BIM is a radical way of ‘rethinking construction’ - don’t get left behind

Will all private sector clients adopt Building Information Modelling? If they don’t, they risk being left behind like never before - and just as government clients are finally getting their acts together. For a generation of construction professionals it has been the likes of Stanhope, Davis Langdon and Bovis that have been best known for “rethinking construction” by forming successful integrated supply teams. These were companies best placed to understand the plethora of contractor, cost and design considerations in an attempt to reinvent the science behind the construction process. With it came pockets of cultural change, people thinking in different ways. An integrated team was considered the key to success and helped to achieve scale, consistency and increased profits.

Throughout the Labour boom years, for every Egan or Latham talking shop, there was a private sector client cleverly just getting on with it, and enjoying the benefits

However, during this period too, there was much criticism of the waste and lack of client leadership from within public sector procurement, which is still part of the coalition’s narrative today as epitomised in the ongoing PFI debate. Throughout the Labour boom years, for every Egan or Latham talking shop, there was a private sector client cleverly just getting on with it, and enjoying the financial benefits. Despite a few pockets of success, the public sector was largely in lag mode.

What is interesting is that at a time when construction output is wavering and public sector spending is being squeezed, the Cabinet Office and Department for Business have chosen this moment to attempt to do exactly what the private sector did all those years ago. To rip up the rule book and say: “If you want our work, you’ve got to do it our way and, by the way, this time we’ll manage this relationship for and with you and it’s a no-brainer that you’ll benefit.” This is real client leadership. The most emphatic symbol of this change is the mandating of BIM. To earn the right to win a public sector contract, companies now have to embrace this project management tool. Some notable big players, such as Balfour Beatty and Laing O’Rourke, have placed significant investment in BIM, and not just because it is becoming mandatory but because it is working for them. They have understood that 3D modelling and the controlling and effective managing of supply chains and design costs on a project makes a significant difference to their bottom line. The mandating of BIM has simply given them all a very big kick up the backside to make it happen faster - and their competitors now know they have to catch up as fast as they can.

Despite the many real concerns surrounding BIM - ranging from legal wrangles, intellectual property, insurance and the use, cost and roll-out of the technology - the industry will undergo a period of transition while it is urged to cope with the change. Larger firms may have to invest to bring their supply chains along with them. Mid-sized firms will be forced to invest in the long term at a time when they feel very uneasy. The government will need to embark on an education exercise in BIM if it is to put what it is preaching into practice - and help the industry to cope. And, finally, private clients need to begin to take the plunge, carry some cost and invest in the long term or risk ending up in an uncomfortable place before they know it. If all this can happen, then when the workload does return, we could see a wholesale transformation in procurement.

Tom Broughton, brand director