BIM is transforming the way we build and the way we share and control information. Its progress is irresistible and anyone wanting to win work should embrace it


It’s not often I find myself amused over the new year by something I read. It’s normally a period of reflection and recovery after the excesses of Christmas. But flicking though my copies of Building magazine I saw two diametrically opposed views on BIM which caused me to smile. One was from Tony Bingham, probably construction’s best known litigation barrister and arbitrator, and the other from Peter Hansford, the government’s construction adviser and leading light at the Institution of Civil Engineers. 

It was a bit like construction’s version of the latest Sly Stallone and Robert De Niro movie, Grudge Match. Two men of vast experience in the autumn of their lives battling away to make a point. Tony’s view in the red corner is summed up by his comment: “BIM is nothing more than a posh set of drawings on the desktop or iPad … You cannot bully people into collaborative working, especially when they have long realised that it’s in truth all about risk shift and blame.” 

Peter’s view in the blue corner is: “Rarely now do I hear people asking ‘should we do BIM?’. Instead the question has become, ‘how quickly can we do BIM?’ This is encouraging, construction is becoming smarter.”

From our experience in a public procurement scenario, either you embrace BIM and accept its shortcomings or you don’t get the job. It’s as simple as that

Well, it’s always dangerous to step in between two heavyweights - a stray left hook can easily floor you - but as someone who works in a business that aspires to adopt BIM methodology, I have to say that I am firmly wedded to its virtues. BIM is not the future, it’s very much the present and if you deny this, then you are like someone trying to buy a 78rpm record in a world of the digital download. 

A few people will argue there’s a vinyl comeback but the rest of us are living in the age of iTunes, Amazon MP3 and Google Play.

To be fair, Tony Bingham, with his forensic analysis and sharp-eyed observations, has a point when he highlights the weaknesses of the government’s argument that BIM will be able to save both vast amounts of money and half your time on contracts by 2025. He also highlights the inconvenient but undeniable truth that a posh piece of software won’t stop party A from suing party B and that “forced” collaboration is a contradiction in terms. 

However, he misses a fundamental fact to which Peter Hansford alludes in his piece, which is that BIM’s usefulness is no longer a question mark in people’s minds - it’s more a question of shall I use it or shall I wait and see what happens? From our experience in a public procurement scenario, either you embrace BIM and accept its shortcomings or you don’t get the job. It’s as simple as that. 

The public sector has grasped BIM more quickly than the private developer, who remains to be convinced. BIM is not a silver bullet that will see the end of construction disputes

Hansford was more subtle, talking of “construction becoming smarter”, but the truth is that we are now past the early adopter phase of BIM, with Level 2 BIM taking the whole process of collaboration well beyond the whizzy 3D models and digital designs that allowed you to see a building develop in real time.

We are now sharing data using the same common information standards, holding data and information in a single environment, making sure suppliers work to the same information plans, auditing the whole supply chain to ensure it has the capability and capacity to deliver information and, importantly, ensuring there is a clear standard to which everyone adheres for the exchange of information.

It’s not just about modelling buildings any more - it’s about efficient and effective information management and controlling the information flow. Clients don’t want to get a bill at the end of the construction process; they want predictability and to understand the direct impact of changes in real time.

To dispute that BIM is here to stay is a bit like refusing to work with email because you like the touch and feel of an envelope. But is the message getting through that Level 2 BIM is now more than 3D modelling? Probably not.

I think the public sector has grasped the concept more quickly than the private developer, who perhaps remains to be convinced. BIM is not a silver bullet that will see the end of construction disputes; you can’t force people to work together just because “the computer says yes” - to misquote Little Britain. At the end of the day someone in the construction process has to generate the information, and there is human fallibility that will always defeat the most robust of systems. 

After all, ours is an industry steeped in a tradition that often results in disputes around design and specification change, performance and delivery. It seems very unlikely that BIM, for all its merits, is going to change that completely. The lawyers have nothing to fear.

Richard Steer is the chairman of Gleeds Worldwide