Research shows that the overall number of firms saying they use BIM has dropped in the last year - should we be worried?

Sarah Richardson

BIM, with its shared use of technology and supply chain integration, is to some a byword for the promise of industry collaboration. But could it, ironically, be the cause of an industry divide?

We report this week on the latest survey findings from RIBA enterprises offshoot NBS, which suggest that take up of BIM across the sector has plateaued over the last year. The recorded drop in those using BIM is admittedly slight - with 48% now saying they are, compared with 54% before - and, as with any of those other close-run polls currently dominating political headlines, the results need to be treated with a degree of caution. Nonetheless, it is a stark feature of NBS’ research that while the overall number of firms saying they used BIM has dropped, among those who are using it, the level of sophistication at which they are doing so has risen - 65% said they have now reached at least Level 2, compared with 58% at the last count.

This adds weight to suggestions that a two-tier industry is emerging when it comes to BIM: those with deepening capability and those with little or none. There is still time for the latter to catch up; but the growing focus on the more advanced Level 3 BIM, which envisages the technology being used to a much greater level to connect buildings into smart cities, means that the ability of the pack to keep the leaders in sight is steadily shrinking.

This adds weight to suggestions that a two-tier industry is emerging when it comes to BIM: those with deepening capability and those with little or none

Mark Bew, chairman of the government’s BIM Task Force, points out this week that companies only really tend to adopt new approaches when they need to for compliance - either with law, or to meet a client’s particular demand. For the majority of firms, he is probably right; and so the industry upturn - with an increasing number of construction projects coming to market - should be the ideal opportunity for more companies to encounter demand for BIM expertise, and thereby for the modelling technology to extend its reach across the industry.

However, that relies on two key drivers which do not yet seem to be widely evident in new work coming forward: client demand, and construction businesses seizing the initiative to sell their BIM expertise to clients. There is some debate over which one of these should take effect first, but the reality is that for BIM to achieve the reach across the sector its proponents - including government - envisage, both need to happen simultaneously.

The incentive for companies to play their part is clear: for those with BIM expertise, the more clients they can convince of its merit, the greater the demand for their services. For clients - if they buy into the emerging benefits of BIM at a project level - the incentive to really push demand is longer term, but potentially even greater. Because if the notion of smart cities and the internet of things does come to pass, the worst place to be left, if you are responsible for managing built assets, would be off of that interconnected grid.  

The battle on right to buy

So, as expected, housing has become a central battleground of the election: great news. Far less welcome, however, is the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to extend right to buy. In one blow this week, David Cameron’s party moved the debate away from how more (and how many more) homes can be built, to a policy which stands to benefit only a small fraction of those unable to afford their own homes - and in the process, potentially cause far reaching damage to efforts to fund the building of those which could house thousands of others.

The National Housing Federation attacked the policy this week, saying it risks jeopardising housing associations’ ability to borrow against their assets to secure favourable rates from lenders - and thereby invest in building homes. Warnings like this, and the sheer wasted opportunity that would come with a focus on right to buy ahead of measures to directly increase supply, need to be heard above the superficially voter-enticing noise that the Conservatives are trying to create.

Sarah Richardson, editor