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Helping SMEs create a 3D vision with BIM

NFB chief executive Julia Evans outlines some of the concerns holding SMEs back when it comes to BIM and how these companies can progress.

An issue that has been taking up a lot of my time this year has been developing the industrial strategy for construction.

This strategy is a partnership between the government and industry that sets out a clearly defined set of aspirations for UK construction with a vision of where the industry will be in 2025.

The date was chosen because it is far enough away to be different, so you can think big without legacy constraints, but was also close enough for people to still care.

BIM is coming

Building information modelling plays right into this vision for many SMEs – it is close enough to be on people’s radars, yet the 2016 date by which government projects should be on Level 2 BIM still seems far away.

“Changing your way of working and working more closely in partnership with other companies presents bigger challenges”

That BIM vision is of cost savings, better customer engagement, more efficient facilities management and better information leading to better decision-making.

In conversations I have had with National Federation of Builders members, one of the key concerns holding them back is the investment required.

However, member companies that have taken the decision to adopt BIM say that technology decisions and adoption can come further down the line.

After all, BIM is 80 per cent people and 20 per cent technology. Changing your way of working and working more closely in partnership with other companies presents bigger challenges when adopting BIM.

The effect of the wider economy

There is a wider context – namely, the state of the economy. While BIM was being promoted we were going through a prolonged downturn, during which time resources were stretched and winning work was a priority.

The NFB conducted a contractor survey which found only 30 per cent of contractors worked with 3D drawings. This fell to 25 per cent when considering only SME contractors.

With regard to training, 32 per cent of contractors said they were waiting for BIM practices to standardise before deciding on training and 27 per cent said they were not planning to train at all.

“With companies at different stages of acceptance or adoption, there is no one size fits all solution”

By contrast, 62 per cent of clients said they would be adopting BIM within two years, creating a demand for BIM-ready companies.

As to whether companies think BIM is important, 57 per cent of SMEs said that it would bring benefits to their business.

This was a motivator for some of the companies the NFB has been coaching through its exemplar programme, which helps companies overcome hurdles and provides lessons for those following them.

Individual approach to BIM needed

With companies at different stages of acceptance or adoption, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That is why we have developed a range of solutions for SMEs, not just NFB members.

The suite includes a telephone helpline, an online diagnostic tool, assessment audits, action learning sets and a behavioural change programme.

Construction is innovative and resilient, delivering in a demand-led industry. Despite economic conditions, the industry continues to drive towards low-carbon building, more efficient manufacturing and more integrated working practices.

As we have, over time, taken on more responsibilities and developed new ways of working, I am sure BIM will be added to that list of industry-wide capabilities.

Julia Evans is chief executive of the National Federation of Builders

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