BIM sceptics can be won over when they are able see it working up close for themselves


As with any new technology or innovation the cultural change aspect is perhaps the hardest to cultivate. In the world of digital construction, to many experienced operational teams, BIM is something best left to the techno geek, the one in the corner with the BIM kit with the penchant for talking data. At best long in the tooth construction colleagues may be interested to see the results on the screen, but at worst to them it’s a foreign language they see no need to learn.

Perhaps that’s why the cost estimating disciplines have been slow in the take up, as many of the new BIM quantity take off packages do not integrate with the programmes they currently use. They are not prepared or cannot afford to retrain.

Over the past 12 months it has become evident to me that the cultural step-change really occurs when a person sees what BIM can do for them – their function, their discipline, their role and in many cases because it’s almost “oven ready” in their hands.

I know of a major highways project team that is currently using over 100 iPads - giving them full access to all the information they need, in locations remote from site offices. The cost is paid for by efficiency savings - which equates to about half a day a week per engineer. An experienced construction manager was given access to a field device on his site. While a self confessed BIM sceptic, he now won’t put his new tablet down. He has access to drawings, specifications, BIM models at his fingers literally, and can capture and record snags or other issues and at the press of a screen. Then it’s immediately issued to his team, or subcontractor or commercial manager. The doubting Thomas has been converted because he was able to touch it in his hands. It meant something directly useful to him.

Many of the tools for digital construction that aren’t viewed as ‘BIM’ tools actually have an overlap with BIM

A large construction team had ordered two tablets on site. After four weeks they put in an order for another 10. Why? They saw just how much time is saved with having access to the right material and programmes in their hands. Site diaries, often neglected, can be more readily written with access to screen shots and reference data. The digital toolset brings efficiencies to QA checklists, sign offs, approvals, snagging lists, reports, linked specifications all of which can ultimately end up in the clients hands for his life cycle operations. (I’ve not even mentioned design integration and supply chain interfaces).

Many of the tools for digital construction that aren’t viewed as “BIM” tools actually have an overlap with BIM. From a site based perspective they can’t be separated and can each be integrated in the province of site devices.

Now imagine if the business leadership had access to all the data emanating from across all their sites including QA compliance, subcontractor performance stats, design feedback and financial data-that surely would unlock further efficiencies and provide welcome, sought after real time business operating data.

The trick is to provide opportunities for individuals to see and touch and feel the benefits for them. I believe there is not a function or discipline, if they are willing to engage, that cannot benefit from BIM on any project in any sector-providing we offer them the toolset that does not require a six month language training course.

This article is not about field devices. It’s about making BIM as simple and accessible as possible as a way of starting the cultural change process.

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