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“On my travels around the world – in the Middle East, the US, China and Hong Kong, for example – I always hear the UK Building Information Modelling (BIM) mandate mentioned as a model for public sector construction projects, and we’ll shortly see other countries copying our structured approach,” predicts Gavin Bonner, Global BIM Manager at Cundall.

The UK government currently mandates that all centrally-procured projects be delivered using BIM level 2, which involves developing building information in a collaborative 3D environment with data attached, created in separate discipline models. In their 2016 Budget Announcement, the ruling party also made clear its strong intention to push its construction sector onto BIM level 3 in the not so distant future.

“The government will develop the next digital standard for the construction sector – Building Information Modelling 3 – to save owners of built assets billions of pounds a year in unnecessary costs, and maintain the UK’s global leadership in digital construction,” the document explicitly outlines.

Level 3 BIM is often considered the “holy grail” for building design. It represents full collaboration between all disciplines by means of using a single, shared project model that is held in a centralised repository. All parties can access and modify that same model, and the benefit is that it removes the final layer of risk that comes from conflicting information. This all-encompassing 3rd level of the software is also widely known as ‘Open BIM’.

However, a survey within the NBS National BIM Report 2017 suggests a growing impatience and frustration with implementation of BIM in the UK’s public sector. Approximately half of the survey’s respondents believe that UK government departments are not properly enforcing the 2016 BIM mandate, as opposed to fewer than 10% who think they are.

The majority of the respondents claim that many clients in both the private and public sectors do not understand BIM’s benefits, or have an uncoordinated approach to documentation. The survey results suggest that the UK is not a leader for BIM, standing in direct contrast to Bonner’s comments.

“While there is much truth in these claims, I believe we need a more mature perspective on the great strides we have taken to make BIM a foundation of the construction industry. In fact, I’d go further, and assert that the UK’s approach to BIM is seen as the model by the rest of the world,” Bonner stated in reaction to the survey.

So is the UK a world leader for BIM or isn’t it? And why are the views so contrasting? – Could it be that the UK is trying to be a leader but expectations are too high for the adoption of what includes highly complex technologies and processes? Should the industry really expect this to happen overnight and isn’t the UK further down the road to BIM adoption than other nations?

There is no national BIM mandate in the US, for example. Individual authorities across America set their own rules over BIM, which inevitably leads to poor adoption rates and fragmentation within the construction sector.

For many, BIM undoubtedly represents the future of the construction process for promoting collaboration, minimizing risk and reducing waste in construction by a reported 20%. While the UK could do more, the majority of the sector would agree that the more BIM the better, and the UK is a world leader for BIM adoption.

There are good reasons for the UK’s prominent position. The soon-to-be-former EU nation is undertaking a series of strategic infrastructure projects including major investments in energy, rail, and housing. These critical construction projects are embracing new technologies such as smart buildings, cities and grids, under the umbrella of the Internet of Things. Britain needs BIM to navigate this new and complex construction landscape.

It is critical that the UK government pushes through BIM adoption as fast as possible but these changes do not happen overnight, especially in a broad sector like construction. Patience could be advised to those who complain that the UK is failing at BIM adoption, although it is those complaints that will continue to drive the technology’s adoption forward.

Give credit where credit is due; the UK is a world leader for BIM. However, the UK should not be content with leadership alone and should continue to strive for excellence, for its own benefit and to create a model that the world can aspire to. Anything less could undermine all the benefits that ambitious government intention on BIM has already achieved.

As Bonner warns, “at the moment it is designers and contractors who are driving the BIM process in the UK. However, for these mega projects (and other smaller ones) to be a success, we need clearer direction, or we will end up with a fragmented workflow and greater confusion, undoing all the positive effects that the BIM mandate has brought so far.”

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