Let’s start with a brief history lesson. Building information modelling – BIM for short – was invented in the early 1970s in the US. Originally known as the Building Description System, through the 1980s various other software packages and workstations were built to achieve the same goal – creating a digital model of a building that would contain all the relevant information about that building. As BIM grew and evolved, it gained global popularity as a tool to bring multiple parties working on construction projects together. Increasingly complex levels of data have been added to BIM, including scan data from as-built software programs and even total cost of ownership (TCO) data, predicting the lifetime costs of running and maintaining a building.
Given that BIM started in the US, then, it’s a little strange that the US now lags behind other developed nations in its BIM adoption. Compared with the UK – where the BIM Alliance reports that 73% of companies are now using BIM – in the US it’s only 55%, according to JBK knowledge. In this blog, we’ll explore what is holding construction firms back from investing in this crucial piece of AEC software.
Factor 1: no national BIM mandate
It’s one of the biggest differences between the approach to BIM taken in the UK and the US; while the UK has a BIM Framework that describes an overarching approach to implanting BIM on projects in the UK, no such mandate exists in the US. Partly this seems to be because the government is focused on deregulation and because no one department exists within the US Government who would be in charge of such a mandate.
As a result, many federal and state agencies have created their own BIM mandates. While this is a well-intentioned move, the size of the US means that in reality most firms are now obliged to comply with a variety of different standards on different projects. This increases the complexity of adopting BIM, especially for large firms who work on projects in multiple states, and can be off-putting for firms looking to invest in BIM.
Factor 2: a skills gap
Multiple organisations, including the US BIM Forum and JBK, have reported a skills gap of one sort or another when it comes to BIM. The BIM Forum cites a desire among members for “standards” (and training to go with them) while JBK’s survey in 2019 said “unqualified staff” was the biggest barrier to BIM adoption.
Given the reputation of the construction industry as being slow to embrace digital, this skills gap isn’t surprising when it comes to AEC software. The solution will require investment on all sides – national or regional bodies should invest in creating standards and certifications for the industry, while AEC firms will need to invest in training up their staff – currently most vendors offer training on their software at an additional cost.
Factor 3: cost
There’s no denying that BIM can be expensive to implement in a business, which can be off-putting for smaller AEC firms where margins are tighter. In fact, 17.5% of respondents to JBK’s research said that they didn’t need or want BIM, while nearly 31% of organisations currently do not bid on projects involving BIM.
The cost argument is, I suspect, more about mindset than actual finances – though given the hit most companies have taken in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am sure many companies have had to halt investment in new technology for the short term. That being said, numerous studies have indicated the cost and time savings BIM can bring to an organisation. Dodge Data saw respondents using BIM report a 5% reduction in overall construction cost, 25% improvement in labour productivity, and a 5% faster completion rate of projects. In short, most firms will make back their investment in BIM – and will be able to bid on more projects too, since most US Federal projects require BIM to be used.
Factor 4: mindset
I’ve already mentioned construction’s attitude to digitisation – it’s an industry that’s slow to embrace change, and usually highly skeptical of new developments. It’s arguable that this attitude is the greatest contributor to lagging BIM adoption rates; many firms simply don’t see the value in BIM, or fear the risks of adoption.
The truth here is the same as it is in many industries: not digitising is no longer an option for firms that wish to remain successful. AEC firms that embrace digital tools such as BIM, as-built software and 3D scanning will be able to win more projects, deliver them faster, for less money, and provide a better client experience than those who stick solely with old methods of construction.
Make BIM your first step towards digital construction
It’s challenging to make the case for investment in anything right now, given the uncertainty of the economy. But once the time comes to look actively towards the future again, I would urge AEC firms to adopt BIM. As a core piece of their AEC software portfolio, BIM not only delivers incredible value on its own – it unlocks a world of digital construction opportunities.
Once you are comfortable with using BIM to design and plan construction projects, you can realise further time and money savings by expanding what you do with BIM. For example, you can use reality capture tools and as-built software to add 3D scan data of your building to the model, ensuring it is a completely accurate representation of what’s on the ground. Thinking even further ahead, the model can be enhanced with additional elements such as the likely timeframes and cost estimates of maintaining the building – so-called 7D BIM. Every new layer of insight and information you add to your model will help you compete and deliver great value for clients in the modern marketplace – but it all starts with investing in BIM.
Mark Senior is a business director of PointFuse which specializes in the point cloud to mesh and as built software. He has been involved with PointFuse since its conception, shaping its development from bleeding-edge technology to the successful commercial solution it is today.