5 reasons why BIM isn’t working

Last night saw an impressive gathering of senior industry figures congregated at One Birdcage Walk for the invite only CIMCIG chairman’s event at the equally impressive HQ of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers [IMechE]. On the menu, BIM and the barriers to adoption. Chairman Ian Exall, CIMCIG (and Aqualisa) gave a brief but concise introduction to the panel and suggested that the audience participate at will.


  • Paul Morrell, Government CCA
  • Mike Sheehan, Director of Sustainability, WSP
  • Alan Crane, President CIOB
  • Chris Gilmour, Design and Marketing Director, BAM Construct UK
  • Karl Redmond, Construction Sector Network, Leeds Metropolitan University

Opening gambits from the panel came thick and fast:

Paul Morrell (my interpretation of what he said): Supply chain collaboration is key to successful adoption. Contractors need to work with consultants and consultants to learn about 3d modeling from product manufacturers. There needn’t be stringent standards that everyone adopts however there needs to be enough universal standards that allow confidence in adoption so as not to give rise to fear of investment in the wrong place.

Mike Sheehan (my interpretation of what he said): The main concern is too much “fluffery” around the software. The actual 3d model itself (in most cases) was not BIM but purely cosmetic. Clients need to understand the whole-life value of BIM; from design through to the FM’s once the build is complete. Adoption of holistic project management throughout an entire project, irrespective of BIM, is vital but still not widespread.

Alan Crane (my interpretation of what he said): BIM is becoming an out of favour ‘buzz word’ before adoption has really even started. There is too much talk and not enough adoption. Really, BIM is a business issue not a design issue. There is a tremendous opportunity to improve waste reduction in UK projects with BIM adoption. A huge amount of production time could be gained by clarifying the design digitally before any work commences.

Chris Gilmour (my interpretation of what he said): Echoing Alan’s comments Chris cemented the need for design to be agreed before build. The point being that all too often actual building projects are finishing at exactly the same time their designs are finishing. Chris imparted that the solution was simple: Design on the computer first and then build. He was also concerned by just how many large ‘household’ consultancy firms were designing in 2d and the contractor’s designers having to then convert those 2d drawings into 3d models in order to get the build started.

Karl Redmond (my interpretation of what he said): Karl started by suggesting that BIM should be making businesses more efficient. He noted that large consultancy firms were slower at adoption than the smaller more nimble SME’s who can see the benefits of BIM adoption. (This point was taken up by a couple of consultancies in the audience who wondered why contractors were insisting on using ‘large household name’ consultancies who didn’t use similar BIM software whilst there were many smaller consultancies who did). Karl continued that there is a fear that adoption in the wrong software would mean wasted investment and therefore, as a consequence the investment is not being made anywhere.

At this juncture the chairman invited the audience to participate and it wasn’t long before key challenges were being raised and confirmed:

The question of library standards across the industry was discussed. Some felt these were necessary others felt that standards may be too restrictive for an evolutionary process to happen. Paul Morrell raised an interesting point on adoption that related to email adoption in the late 1990’s. In his mind it is absolutely a case now that you just have to do it; there was no ‘shall we shan’t we’, if you don’t start adoption now you’re more likely than not to be left very much behind. The audience generally agreed that now was a great time to adopt BIM but influence and education was essential, not only down the supply chain but throughout the whole industry including clients. The question of who should drive BIM adoption gave rise to a debate about whether the lead should be taken by the client or by the industry – arguments on both sides were convincing.

My own point of view is that the client ought to be educated by his consultancy firm and their chosen contractor right from the start of a project. They are the experts after all. To me it beggars belief that a client will agree to a £multi-million (£multi-billion) design/build cost where no clear collaborative BIM process exists throughout the entire supply chain. However, that is the reality.

It became quite clear as the evening progressed that the main issue was with both the software and the users. Ideally consultancies and contractors will be using the same system. In reality, the consultancies have their preferred route (often 2d but possibly 3, 4, 5, 6 or as was suggested, 7d) and then the contractors a different system altogether (most probably 3d) and the two systems just don’t speak the same language. Whether it be Autodesk Navisworks or Revit or whatever, it was clear that a collaborative consistency or even confidence in the software was lacking. Contractors laid blame squarely with the large ‘household name’ consultancies for not catching up with the industry and being stuck in their old ways.

As the evening continued discussions around BIM being not ‘design’ models but ‘manufacturing’ models. Contractors believing they were in the business of manufacturing the building to the specifications of the models produced in whatever ‘d’ was put in front of them. The subtleties of a holistic project management approach was discussed and the use of ‘gateways’ and build phases as a discipline to help reduce wasted time, effort and well, waste in general, was the core of agreeable BIM adoption.

The key point here was about not racing ahead into building areas that hadn’t actually been designed yet. One cannot run into running.

Zaha Hadid’s ear’s must have been burning towards the end of the evening as the discussion turned towards none standardized products. The question was raised around the value of common libraries of products when architects like Hadid designed buildings that often had very few off the shelf elements within it – the Glasgow Transport Museum as an example.

Richard Waterhouse, CEO of RIBA Enterprises suggested that this was no longer a problem as his company’s suite of specification products actually let product manufacturers, consultancy firms and contractors’ designers input new and bespoke building elements data on the fly. In my basic mind, this functionality issue is key if buildings like the Transport Museum in Glasgow are to be encouraged and delivered in an efficient way.

The main concerns for the product manufacturers in the room were that actually they had been producing 3d drawings for around 20-30 years, more out of necessity within their own design processes. It was agreed that product manufacturers have led the way in 3d modeling since the 80’s and there was much dismay that consultancies had historically taken those 3d models and converted them back into 2d drawings to give to the contractors. Just nuts. Product manufacturers agreed that it would be less of a challenge if specifiers and contractors would agree a format (or several consistent formats) for the sharing of their 3d models.

However, as Stephen Hamil (not present at the event), head of NBS software development suggests in his article BIM and building properties “…It is unlikely that all of the information from a construction project can be contained in a single BIM. More typically there will be a number of BIMs that are stored in different proprietary format. For example, the architect’s CAD model could be in ArchiCAD format, the engineer’s CAD model in Revit and the specification information within NBS…”

So, that’s good then.

Back to the event, it was noted (on quite a few occasions) that many consultancy firms (large and small) had not adopted BIM for various reasons from cost to laziness and it was also suggested that frameworks within which a design process had been agreed might be stifling creativity and ‘strangling’ innovation. Neither scenarios were good for the adoption of BIM. There was also a feeling that some main contractors were not helping their sub-contractors in the design stages and that historically (and may I say fairly obviously) this led to further problems of cost, delay and waste throughout the supply chain. Product manufacturers also worried about the issue of cost and price. How were they expected to offer clarity in that area when different audiences were privy to different price?

Contractors, from an asset management and facilities management perspective, welcomed the idea of product manufacturers producing 3d drawings that could be ‘dropped’ into their own models. And a representative from CIBSE also pressed for a standard format for building product manufacturers to produce 3d models to and then input standardized data into. This however gave rise to the suggestion of ‘the mother of all databases’, which was generally accepted as unrealistic – The point that clients might want different data meant the variations of data would become unmanageable very quickly.

Paul Morrell suggested “…more flexibility and less standards and let innovation and creativity decide the flow and adoption of the management of information over time.” Or words to that effect. I liked Paul.

On that note the Chair summarised the evenings topic by allowing the panel to air their closing statements.

Five key points from the panel to takeaway:

  1. To actually ‘want’ to work together. The industry and it’s clients must all change & Darwin would sort out the rest. In the end waste will be the winner. (Paul Morrell).
  2. Get back to working in a disciplined way. A holistic approach to project management is fundamental to the success of any large project. (Mike Sheehan).
  3. Work with software producers on what the industry actually wants not on what they don’t want. (Alan Crane).
  4. The industry needs to make the change to BIM quickly. (Chris Gilmour).
  5. Collaboration with software producers and contractors. The contractors need to take the lead and bring their sub-contractors with them. (Karl Redmond)

The event was incredibly educational for me with a talented & knowledgeable crowd. Yet, I went away feeling slightly frustrated. Frustrated at the consultancies and the contractors who were, in effect, pushing blame back and forth and pushing on with their own agendas. In my mind both camps were only reacting to BIM and not pro-actively encouraging process change. Major projects were won and consultancies selected. The basis of consultancy selection (if there was that luxury) being… ‘well, they’re the consultancies we’ve always used’, an odd attitude to take given that their systems are incompatible and that duplication of effort was inevitable.

In a perfect world maybe large contractors could pull together in a more collaborative way. And in perfect world maybe clients could bring in the consultancies, contractors and their sub-contractors to start to format some BIM standards across the industry outside of projects. And maybe in a perfect world progressing BIM compatibility and adoption across the industry could be a general goal and not be seen as an excuse to gain competitive advantage.

The unsung heroes of BIM in my mind are clearly the product manufacturers themselves. There was no talk of collaboration with product manufacturers and yet closer collaboration with them would help shape the broader 3d modeling landscape and probably wider BIM adoption. Product manufacturers are an untapped resource. Their skill at producing 3d models is undisputed however, their innovation is being overlooked while the contractors and consultancies fail to communicate clearly themselves. All this and just across the pond the first BIM Lawsuit hits the headlines. Apparently for lack of clear communication.

What are your thoughts on BIM? It will be interesting to see how far this conversation has moved on in 12 months time.

About Stuart Dinnie

Stuart has worked in the world of digital marketing for over 15 years. With his measured and planned approach, he has delivered robust digital strategies for construction companies to achieve real business growth. He now heads up the team at Pauley Creative as Managing Director and is leading his team & clients towards digital marketing excellence. He’s worked with over 100 construction clients; helping them on their digital transformation journey, providing sustainable strategies that return year on year incremental growth, delivering award-winning websites and adding value from board level to marketing assistant.

8 Responses to “5 reasons why BIM isn’t working”

  1. Nick Pauley

    Thanks for the feedback Stephen, very much appreciated. Paul has a really interesting take on BIM adoption. Thanks for your post link too, you’re blog is providing some excellent educational content to help the industry get to grips with BIM and it’s clearly needed.

  2. Mike Lister

    Interesting article but across the industry at the moment there seems to be a lot of ‘we need to do this’ but not many clear ideas on how this should be done. It seems like designers are pushing BIM along with the large contractors but I think more needs to be done with medium sized contractors who pick up £2 – £10million jobs. These size projects would still benefit hugely from BIM but a lot of contractors working on that size don’t have a realistic ability or capacity to adopt BIM. It can be taken further down the supply chain to specialist manufacturers such as a staircase maker, are we expecting them to have an expensive version of BIM software so they can receive info from the architect and reciprocate with their model? This is the impression that is given.

    As a slight aside, I think that ‘BIM Lawsuit’ is clutching at straws a bit. The fact that no-one is named almost gives it a sense of being made up. More importantly though it seems like the failings are not BIM related at all but pure communication breakdowns. Had the drawings been produced by traditional 2D methods then the outcome would have been the same, although I’m sure that the BIM helped the consultants squeeze all those services into a smaller space.

    • Duy

      Really? Be sure to let me know. I’d be glad to show you round town if you’re planning on conmig to Mexico City. Drop me a line when you’re around Cheers, mate!

  3. Wayne Coulter

    There isn’t a day goes by when the letters BIM don’t appear on my desk in some format – but it just seems an awful lot of “conceptual” discussions going on all the time.

    From a manufacturers point of view how far down the chain does the information have to go – or at least expected to go.

    In simplistic terms, a room is essentially made up of basic elements – a floor, walls and a ceiling. Each a “component” part in the overall BIM model.

    However, each of these component parts are made up of several components themselves. A precast wall for example, may have several fixing, reinforcing and connecting parts – each one with its own set of performance data.

    Is the expectation that this level of data is included? If that’s the case, then every manufactured component part needs it’s performance data in some way attributed to the 3D model. The variations are virtually endless – especially when you consider bespoke and project-designed solutions.

    Standardisation of the software is a start, but a more in-depth discussion/guidance on how far down the chain would be a more fruitful beginning.

  4. Brian Lighthart

    Midst all the concern for common formats, it surprised me that there was apparently no mention of IFC, which is just that – a common BIM format. According to S. Hamil, P. Morrell cited COBie in his Jan. 2012 talk with the London RUG, as the first step towards interoperability. I thought IFC held that position. Not a big deal in itself, but it does make me wonder why IFC and buildingSMART were not prominent in the discussion. The answer to that might make it a bigger deal for me.
    As for whether sub-components are “expected” to be represented in BIModels; I am sure it depends on who you ask, and what stage of project development one is talking about, but for me, the short answer is “Yes, they are”; along with applicable specification data (See COBie and SPie). The realization of that expectation is dependent on the kind of software, expertise, and proclivities each member of the project team has to work with, as enabled (or not) by the project delivery system chosen and the contract provisions each commits to – including their budget.


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