Where will BIM be in five years time ?

Some of the people at the forefront of BIM got together to discuss where we are with BIM at today, and what needs to be done to get the industry up to speed with the technology

Gathered in Ryder’s office for an informal discussion on where BIM will be in five years time were: Mark Bew, chair of UK government BIM Implementation Group, Richard Waterhouse, CEO of RIBA Enterprises, Richard Wise, partner at Ryder Architecture, Peter Barker, operations director of BIM Academy, Simon Lewis at Dickinson Dees, Stewart McKenna, Mark Clasper, Andrew Greener and Craig Dickinson of Ryder, Richard Watson, executive director of NBS and Stephen Hamil, director of design and innovation at NBS.

The discussion was free flowing and diverse, covering design, procurement, policy and standards, technology, education and culture. The intention was to recognise success to date and identify areas for innovation and barriers to adoption, while recognising the challenges ahead.

There is a growing realisation of the importance of data structure, quality and transferability, rather than geometry alone. We need to talk less about ‘the model’ and more about ‘the data’.

The power of data was brought into focus with the observation that one of the large high street banks knows more about its customers’ sociological behaviours from their credit card data than it does about its own premises.

There was an observation that the management of BIM is starting to be seen as a complex ‘black art’ and is in danger of being overcomplicated by project managers viewing it as an additional service. BIM management is misunderstood by some clients who regard it as a purely technological challenge which can be simply be solved by a software purchase and training; others are intimidated by a perceived complex restructuring of management processes. The truth lies somewhere between and follows the principles of Latham – get the process right before you think of the technology. While there may be a skills gap in this area, there was speculation that unless understanding is improved, we may find we have a new profession whose purpose is the creation of overcomplex BIM execution plans without adding real value to the process. Perhaps there is an opportunity for architects to re-establish a leadership role, as they are usually engaged early and have the opportunity to establish a robust design management process at the outset of a project. Whether the profession can respond to this opportunity remains to be seen.

Another view was that despite these opportunities for architects and engineers, it is constructors who will be leading. Contractors will deliver to standards which they help establish, using their products and systems and their people. ‘We may soon have a situation where the majority by number will use 3D design and basic BIM processes and procurement will still be traditional. The majority by value though will be contractor-led and will be doing BIM properly.’

Designers should be working smarter, offering BIM as an inherent part of their service to add value and quality, not as an extra using a BIM draughtsman. 

This led to a discussion on object libraries, levels of detail and the role of the supply chain. Take out the tedium and waste and concentrate on design quality, cost management and programme efficiency. There is the option to create bespoke designs from standardised object templates and data structures. Further, we shouldn’t standardise everything but only where it makes sense. ‘Why redesign every fire escape stair from scratch when you can choose from a library and spend more time designing a beautiful atrium stair?’

Discussion moved on to appointments, contracts and insurance: ‘It’s crucial to get the right people involved early enough and to understand what outcomes they need from the start.’ The example was given of facilities managers who are often not brought into the project team until construction stage and often have a poor awareness of BIM processes and technologies. This must change.

This was a stimulating discussion which may have raised more questions than it answered. One final thought from around the table: ‘The problem with BIM adoption at present is that the technology is forging ahead but culture is lagging behind.’