One size fits all

Adoption of BIM grows apace but many small practices think it’s just for big ones, as the NBS’ National BIM report 2016 reveals

BIM will become near universally adopted within three to five years, according to the 2016 NBS National BIM report. However, the continued growth in its adoption has so far led to only 54% of architects using BIM even though, as of last month, the government’s mandate for use of BIM in all centrally procured public projects came into force.

Eighty-six percent of those who took part in the survey expect to be using BIM by this time next year, and 97% within five years. Three-quarters see it as the future of project information. Among those who had adopted BIM, there is a strongly positive sentiment towards it. In the six years we have been running the survey BIM adoption and use has transformed from a niche practice into a standardised design methodology, used by a majority.

That said, we also see a scepticism about the readiness of the broader construction industry for the BIM mandate, a lack of clarity in what is required to comply with it, and significant numbers feeling they lack skills and knowledge in BIM.

In some ways, this is what we might expect as an industry transitions from a traditional way of working towards a more digital one. As we see in other sectors, the process of digitisation can bring about very significant changes in the structure of the industries and in the ways people work within them. Think of the changes we have seen in entertainment industries such as music or film, or in the manufacturing sector, for example the automotive industry. These changes take time to permeate.

Many architectural practices are leading BIM design in the UK. At the same time, architects are no more or less likely to have adopted BIM than any of the other professions who responded to the NBS survey. This may be a good thing as BIM is inherently collaborative; it BIM can’t be adopted way by one profession alone.

Architects are significantly less likely to agree that the government is on the right track with BIM (24 % of architects agree, but for other professions it is 36%). Overall though, differences in attitudes towards BIM among architects and non-architects does not differ markedly. When we look at the data in a little more detail though, we do see one point of significant divergence – practice size.

The easy statement 'BIM is just for large practices' is false; many small and medium sized architects are basing growth and success through placing BIM at the centre of their practice. Significant numbers of smaller practices have adopted BIM, and do not regret doing so, the data tells us. However, BIM adoption is lower for smaller practices. If we define a small practice as 1 to 5 people, medium as 6 to 50, and large as over 50, we can see that large practices are more than twice as likely than small ones to have adopted BIM

Many architectural practices are leading BIM design in the UK. At the same time, architects are no more or less likely to have adopted BIM than any of the other professions who responded to the NBS survey. This may be a good thing as BIM is inherently collaborative; it can’t be adopted way by one profession alone.

Architects are significantly less likely to agree that the government is on the right track with BIM (24% of architects agree, but for other professions it is 36%). Overall though, differences in attitudes towards BIM among architects and non-architects does not differ markedly. When we look at the data in a little more detail though, we do see one point of significant divergence – practice size.

The easy statement ‘BIM is just for large practices’ is false; many small and medium sized architects are basing growth and success through placing BIM at the centre of their practice. Significant numbers of smaller practices have adopted BIM, and do not regret doing so, the data tells us. However, BIM adoption is lower for smaller practices. If we define a small practice as 1 to 5 people, medium as 6 to 50, and large as over 50, we can see that large practices are more than twice as likely than small ones to have adopted BIM.

We see similar divergence in levels of confidence about BIM. Over two-thirds of those from large practices describe themselves as confident in their knowledge and skills in BIM, while fewer than two-fifths of those from small practices do. There may be something of a chicken and egg situation here. Skills are learnt through practice, and only those who have adopted BIM have the opportunity to practise their BIM skills. 

A majority (58%) of those from small practices see BIM as the future of project information. This figure rises to 76% for medium practices, and 83% for large practices. The smaller a practice, the less likely it is to be convinced that BIM is the future.

Overall only 26% of architectural practices think that BIM is just for larger practices. However, it is smaller practices that are more likely to feel that BIM is not for them. This may because of the kinds work smaller practices do, because the clients who work with smaller practices are less likely to demand BIM, and because those clients are less likely to be subject to the BIM mandate. 

There are also attitudinal factors too. The smaller a practice is, the less likely those within are to trust what they hear about BIM. They are also less likely to agree that the government is on the right track with BIM.

So where does this leave us? Overall, the architectural profession, along with other design professions, is leading BIM in the UK. Through collaborative working, we are meeting the challenge set by the UK BIM mandate. BIM adoption in the profession has increased rapidly since NBS first ran the survey in 2011, and is projected to rise further in the coming three to five years, to become the norm for design practice. However, there is a risk that some small practices may be left behind. It looks like smaller practices need a greater degree of support in adopting BIM, through impartial information and guidance.

Ultimately, though, the wider adoption of BIM by practices of all sizes may be dependent on the demands of clients. The UK BIM mandate has stimulated demand from those commissioning centrally procured public sector buildings. The benefits those clients accrue from BIM are increasingly evident to clients of all types. We can expect BIM to become increasingly demanded, but not universally so.

Adrian Malleson is author of NBS National BIM Report 2016