) recruits the parties and organises the event. However it is orchestra led, by its conductor (contractor) who integrates the work of the players (supply chain and SMEs), fine tunes the arrangement if necessary – to suit the venue, performers and clients needs, and makes it happen.  It is they who truly lead the performance and deliver the result.

Peter Trebilcock chairs Balfour Beatty’s UK-wide design community of practice and its UK BIM Steering Group