“To BIM or not to BIM?”

The term “BIM” has been used within the architectural and construction industries for a few years now but seems to have become bigger news recently. Largely, that’s because the pressures of the current economic climate have forced us all to take stock of the industry and find new ways to help it grow and develop.

After some of the industry’s leading lights came out in favour of BIM at Autodesk’s BIM Conference 2010, it seems pretty obvious that the revolution is inevitable, and the question isn’t whether to move to BIM, but when to do it.

What is BIM?.

BIM stands for Building Information Modelling, that much is certain. That doesn’t mean everyone’s agreed on a definition, though. If you ask a room full of 100 people to explain it to you, I can guarantee that no two answers will be the same. The British Standards Institute (BSI) define Building Information Modelling as ‘the process of generating and managing information about a building during its entire life cycle’, and in the eyes of professional bodies such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Government, BIM will enable collaborative workflows across all aspects of the construction process, making life cheaper and easier for all involved.

How does BIM work?

The big preconception about BIM is that it’s purely about one piece of software. It’s more accurate to say that the software which enables BIM-style work is designed to be fully interoperable with software used at other stages of construction, allowing for the seamless transition of data and ensuring no information is lost. In a BIM workflow, different sectors still use software that is designed for them, they just use it in conjunction with everyone else’s software, so it becomes far easier to collaborate.

It’s no secret that for years there has been segmentation between the different sectors of the construction industry whilst working on projects. At each level parts of the information are lost, and sometimes information that one person doesn’t think needs passing on turns out to be invaluable, so everything has to be redrawn. Currently, most people accept that this is the way the industry works, even though it can be hugely inconvenient for them. Within a BIM workflow, the information would be much more centralised and far less information would be lost or need repeating. However, it does rely on a high level of co-operation between sectors, and one of the main reasons I headed over to Autodesk’s BIM Conference was to find out how feasible existing users found working as closely as BIM requires.

The Autodesk BIM Conference 2010

Normally at vendor-hosted events like Autodesk’s BIM Conference, the speakers come from the company and have a fairly obvious agenda. However, Autodesk took the potentially risky strategy of not having anyone from the company speak. Instead, they allowed representatives from professional bodies to talk about where they see BIM going, and got existing users of BIM-capable software to talk about how it had changed their workflow (although admittedly they were all Autodesk customers). The result was a compelling picture of how BIM could reshape the construction industry.

What the professional bodies are saying…

RIBA logo


Richard Saxon CBE, RIBA’s  VP from 2002 to 2008, explained that their view was that BIM allows the architectural industry to regain design leadership, collaborate and reduce risks on complex projects. He feels that a BIM strategy will help RIBA members regain control of their projects, giving them more time to design and teaching them to see beyond 3D visualisation to deliver more complete, integrated information about a project to potential clients.

RIBA are currently working on producing CPI and BS guidance documents for BIM work. They want to create a community built around integrated working, and to that end are planning CPD schemes based on BIM workflows.

CIBSE logo


Rob Manning, CISBE President and AECOM Chief Engineer, explained that the key principle of BIM was its ability to create integrated, technical models, which paved the way for a better, more collaborative business model. However, he did pick up on one major shortfall: at the moment, MEP designers are using BIM software, but the MEP contractors they work with don’t trust the models and tend to reproduce them. In an attempt to spread the good word and combat stumbling blocks like this, CIBSE are holding their own conference in December, ‘FM11 – BIM: Who Benefits?’



ICE’s approach to BIM, as outlined by ICE Policy Panel Chair and Halcrow Technology Director Tim Broyd, is to place less emphasis on CAD and more on overall project delivery, as BIM covers everything from initial development and day-to-day operations to the management of assets. They plan to hold a series of workshops to promote greater understanding of BIM working.

rics logo


Simon Rawlinson, RICS BIM Chair, had a very frank approach to BIM and members of RICS. He said that the profession doesn’t understand BIM. Surveyors protect client assets and are dependent upon information, but don’t create BIM assets. RICS are now working with the CPIC (a committee made up of RIBA, RICS, ICE, CIAT and CIBSE members that provides best practice guidance throughout the UK construction industry) to promote collaboration across all areas of construction.

The appearance of an organisation like the CPIC proves the professional bodies’ commitment to making BIM working feasible and, more importantly, to working together to create the integrated, collaborative workflow environment which BIM strives for.

What users are saying…

Of course, none of this means anything unless working within a BIM system actually helps end users. Luckily, the news so far has been good, and Autodesk’s existing BIM customers turned out in force to show their support for the new workflow.

Revit Architecture

Richard Wise, the director of UK-based architectural firm Ryder Architects, explained that a BIM workflow required no more effort than their previous one, but enabled them to get the design and  detailing (and by extension the whole project) right from day one. The firm had found Revit Architecture more than capable of handling complicated renovation projects, and was particularly keen on the fact that it let them create prototype models directly from the initial model, without any added effort.

John Tocci, CEO of the American contractors Tocci Building Companies, was also impressed by Revit Architecture’s efficiency.  Since starting on a BIM workflow, Tocci have seen a 30% reduction in waste and rework, the near-elimination of design co-ordination issues, reduced risk and a related 3% cost reduction. They’ve been able to create more precise costings before beginning construction, and have compressed their overall schedule by up to 15%. Tocci said his business’ DNA relied on “BIM, sustainability, interoperability, design and collaboration, with the belief that if it’s not in the model it isn’t real,” adding that  “BIM allows you to deliver what you promised,” which sounds like a ringing endorsement to me.

What the government are saying…

So with the professional bodies, architects and contractors getting fully on board with BIM, it was left to Paul Morrell, Chief Construction Adviser to UK Government, to explain how the Government perceives BIM.

The Government’s final strategy report is due in March 2011, and follow-up pilot schemes have already been proposed, showing that they too are embracing the BIM revolution. Morrell wants to see standardisation across the construction industry, emphasising that BIM is going to change the way the construction industry previously approached projects.

Universities are going to be key to the implementation of BIM, with many already gearing up for the change. Nottingham Trent University, for example, are already producing graduates who are comfortable with software such as Revit Architecture, and can understand the concept of BIM. Not only that, but they participate in ‘Project Week’, which challenges students from all disciplines within the built environment to come together to produce a scheme which could be without complications. The hope is that grass roots schemes like this will help smooth the transition to BIM by ensuring future construction professionals are prepared for the challenges they’ll face within their professional lifetime.

So what do we do now?

Okay, it’s confession time: when I was first introduced to the BIM concept, I was very sceptical. My initial reaction, like many in the industry,  was that it would never happen without the backing of professional bodies and the Government, that people wouldn’t embrace it as it changed the way everyone had to work, and is a massive investment for all people concerned at a time of recession.

Now, a year after my BIM introduction (and after doing a bit of research into its true potential) I am genuinely excited by the changes that the BIM revolution brings, not as a reseller of BIM-enabled software, but as an Architectural Technologist who wants the industry to stand strong once more and prove that change is good.

With the Government, professional bodies and early adopters all giving the BIM workflow a big thumbs up, it’s not a case of if BIM is going to happen, it’s more a case of when. The big question now is how it will happen. Achieving a collaborative construction environment needs everyone to embrace the change and break down existing barriers between different sectors of the industry.

Professional bodies will pay a key role in this: they need to provide guidance and structure to help smooth the transition and provide their members with a safety net while adopting  BIM. You could argue that it is a bad time for change, with the industry coming out of a severe recession, but it has to be remembered that this isn’t an immediate change. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, in a month’s time, and probably not even a year’s time. It has to be gradual, to ensure that everyone is ready for it, is trained, and understands BIM. We need to build trust between different sectors of the industry, so they’ll learn to trust the information they receive, but it will happen and the change is already in progress.

I’m not saying every architect, every civil engineer, every surveyor needs to go out and replace all your existing software with seats of Revit Architecture, Ecotect, Navisworks, Vectorworks Architect to get on the BIM train, but it’s time to start a system of gradual change that will lead to people seeing real benefits in the long term.

Want to get ready for the revolution? To find out more about the concepts behind BIM or to start implementing BIM-based workstations, give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email CAD@Jigsaw24.com.

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