To mark this week’s BIM Live event, nine experts tell Emily Wright what they have learnt over the past 12 months



When it comes to construction buzz words, or rather buzz acronyms, BIM has to be one of the most widely used in years. Building Information Modelling has the power to transform the way the industry has traditionally worked and neatly pull the various different strands - from multiple companies and individuals to disciplines and building techniques - into a far more cohesive process. It’s a process that promotes collaboration, sustainability and smart building and design techniques. What’s not to love?

The key to building on the success of BIM is to see it as a continuous process which enables the industry to increase efficiency by learning from experience. A year on from the launch of the government’s BIM strategy, these lessons are even clearer and provide a jumping off point to start maximising BIM’s most useful application - bringing order to some of the chaos associated with getting a scheme up and running. Here, nine industry figures - all of whom have been using or focusing on BIM over the last year, explain what they have learnt along the way.

1. BIM is the tool, not the objective

Frank McLeod, head of design process
WSP Group

In my mind, the question has to be: what have we learnt from the process of implementing BIM?

This is important, as BIM is not the objective - the objective is to create value for our customers. That is particularly challenging in the current climate, as the needs of our clients are changing

In designing, we must analyse, compare, appraise, communicate and instruct faster and earlier than before. BIM will not make a bad designer good, but it will give a good designer the muscle to deliver the required value.

What the deployment of this technology has done is magnify a number of quite old issues raised by Michael Latham in 1994 and John Egan in 1998. If value is to be extracted from the use of BIM then all parties must collaborate - there can be no opting out and no hiding.

2. BIM shows how disconnected the industry has become

Michael Beaven, engineering practice leader
Arup Associates

BIM is reconnecting us, both as professions and physically - buildings in the public realm, infrastructure and the city. We’re experiencing each others’ work in a new way by sharing it in an integrated 3D environment. This is allowing us to work together to design, test, optimise and then manufacture, install, even maintain and dismantle, from the early ideas of a designer and client.

So what we are really learning from BIM is just how disconnected we have become as an industry - from the client, through to architects and engineers, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and then the maintainer, user, occupant, public and the dismantler.

The digital environment is reconnecting us through a shared platform, step by step as we integrate these processes into our projects. It also goes beyond resource, cost and time improvements to enable better, more comprehensive design decisions to be made. BIM reaches out to re-engage the constructors and those that take on and live in what we build.

It could be the catalyst for a better built environment.

3. You need to hire the right staff

James Pellatt, head of projects
Great Portland Estates

There is no doubt the industry has benefited from the increased take up of BIM.

Early evidence has indicated that the improved co-ordination of 3D design has reduced the problems encountered in delivery on site. However, BIM is not a panacea by itself - it does need careful implementation otherwise the process can become a burden and the benefits may be lost. The implementation of BIM can extend design development as co-ordination takes longer to resolve.

Clients should consider the role of an independent BIM facilitator to co-ordinate the 2D or 3D design from the various members of the project team, rather than relying on a lead consultant to do it. This helps in dealing with compatibility issues of the different types of software, as well as providing an independent view of design progress. It also reduces the chances of objection from the lead designer’s insurers who are often not keen to allow them to issue information on behalf of other consultants. I think the most important thing to remember is that the model is only as good as the design. The most important investment is in good team of designers who then happen to use BIM, not the other way round.

4. The role played by the contractor is crucial

Chris Gilmour, design director
Bam Construct UK

The biggest lesson we have learnt from BIM, based upon our experience so far is, that the contractor is the key player in the whole supply chain. It’s the contractor who takes the individual designers’ models, which invariably have been produced using differing software solutions, and creates the integrated design model.

It’s the contractor who finds areas where the design just doesn’t work and resolves the issues with the designers. It’s the contractor who substitutes specialist subcontractors’ manufacturing designs for those produced by the consultants, creating the manufacturing model which we build. In the main 4D, 5D, and indeed 6D, are in the remit of the contractor.

While designers are committing to producing design in a 3D environment and doing a fantastic job, it is as Paul Morrell says “The contractors who will become the integrators”. He is right on the money.

5. BIM leaves no place to hide

Mark Bew
Director, Engineering Construction Strategies
Chairman, UK Government BIM grou

It is nearly a year since we launched the government BIM strategy and we have learnt plenty in our first months of delivering the plan. The challenges of the technology, the variety of taxonomies, the array of standards and agendas, the perceived differences in process all pale into insignificance to the need to collaborate and be inclusive.

However good BIM may or may not be, the starkest lesson I have learnt is BIM’s ability to drive transparency through the supply chain at every level, leaving no place to hide. The influence this will have on behaviours within the supply chain to work together and drive out waste in terms of labour, plant and material savings at all stages of the assets life cycle will be transformational.

6. BIM must be led, not managed

Mark Thompson, managing director
Ryder Architecture

Modelling is the easy part, the challenge is to learn how to lead, plan and implement integrated project delivery. BIM is about culture as much as technology and it is much more than just Revit or 3D CAD. The key is the intelligent communication of data through the entire life cycle of a building, not just the development stage.

The last thing we need is a new profession of BIM managers sitting alongside design managers as another impotent layer of bureaucracy.

Effective BIM management is necessary, but should be in the project leader’s scope and should not attract additional fees.

The current Facebook generation are unafraid of change or technology, have a passion for new more efficient ways of working and enjoy and understand the power of sharing. If they recognise and embrace the opportunity - while many existing leaders and the institutes are prevaricating and posturing for position - then they could become the leaders of today rather than waiting until tomorrow.

7. The innovation needs to match the tool

Martin Hardman, CAD manager
NG Bailey

As we see BIM implemented on more projects, the use of technology to aid traditional construction processes is becoming more frequent, with innovative ideas being applied to projects that improve and benefit the traditional methods.We have been reviewing our traditional processes, to see how they can be improved and made more efficient though the use of technology.

A good example of this is our recent implementation of QR code technology on our detailed construction drawings. When a drawing is issued, a QR code is automatically added to the drawing border that, when scanned by a smart device, delivers a front end screen to the user stating if whether the drawing is the correct revision or if it has been superseded.

This method of checking can be used by all involved on the project both internally and externally. This reduces wasted material, strip out works and labour and is proving to be very beneficial to our projects clients.

As the BIM process becomes more advanced and models become more data rich, the use of such technology can only be welcomed and will benefit all involved in a project.

8. BIM is a powerful legal tool

Michael Conroy Harris, senior legal manager Eversheds

There is no doubting the enormous potential of BIM for making advances in the way that projects are delivered. But what might come as a surprise is that BIM can sit very comfortably into the existing legal system. Underneath the seemingly thorny issues of the ownership of the BIM model, potential additional liabilities and complex copyright issues are some simple principles.

The underlying rights are property rights, and these fall into two categories - intangible (things we cannot touch, such as design rights) and tangible (things we can touch, such as a book). The BIM model can be analysed in this way and the rights and responsibilities follow what are, in fact, established principles.

What is important is for the parties to a BIM project to allocate responsibilities appropriately and record it in their contracts.

9. It’s worth the time and money

Sadie Morgan, director
dRMM Architects

The implementation of BIM for architectural practices has meant huge investments of time and money, just when, as an industry, our resource and finances are being squeezed. The temptation is to try to put it off. My advice is don’t.

For dRMM, BIM allows us to work in parallel with our consultants, share information and readily inform the supply chain. The benefits are huge.

With a better co-ordinated work process and streamlined activities we are left to concentrate on what we do best - design great buildings.