From next year all centrally procured public projects will have to use BIM Level 2 and yet our industry still seems woefully unprepared. Building asked a panel of BIM enthusiasts how they would get construction more fully engaged to reap the technology’s benefits
For all the talk about the revolution in construction promised by Building Information Modelling, while some in the sector are proficient in the technology, others have never used it. But since the whole point of BIM is collaboration across disciplines and companies, to fulfil the technology’s full potential, pretty much everyone in the industry needs to be up to speed with it. There is also the not-insignificant matter of the government requirement that all centrally procured public projects use BIM Level 2 from next year. Building gathered some of the industry’s BIM champions, ranging from architects to specialist contractors, to debate how to bridge the skills gap.
Scale of the gap
Our panel first discussed the extent of the skills gap. Gavin Hamblett, managing director of envelope specialist Prater, which is in the midst of training its staff in BIM, was in no doubt: “There is definitely a massive skills gap. If I am in an office of an engineer like BuroHappold, I’ll find that everyone is drawing in 3D and has been for four or five years.” In Prater’s office, meanwhile: “We have 65 people in our design team and three years ago few in our sector were designing in 3D at all. It will be a number of years and take considerable investment before our entire team is fully trained in 3D,” said Hamblett.
Furthermore, Prater says it is a BIM pioneer among specialist contractors. Stuart Whiting, design and technical associate director at the firm, said: “There are thousands of contractors that are nowhere near where we are. I can only think of two that we work with that are actively talking to us about BIM.”
John Downes, head of facades at Lendlease, said: “We are certainly aware of an emerging skills gap appearing in the specialist facade supply chain and as an industry we must find a mechanism to bridge that gap.”
To date we haven’t publicised our BIM successes in order to maintain competitive advantage. We now need to do so, as if everyone else does BIM, the benefits will snowball
Stuart Whiting, Prater
Concerns were also raised about competency levels. Reginald Basit, BIM manager at architect Populous, said: “It is one thing to do BIM but the quality of how it is done is another question. Many companies don’t do it properly.”
Hamblett agreed that the quality of design information varies: “It differs immensely. Generally we inherit more 2D than 3D, and we take the 2D as accurate and the 3D as indicative.”
Rahul Shah, head of BIM at Lendlease, said this was often because the industry is working in what he called a “hybrid environment where 2D is contractual and 3D is non-contractual”. The result is that instead of starting with a 3D model and generating 2D details from it, 3D “is being parked and done retrospectively”, he said. Then, when the client procures the main contractor, the contractor receives 2D and 3D versions of the same design that don’t match. During a six-week tender process the contractor then “needs one week just to work out which version is correct”.
Michael Bartyzel, regional BIM lead and associate director at engineer Buro Happold, agreed: “Right now there is no single source of truth, but actually that is exactly what BIM should be about.”
John Bowles, director of Freeform3D, a 4D modelling services provider, said: “We still have an incredibly long distance to go.”
So what are the barriers to the wider use of BIM? One issue that the panel felt strongly about was Employer’s Information Requirements (EIR) statements, which are issued as part of tender documents for the procurement of the design team and main contractor for a BIM project. The document is intended to explain to the bidder which models are required at each stage of the project. While the government’s BIM Task Group publishes a specimen EIR on its website, the document can be adapted for each individual project.
Nicholas Leach, BIM manager at contractor and developer Brookfield Multiplex, said: “You have people writing the EIR who have no idea about the project. They are sometimes third party consultants with no connection to how the project is going or what we
are doing. Often it is not even written at the start of the project and the project team only sees it half way through.”
Jon Harris, BIM manager at Mace, added: “There are large inconsistencies with EIRs; they can range from a 20-page document to a one liner.”
Basit said a major stumbling block is clients’ lack of experience: “I have yet to encounter a client that has completed the BIM journey; everyone that we have encountered so far has been brand new to the experience, so we haven’t been given any historical data to learn from.” With many clients being one-off procurers, this problem will persist.
Babak Tizkar, BIM manager at architect Wilkinson Eyre, suggested that the project team should “have more of a say in the EIR”, since they after all will be working with the models as opposed to the client.
Shah, however, argued that there is already a mechanism for changing the EIR in the form of the project execution plan that bidders for BIM projects are required to produce as part of their tender – assuming the bidder takes the opportunity to use it. “As part of their response our tendering partners can challenge our requirements and even help us improve our processes … And our EIRs now contain the lessons learned over the past few years.”
Harris, though, argued that the tender process was generally not set up to encourage such a collaborative process, partly because of the short time given to contractors to complete tenders. “The format is not in the spirit of teamwork and therefore not in the spirit of BIM,” he said.
Others were wary of relying on existing templates. Bowles said: “The problem with a framework is that it can stifle innovation. The BIM Task Group has done fantastic work but there needs to be a balance between standardisation and innovation.”
The cost of implementing BIM is, predictably, another hurdle for many firms. Tizkar pointed out that for a start-up architectural practice: “Getting the systems in place is very costly. Even simple things like colour calibration across software requires a huge investment.”
A further barrier to more successful use of BIM, which has the knock-on effect of preventing its wider adoption, is the failure to truly share models. Shah said: “Of all those involved in the process, the hardest to get to share models are architects. The designers themselves tend to be ready to collaborate but often their legal and commercial teams won’t allow it. We find that the legal people working for the so-called rock stars of architecture are particularly reluctant. But these barriers need to be brought down - there is after all nothing in the contract preventing the design from being shared.”
Tizkar conceded that this happens: “We need to both share and talk more,” he said. However, he said that Wilkinson Eyre was keen to share models: “One of our success stories is the capacity upgrade of Bank underground station. On this job our architectural team is sitting with the contractor and all the seed files are coming from one person, with all stakeholders collaborating, and up to now not a single drawing has been generated because it’s all 3D.”
Other members of the panel had similarly positive accounts of how BIM had benefitted their projects and companies but it was felt that these were rarely talked about, even though they could encourage wider adoption of BIM. Bowles said: “There is a huge problem with awareness.”
Downes said that the resulting skills gap is particularly worrying because it prevents the industry from moving to using 4D BIM, where the 3D model is linked to schedule information.
The panel identified both specialist contractors and smaller firms such as cash-strapped start-up architects as those furthest from being brought into the BIM fold. So how can these firms be won over?
Bowles said that convincing sceptics that BIM will benefit them is challenging because the benefits are difficult to quantify: “You can’t always prove the value of something that has so many soft benefits.”
But Hamblett argued that BIM’s benefits can be quantified: “With clients like Crossrail and Network Rail, their whole world is about assessing risk and putting a cost against it. They have looked at how using 3D and 4D models has decreased risk and they are then able to say how much financial value has been delivered.” These “sophisticated projects”, he suggested, can demonstrate tangible benefits of BIM.
Tizkar said that for architects the benefits are clear: “BIM allows us to test the design and understand more about how things are built, including sequencing, which is crucial in allowing us to achieve the desired building performance.” He said Wilkinson Eyre would use the technology, whether or not clients asked for it.
The Prater team also said that a strong case could be made for the benefits of BIM for specialists. After using BIM on its work on the redevelopment of London Bridge, although it was not a contractual requirement, the firm is now using BIM on all major projects. Hamblett said: “We are not doing it because we have to but because we are seeing massive benefits from it.”
These benefits include the ability to plan logistics in particular: “BIM was really the only way we could articulate an access logistics strategy for the job. Trying to do it with drawings and words, then trying to sell that to the end client - as well as our own team - was virtually impossible because the job was so complex. There were so many issues, such as building from a track bed up and completely unitising massive structural roofing cassettes with the M&E services already installed. The only way to make it work was to visualise it with an animated sequence.”
Shah added: “Everybody benefits if they actively participate. For us, as a main contractor (although we are also a developer) we see benefits to time, cost, quality and safety.” Harris agreed, adding: “For Mace, it’s about enabling collaborative working and easing integration over the asset lifecycle” - including into the facilities management phase.
Bowles said that the key was to “bottle” such positive experiences of BIM in order to bring the rest of the industry on board. He suggested a co-ordinated, cross-discipline effort is required: “At the moment there are too many voices, too many tweets and so on. The industry needs to speak with one voice.”
To achieve this, the panel felt that clients would need to be fully convinced first. Hamblett said: “The collaborative approach that BIM requires does not mean that the professional services team concludes their work and then specialists start theirs.” The challenge with this was that: “The client believes that he won’t be able to get best value if everyone is engaged at once.” The key, therefore, would be to “convince clients that best value can be achieved by ensuring that everyone is collaborating at the earliest possible stage”.
Bartyzel said that BuroHappold was achieving this level of collaboration in the US through IPD (integrated project delivery) contracts. “This is a collaborative approach where you work with all the stakeholders at once, even in the same room, with BIM tied into the process. This gives early engagement and information.”
In the UK, then, could a partnering approach to projects be the solution to engaging the wider industry with BIM? Whiting welcomed the idea of contractual partnering - for example, using the NEC3 or PPC2000 contract forms, which involve subcontractors at the start of the project and share risk between all the project team. The panel agreed this is an ideal framework for supporting the collaborative approach that BIM requires.
I have yet to encounter a client that has completed the BIM journey; everyone that we have encountered so far has been brand new to the experience
Reginald Basit, Populous
However, contractual partnering is far from ubiquitous. Lendlease, for example, is using the contract on some public sector projects, but most of the firm’s other developments, including all private sector schemes, are being undertaken on a design and build basis.
Downes pointed out that two-stage tendering is being used widely and while the approach does not promote collaboration as much as partnering, “two-stage is probably a good environment for BIM, given that it provides a framework for early contractor involvement”.
But overall the panel felt that the contract alone is unlikely to be enough to engage the whole industry with BIM - especially those with no previous exposure to the approach. Instead, efforts to educate and train in BIM were needed - which can be delivered through another form of “partnering”, where companies well-versed in BIM spread the word and help to teach the rest.
In fact, Mace is already training its preferred suppliers in BIM at its business school. The firm also encourages collaboration, by inviting members of the design team to “get together with suppliers to share knowledge and exchange ideas”, Harris explained.
Prater, meanwhile, plans to publicise its experience of BIM. Whiting said: “To date we haven’t publicised our BIM successes in order to maintain competitive advantage. We now need to do so, as if everyone else does BIM, the benefits will snowball.”
BuroHappold has its own plans. Bartyzel said: “We are considering partnering with a contractor and looking at how they procure and build, and whether we can design towards this. At the moment we produce the model, hand it to the contractor and he basically throws it straight in the bin and says I’ll do my own, because the model doesn’t relate to how they build things.”
Downes argued that educating the supply chain should be an industry-wide initiative: “We don’t seem to be planning for how to bring the supply chain into BIM.” Leach added that messages also need to be simplified. “The supply chain already has a lot of information about BIM but it’s now about understanding it.”
The panel concluded that overall, partnering, both the contract form and in the wider sense of working with other firms, will be how BIM is eventually adopted across the industry. Despite the challenges to achieving this, the panel was upbeat. Bartyzel said: “There is still a lot to do but we are making the right moves and I’m really optimistic about the future of BIM. We’re moving into a brave new world.”
Round table speakers
Babak Tizkar, BIM manager, Wilkinson Eyre
Gavin Hamblett, managing director, Prater
James Bowles, director, Freeform3D
John Downes, head of facades, Lendlease
Jon Harris, head of BIM, Mace
Michael Bartyzel, regional BIM lead, BuroHappold Engineering
Nicholas Leach, BIM manager, Brookfield
Rahul Shah, head of BIM, Lendlease
Reginald Basit, BIM manager, Populous
Stuart Whiting, design & technical associate director, Prater