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UK government likely to meet BIM targets, but greater standardisation needed, says industry

Out-Law News | 24 Apr 2014 | 4:04 pm | 3 min. read

Awareness of building information modelling (BIM) techniques is now almost universal across the construction industry, while adoption of the technology is accelerating, according to the UK's largest survey of usage of and attitudes to BIM to date.

More than 1,000 architects, engineers, surveyors and contractors took part in the fourth annual BIM survey by National Building Specification (NBS), the full results of which were published this week. Of those using BIM, 70% said that the technology had given them a competitive advantage, although the survey also highlighted concerns over the lack of standardisation and the difference in BIM awareness and adoption rates between smaller and larger firms.

"What this report clearly shows is an industry in transition from the stage when the early adopters are taking the lead to a position where BIM is becoming the norm," said Richard Waterhouse, chief executive of RIBA Enterprises, the commercial arm of the Royal Institute of British Architects and parent company of NBS.

"In the UK, through BIM, we are at the forefront of a significant change in how buildings are conceived, designed, built and maintained. This change has the potential to bring improved efficiencies and profitability to the construction sector, and better buildings to clients ... There remain significant challenges and investment of both capital and time are needed. However, there is a wide appreciation of the benefits BIM will bring and the projections of BIM adoption tell us that the UK can be world leaders in this," he said.

A BIM system uses a computer generated model to collect and manage information about the design, construction and operation of a project centrally. It is especially useful where many parties, such as different subcontractors, provide input on the same project. Any changes to the design of a project made during its construction are automatically applied to the model.

The UK government has committed to the use of collaborative 3D BIM on all centrally-procured government projects by 2016; to include electronic access to all project and asset information, documentation and data. Although 58% of respondents to the NBS survey agreed that the government's BIM strategy was "on the right track", a two-year difference in adoption rates between smaller and larger firms suggested a risk that smaller organisations could be excluded from this type of contract going forward, the NBS said.

More than half, or 54%, of respondents to this year's NBS survey said that they were now using BIM; up 15% from last year's figures. In addition, 93% of firms predicted that they would have adopted the technology by 2016. Among the commercial advantages recorded by respondents that had already adopted BIM were improvements in productivity, increased efficiencies, better coordination of construction information and higher profitability.

Respondents also recorded a far greater understanding of the different levels of BIM when compared to last year's findings, with almost three quarters now being aware of the different levels. Just over half of adopters reported having achieved Level 2 BIM on at least one project during the last 12 months, with usage of the platform neutral 'IFC' file format and COBie showing marked increases. Level 2 broadly refers to a fully collaborative 3D environment where all project information, documents and data are electronic and where software and interfaces allow for the management and integration of that material.

The proportion of respondents saying that they felt more confident in their own knowledge of BIM rose from 35% in 2012 to 46% in 2013, according to the survey, although only 27% said that they "trusted" what they heard about BIM while 73% said that they did not think the industry overall was clear about what BIM was. In addition, only a quarter of respondents said that current levels of standardisation were accurate, echoing concerns raised by industry leaders in a survey carried out earlier this year by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

The Pinsent Masons survey, published in February, highlighted the need for better collaboration between clients and their construction partners on the use of BIM in projects, and gaps in the suitability of the current standard contracts and contracting approaches for a BIM-enabled industry. In addition, 67% of the 70 construction professionals surveyed said that they did not believe that the government's 2016 target was realistic.

"Technology is driving change in the way we communicate with and connect to each other," infrastructure law and BIM expert Chris Hallam of Pinsent Masons said of the firm's survey. "Across many sectors of the economy, for example manufacturing, retail and IT, it has created an environment in which widespread sharing of information and know-how is not only possible, but has become the norm."

"It could be that BIM and associated technological advances are fostering a more connected, communicative and joined-up approach. This could be a catalyst that finally drives the construction sector towards a truly collaborative way of working. If so, it is inevitable that forms of contract will need to change to accommodate new ways of working," he said at the time.