CM round table: What happened to the BIM bang?
Photograph: Julie Kim
A year after the mandate, CM brought together 10 industry stakeholders to discuss progress... or lack of it. Tom Ravenscroft reports.
It has been a year since the government’s Level 2 BIM mandate came in to force, a perfect time to take stock and reflect on whether BIM is actually achieving its core aims. By requiring all centrally funded government projects to utilise BIM Level 2, the mandate intended to drag the entire industry into the digital age. So, a year after D-Day, how has the landscape changed?
Round table attendees
From left to right in main picture: David Jellings, BIM Object; Peter Trebilcock; Eddie Tuttle, CIOB; Steve Martin, ECA; Jill Guthrie, Willmott Dixon; Adam McCall, Arcadis; John Adams, Autodesk; Sonia Zahiroddiny, HS2; Jason Ruddle, Elecosoft; Francis Ho, Penningtons Manches
For those that have adopted BIM is it now delivering on the key metrics of profitability, productivity and health and safety on which it was sold, when the mandate was announced in 2011?
To answer these questions Construction Manager asked BIM proponents and construction experts – many of whom attended our discussion 12 months ago – to come together at Penningtons Manches’ London office for what turned out to be a lively debate.
The industry has not moved on enough
Perhaps predictably the discussion kicked off with the group bemoaning the lack of real progress that has been made in the past year. While levels of adoption and awareness have undoubtedly continued on a positive trajectory since the mandate came into effect there was an overwhelming sense that the enthusiasm for BIM that was generated has not been fully taken advantage of – a picture painted by the results of our survey.
“The industry as a whole has not moved on enough,” stated Jill Guthrie, senior BIM manager for Willmott Dixon Construction. From a contractor’s point of view Guthrie believes that the message has not been heard by those in charge of the capital expenditure, which in turn causes issues for those wanting to push for the implementation of BIM.
Again, as highlighted in our survey, clients remain a sticking point to progress. “Clients still do not understand what they are asking for or what BIM is,” said Guthrie. “The majority don’t have any idea and basically see BIM as a cost. This is a massive issue for us, especially when we are trying to embed this in a business – how do we then explain to our directors that this is what we need to be doing?”
Jason Ruddle, chief operating officer at Elecosoft, agreed that progress had not continued at the pace some had expected. “There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the marketplace,” he responded. “From the software side we are seeing an uptake, but we still see it siloed in the different disciplines. The sharing of data is not to the level where it should be.”
Ruddle also highlighted the fact that since the mandate was implemented the government’s messaging has become weaker, citing the recently released Housing White Paper that did not contain a single reference to BIM or digital construction.
“The government shouldn’t take its foot off the pedal and say we’re there. We still have to work very hard at proving the benefits,” he urged.
Some of the leaders that were pushing towards Level 2 are now thinking about Level 3, pointed out John Adams, building construction strategy manager, EMEA, at Autodesk: “Everyone was focused on BIM Level 2, which was great in terms of having an objective to meet, but people saw it as a destination to get to. Immediately those leading that race are now trying to get to the next thing. But the industry needs to work well on Level 2 before we move forward to Level 3.”
"Government shouldn't take its foot off the pedal and say we're there. We still have to work very hard at proving the benefits."
Jason Ruddle, Elecosoft
The feeling that the industry had lost its way slightly was also voiced by David Jellings, managing director for UK at BIM Object. “In my opinion the industry has stagnated in the past 12 months. I agree with Jill [Guthrie] that we need to get clients more involved and have greater involvement of the supply chain.”
He also believes that the industry may be deluded in overestimating the levels of BIM adoption: “In terms of people employed in the market I think the number of people engaging in BIM is still in single figures.”
Echoing much of the debate and summing up the feelings of the group on the past 12 months, Francis Ho, a partner at host company Penningtons Manches, added: “It has in some ways been a lost year. The other B-word [Brexit] has robbed a bit of momentum. It’s been difficult – there’s been projects on hold and people are looking at retrenching costs. The investment in BIM, staff and training has been less evident.”
On a positive note, however, he continued: “Overall, there is a growing awareness in the market. When we had this event two years ago we were much more cynical about penetration. Now people know what Level 2 is even if they are not using it.”
Rounding up the first section of our debate Eddie Tuttle, associate director for policy, research and public affairs at the CIOB, summed up pragmatically: “When you have an initiative like BIM that was government driven it was always going to take a little time to get the industry on board and that is where we are at.”
The question now being asked is: what exact benefits does BIM give and is it matching up to the early promises? This is certainly something that is at the forefront of clients’ minds, as Adam McCall, BIM consulting lead at Arcadis explained: “Very much over the last 12 months we are finding that our clients know about BIM, but now they want a lot more information about the benefits. They want us to break down the benefits over the life-cycle of the project.”
He continued: “The industry has talked about a 20% saving in capex, but what does that look like? Where is that saving going to be? What do I need to do as a client to have a BIM-enabled project?”
Clients responding to our survey were certainly less positive about cost savings than contractors or designers.
So does this evidence exist? Peter Trebilcock stated that for the evidence to really become clear we needed to have a portfolio of projects that have been completed with all participants using BIM. This has not yet happened, he said: “The nature of the industry is that there haven’t been many projects completed where every member of the team has been engaged. If you just have the designers using digital tools you will not lever as many benefits as if you have the whole team working on it.”
Willmott Dixon’s Guthie agreed that finding comparable data on cost is extremely complex: “One of the difficulties that we have is trying to compare a leisure centre that we completed two or three years ago in a non-BIM environment to something recently completed with BIM. There are so many variables which makes comparing the two very difficult.”
Autodesk’s Adams, however, believes that there is a wealth of evidence demonstrating the benefits of BIM: “There is evidence all over the place, but it tends to relate to a particular aspect of the project, not the whole life-cycle. I have seen no evidence of BIM costing more or slowing things down, only evidence of it improving things.”
However, finding the 20% saving that was touted by the government when the BIM mandate was launched in 2011 is proving very elusive.
“One of the problems we are facing is that there were promises made,” said Jellings. “I like to think of it like a clinical trial in medicine. These trials take place over a number of years before a result is published. What we are trying to do is publish a result during the process, which is an extremely difficult thing to do.”
With cost being extremely difficult to benchmark due to the unique nature of the projects undertaken in the UK, is BIM achieving the other targets that were set out for productivity, an area that is potentially easier to measure?
Although not covered by the mandate, HS2 is a project that has fully embraced the ideals of BIM. Here a lot of work is being conducted to justify the use of BIM and to record its benefits, said Sonia Zahiroddiny, BIM strategy manager at HS2.
“We are conducting a benefit mapping exercise to identify the key benefits at different stages of the project. We need to make sure that we are getting the most value from BIM,” she said.
Understanding the benefits BIM is bringing is one of the key outcomes for Zahiroddiny and to help others learn from the experience HS2 hopes to release a report on the benchmarking in the near future.
Although it has been a steep learning curve, Zahiroddiny believes in the long-term HS2 will reap the rewards: “It’s not easy but it’s definitely worth a business learning what benefits they will be getting from their assets. It is a cost upfront, but it is cost versus a longer term value.”
Small wins, big gains
What became clear during the discussion is how improvements in productivity are being made throughout the build process both in design and on site. Often these improvements were on a small scale and not necessarily perceived as BIM, as Trebilcock has observed first hand: “I’ve seen site operatives using tablets and software that links to BIM models that they can do their snagging lists and reports in 10 minutes that would take them an hour. If you say that’s BIM they don’t believe it.”
At Willmott Dixon, Guthrie is overseeing similar advances: “The benefits to the contractor are these small things. Forget about the term BIM, it’s these little wins that together are resulting in huge benefits for us.”
Adams continued the chain of thought: “All the little bits of data starts to add up. As we start to capture more low-level data on multiple projects we can roll the data back up. Over time the digitalisation of construction sites will start to collect enough data that we’ll see more evidence of where causes can be found and paths can be changed to make the process better.”
Is health and safety even a consideration?
BIM and digitalisation was also promoted as being a tool to help improve health and safety. However, rarely are BIM and health and safety discussed together, as Steve Martin, head of specialist groups at ECA, made clear: “I don’t think that connect between BIM and health and safety has been made yet to say looking at this model we can look at risk assessments for the site. It should be.”
Zahiroddiny explained that on HS2 health and safety is part of their future thinking on BIM. “We are trying to understand how to progressively enhance the existing manual processes and link health and safety information to BIM to expose risks throughout the asset life-cycle. At the moment it is very much proof of concept.”
This is not the case for all clients, however, as Arcadis’s Adam McCall made clear: “We don’t see clients being able to position BIM as a top three driver to enable their H&S objectives.”
Trebilcock reinforced this position stating that clients see health and safety as a given, and something that contractors are expected to deliver: “Looking at a project’s costs a client wouldn’t dream of saying could we take a health and safety manager off, but a BIM manager is a fair target, because they don’t get the value.”
It seems that with health and safety, as with profitability and productivity quantifying the benefits of BIM is still an extremely difficult task, even a year after the mandate came into force. Until these benefits can be clearly demonstrated, convincing clients, contractors, designers and the supply chain to fully engage with BIM will remain an uphill battle.