Yes, we’ve heard it all before - but this time BIM really is going mainstream, says Simon Rawlinson. Now, its development needs to be driven by the industry’s future leaders

Construction columnists have been rightly focused on the potential of BIM this summer. With the government setting out its stall as a “BIM change agent” -facilitating the necessary cultural and technical changes within businesses adopting BIM - and mandating adoption on major projects, the industry could finally find itself at a significant tipping point, with BIM shifting from niche capability to general competence. 

Getting this far has taken a long time, so it’s not surprising that some responses to the launch are in the “it’s all been done before” category. From my perspective, what’s new is the prospect of predictable client demand for BIM, better and more integrated tools and more scope for collaborative working through the integrated project delivery team model.

Our emerging talent has the most to gain from new career opportunities - particularly if the future involves new skills and techniques that are scarce

Another aspect of UK BIM development that has remained relatively constant has been the pivotal role of dedicated groups - AEC UK, BuildingSmart and the BIS Working Group for example - in raising awareness, developing standards and pooling knowledge. But these are quite small groups and a challenge for everyone involved in the next stage of BIM roll-out will be expanding this base in response to growth in demand - capturing the energy and innovation of the next generation of designers, managers and constructors in developing new ways of working. These are the future leaders who will take the industry further down the information-sharing track.

I was first introduced to the potential and challenges of BIM-enabled working in 2000 through an initiative called Teamwork.  Teamwork focused on the collaborative work agenda and at the time was at the cutting edge, using BIM technology and alternative ways of working as an enabler for performance improvement rather than as a means to an end. Recommendations in reports produced by Teamwork in 2000 and 2001 are still relevant today, and many participants have developed significant roles in the implementation of BIM in the UK.

Unfortunately, since Teamwork stopped running events there haven’t been many opportunities for people new to BIM to cut their teeth and to challenge convention. Furthermore, whether due to lack of opportunity or limited engagement, the next generation of experts have not always been fully engaged in the development of strategy or new ways of working. How could these people be brought on board?

The UK BIM implementation strategy is structured around push and pull factors. The government client has committed to a level of BIM adoption to create the “pull” - confidence that suppliers need to invest in training, systems and standards. In turn the industry must create the infrastructure that will “push” the acceleration of adoption and utilisation of the model. This could involve profound changes to the way in which designers, constructors and suppliers work and it would make sense for those most likely to be affected - the next generation - to be involved in delivering the solutions required. These people could make a vital contribution to the industry’s development.

The industry must create the infrastructure that will ’push’ the acceleration of adoption and utilisation of the model

There are plenty of ways in which this pull could be created: consumers of education and training should be demanding courses that prepare them for future ways of working, team members should be more vocal about the waste involved in information exchange and the potential that new tools and ways of working could bring and members of institutions should be demanding a more joined up approach. Critics will rightly say these issues have been around for years, so why would anything change now?

Let’s take a leaf out of the government’s book and recognise that if there is sufficient demand, change will happen, and as industry participants we all have a role in advocating this change. Our emerging construction talent has the most to gain from new career opportunities - particularly if the future involves new skills and techniques that are valued and scarce. In response to this opportunity, are BIM membership organisations, such as G4C or BCO’s NextGen, taking as prominent a role in advocating BIM-driven change that they could? And are our younger BIM experts as engaged as they should be?
The stars of tomorrow should drive change today, so where you have the opportunity in your business, institution or project, start asking the questions and putting forward ideas - that’s your role in the BIM revolution.

Simon Rawlinson is head of strategic research and insight at EC Harris