BIM update: Where are we now?

Construction industry
BIM update: Where are we now?

When we last wrote about BIM (Building Information Modeling), we found that there was still plenty of work to be done in terms of widespread adoption.

The UK government has required construction businesses that wish to bid on government contracts to be at BIM Level 2 since April of 2016. We found that in the couple of years since that date, there were still significant challenges to getting more companies to that level.

Fast forward to 2020, and we’re now at the year for which the government anticipated Level 2 should be “business as usual.” Their next goal is to move on to widespread Level 3 adoption,  which involves a single, online project model with construction sequencing, cost and life-cycle management information.

So where are we now? Let’s take a look:

What is BIM?

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a process for creating and managing information on construction projects, across the entire project lifecycle. Essentially, it’s a way of harnessing digital technology to form a collaborative response across the different facets of a construction project, although in practice, it looks different depending on who you ask.

BIM is about creating a shared knowledge resource that makes it easier to facilitate communication. It is used worldwide, but the UK in particular has attached BIM as a requirement for government contracts.

BIM has four levels, 0 - 3. They are defined with 0 meaning the project doesn’t promote collaboration and uses paper-based methods, such as 2D CAD drawings. It is rare to find companies at 0 now as most have adopted some kind of digital practice. At the other end, Level 3 is often described as “Open BIM.” It promises deeper collaboration through a shared model in a central repository. You can see an outline of each level in the diagram below:


BIM today

When we last reported on BIM, we had some data from the 2017 National BIM Report. It showed that 62% of practices were aware of and using BIM, 35% were just aware, and 3% were neither aware of nor using it.

This time, we have the National BIM Report from 2019 to look to for data on BIM progress. In contrast to the last survey we reported on, 69% of practices were aware of and using BIM, 29% were aware but not using it, and 2% were neither aware nor using it. While growth has continued in the use of BIM practices, overall it has slowed right down. There aren’t any major differences between 2018 and 2019.

BIM Construction

Overall, the survey found that BIM adoption is relatively deeply embedded in the construction industry, and found some predominant attitudes among those who are for using BIM. 63% indicated that they believed they’ve adopted BIM successfully while 55% believe those that don’t adopt it will be left behind.

Among those who are against BIM, 7% said they wish they’d never adopted it while 22% say they have no wish to adopt it at all. 

It’s important to understand the experiences that BIM adopters or non-adopters have had that help to inform their points of view. The survey asked a few experience-related questions, some of which you can see in the diagram below:

BIM Construction

One thing that adopters and non-adopters all strongly agree with is that BIM requires big changes in their businesses. It means workflows, practices and procedures must be changed to meet BIM. It also means significant investment into training in new software and BIM standards, as well as the investment into the software itself.

Challenges to BIM adoption

Construction businesses adopting BIM have to find the time to do so alongside their day-to-day activities. They need to feel sufficiently motivated to go through with the changes, with the promise of gaining more work as motivation. The top four barriers to adoption are:

  1. No client demand
  2. Lack of in-house expertise
  3. Lack of training
  4. Cost

On the importance of client demand, the report states:

“Some organizations took the decision to fully embed BIM in their workflows and deliver it as standard for all types of project. As the profile of BIM grew, and design practices and large contractors demonstrated the benefits of BIM to all their clients, some of those outside the government sector began to include it in their project briefs. Therefore clients, in particular the UK Government, have proven to be a key driver in the adoption of BIM.”

Cost of adoption is a major hurdle, especially for smaller companies. There’s often a perception that some projects are simply too small for BIM or that the overall commitment of expertise, training and cost is too much for smaller businesses. The report found a number of comments from people in smaller companies along the lines of “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?” There was also a link between confidence in their ability to use BIM and adoption. Below is a summary from the report:

“While many small practices have adopted BIM, they are less likely to do so than larger firms. In 2019, 56% of practices with 15 employees or fewer had adopted BIM, compared with at least 80% of practices with more than 15 staff. Fewer also expected to use BIM, particularly within the next year, although the vast majority of small practices do intend to adopt BIM within five years.”

Interestingly, findings from this most recent survey indicate that people feel the UK government has lost momentum in terms of promoting BIM. This includes the feeling that the government is not enforcing the BIM mandate, with 57% saying this is true at a local government level and 49% believing it of central government.  If this perceived lack of momentum is true, this may also explain slower growth in BIM adoption. Here’s one comment from the report:

“I think the attention for "BIM Level 2 mandate" was much more present prior

to its implementation. The development since then, including changes to the driving body and the naming of the process (from "Level 3" to "Digital Built Britain") with the attempts by so many to "do the next thing since BIM" has meant that the focus has been blurred and diluted’.”

Level 3 adoption

As you can gather from the data outlined, there is still a little way to go for adoption of Level 2 BIM. But we’re now in 2020, the year where the original aim was to see Level 3 being adopted.

One issue that is being grappled with is a universal definition of what Level 3 looks like. While we have some descriptors of it, there is not as yet a clear definition. 

With heavy government involvement, an ISO 19650 set of standards to define the collaborative processes have been put in place. These are heavily based on the BS 1192 standards that were developed for the UK. This creates a universal standard, making it easier for companies that work across international lines. A unified approach facilitates mobility.

A time to upskill?

As found in the National BIM Report, training is one of the major barriers to BIM adoption. It can be challenging to train whilst continuing normal business activities, however, we’re currently in an “abnormal” time. 

The coronavirus pandemic has seen many in the construction industry waiting it out in isolation at home. A recent Verdict article states that around one in five UK construction sites have closed due to the pandemic.

The article further suggests that now may be a good time to have construction employees upskilling in BIM practices and processes. An investment in the digital skills required can be made from home and will see employees come back to work ready for the digital environment.

Final thoughts

BIM adoption and understanding has grown since we last reported on it, although attaining Level 3 still seems to be a work in progress.

Major changes have included the introduction of the ISO 19650 standard, which creates a universal definition for companies in different countries, or those who operate across borders.

Overall, BIM adoption is still more prominent in larger practices, although most smaller companies have a goal to adopt it. Challenges include the costs and training involved. A major factor is in showing the benefits that companies that adopt BIM can expect to gain.