We have a great chance to seize the opportunities BIM presents - but we need to keep it simple

Frank McLeod

Innovation and reinvigoration are concepts well understood by the construction industry. We have published numerous reports on what needs to be done since the sixties - most notably and recently with Sir Michael Latham’s Building the Team (1994) and Sir John Egan’s Rethinking Construction (1998). 

Building Information Modelling (BIM), if recognised as a sociological system, can be considered as the latest innovation, sponsored by our government. So why should this become a radical innovation and what should we do to ensure that it embeds? 

What do we mean by radical innovation? Wolfgang Grulke said it well when he described innovation with two axis, markets (sociological) and technology. It is only when we destroy both axis and change the nature of our transactions, that an innovation becomes radical. 

So what is different? Well let’s be careful, previously we focused on the sociological aspects, behaviours, attitude, collaboration - certainly the most in need of attention, but according to Grulke, only half the picture. Now that we talk of models, data and information, we are at risk of polarising the issue again. We must have a balanced approach. 

Why now? Well I believe there are a number of factors. 

First, the majority of people want this change, previously too many people lived on the waste within our industry.

BIM is your tool, we do not need to create a new profession to manage it. We do not need BIM managers

Secondly, technology has caught up with our ambitions. For the first time we all have access to reliable and affordable technology that will allow us to manage information in a universally beneficial manner.

Thirdly, the use of manufacturing techniques has been tried and tested, in a number of arenas, and it is clear that they can bring, when deployed correctly, tangible benefits, including commercial, to all involved.

Last but by no means least we, I like to believe, are crawling out of, what is the worst recession I have ever experienced and I refuse to believe that anyone would be willing to return to the way of working we saw before. 

So what do we need to do? It’s easier than you think, it’s just adding collaboration and structure to what we have done for years, but don’t ignore it or you will let the opportunists back in. BIM is your tool, we do not need to create a new profession to manage it. We do not need BIM managers. It is in their interest to make this more complicated and bureaucratic than it needs to be.

However, it is new and there are no standard approaches, yet, so we do need someone to help organise the environment, but do we really need a third party contributing to the production of the information? Don’t these people already exist, aren’t we just enhancing our current capability and processes?

BiM should be self-service the domain of the designer, the design manager, the package coordinator, everyone actually. There is no room for another passenger.

In this new year we are going to select a number of projects on which to maximise the structured approach to hands-free BIM. Let’s see what happens. I’ll report back.

Frank McLeod is UK head of project technology for WSP