We must deliver BIM Level 2 before moving on

We need to start treating the government’s 2016 deadline with the urgency it requires

A couple of weeks ago I attended a very positive session at the UK chapter of BuildingSmart. At the event a review was presented of the latest round of testing COBie output from IFC files, which was a broadly successful exercise.

One of the presentations was a short piece by Mark Bew, where he made a very pertinent comment about the behaviour of the industry. He observed that if we are to get funding for the next phase of the development of the UK’s BIM strategy after 2016, we must demonstrate that we can deliver maturity Level 2 before that i.e. before we move on to the next phase, Level 3 and beyond.

This comment embodies a great many of the problems that surround the success of BIM in the industry and perhaps with the news that the government may scrap the Task Group last week we should all realise that we need to start treating 2016 with the urgency it requires instead of complaining about the difficulties of implementing it.

In recent months we’ve seen the headline that “The government will miss the key 2016 BIM target”, published after a survey of the industry by Pinsent Mason. As an industry we need to be honest about this. It is industry failing to deliver, not the government. We have a clearly defined process that for their own reasons institutions and corporations feel they need to change but are never able to explain convincingly why.

In the future the value and profit in construction may be generated by companies like Google, Oracle and SAP

Industry must stop playing the culture argument too. How can teams be “culturally” unaware when we have been talking about the need to modernise for at least the last five years and when all the design, construction, management and FM journals have dedicated areas on their websites for BIM articles and information.

I’m still amazed at how few people have read anything of the resources on the BIM Task Group website, but have a detailed, presumably second or third hand opinion of why the 1192 suite can’t work for the industry. We have to break out of the two polarised groups of those either too afraid or sceptical to engage with BIM, or those who are convinced they know better and stubbornly assert that they’ll do it in their own arbitrarily different but incompatible way.

While personally I hope that the future of the construction industry will be shaped by the people I work with now, I can’t help but think that we are currently on a path where the next big players in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings will come from outside the companies that we currently know in the industry. While the board will not be swept clean, the names we know the industry for will become the blue collar end of construction while the value and profit are generated by companies we don’t currently associate with the industry, companies like Google, Oracle and SAP.

If we don’t act now then there will come a point where we have lost the opportunity, where contracts start going abroad

You may have detected frustration in the tone of this article, and you’re right. As a small practitioner I have invested a great deal in BIM over the lifetime of my company, but ultimately the success or failure of BIM in the UK is not in my hands. As a designer of buildings and provider of existing building BIM I’m too low in the decision-making process to affect the set-up of projects, and once they are under way I have no power to enforce protocols, standards or programmes. I may be capable of working in a Level 2 environment, but without clients agents establishing projects on Level 2 principles my preparation goes to waste. Level 2 maturity is fundamentally project based, and cannot be achieved by an individual company.

If we don’t act now then there will come a point where we have lost the opportunity, where contracts start going abroad to the countries that are implementing our own 1192 suite of standards without all the squabbling and excuses. At that point we will have failed to deliver level two BIM, and if we do we will only have ourselves to blame.

First published on 27 May 2014 on Building.co.uk