What about BIM?

15 August 2019
Zaiga Finnis

Thinking big and starting small.

BIM (Building Information Modeling) has been a topic of hot conversation for some years now, but its adoption in Australia’s construction industry has been tepid. Broadly speaking, ‘BIM’ encompasses a shift from documenting buildings and structures in 2D format as plans, sections and elevations, to documenting buildings in 3D format as physical forms, volumes and materials. It promises a shiny, bright future — a single source of truth during design and construction, and even post-occupation. So why wouldn’t an industry with so much to gain be running towards this with gusto?

As far a players in construction tech go, you don’t get much bigger than Autodesk. We tagged along to their Connect & Construct Summit last week to see where BIM — and other tech advancements in the industry are heading. We saw some pretty amazing stuff. What we didn’t see however, is many of the big new advances being widely adopted. Why is this? Is there some kind of industry-wide resistance or is something else going on?

The resounding takeaway from the sessions is that the technology is ready — it’s us mere mortals holding back.

Part of the challenge in adopting something as big as BIM is that it’s difficult to dabble in. It really needs wholesale, company-wide adoption to get the most out of it — and that’s a bit scary. It can feel like letting go of everything familiar, and often all at once. With the relentless pace of the construction industry, that’s pretty daunting- there’s no chance for it to pause, adopt and improve.

Certainly for large industry players, this is most true. And it is not for lack of trying. It’s increasingly common for large general contracting businesses to be putting concerted efforts into the technology systems as a source of competitive advantage. Hansen Yunken’s HYway initiative is a great example of this, there are many more.

But maybe BIM isn’t the best place to start, it’s certainly not the only place to start. At the Connect & Construct Summit, we heard that in the last 12 months alone, there’s been over $1b in capital invested in construction technology startups, globally. Beyond BIM, we’re spoilt for choice. But looking at ‘technology’ can a bit like drinking from the fire hydrant — it’s too much all at once. The path of least resistance lies in not looking at the technology at all — or at least not as the starting point.

The key will be starting small, and starting with a business problem. Rather than being overwhelmed by the ‘big’ wins, have a crack at the ‘quick’ wins.

Matthew Bien-Izowski (Managing Director, BN Electrical Contractors) talked through his success with such a quick win. In 2018, they set a goal to be paperless everywhere by 2019. Ambitious, and yet tangible. Far from saving trees, it seems this was about wanting to have the most current information for everyone, all the time, everywhere.

While eliminating paper doesn’t sound groundbreaking, it is measurable, trackable and valuable. With their goal in mind, BN Electrical looked to what technology would get them there. They realised that their $20k annual spend on printing could be better spent on 40 iPads. They found a tech tool that suited, and got to it. Fast. And they reaped rewards equally quickly, quoting a 12% cost reduction and zero rework on a recent Melbourne-based project.

And perhaps herein lies the solution to these tech adoption challenges — the frontrunners will be those that can find the quick wins. Shifting from a 5 year horizon, what can get done in 12 months? Or even 3 months? Rather than the big industry players going first, perhaps smaller businesses are better placed to lead the way, able to adopt new ways of working in one sweep. That’s a pretty liberating concept.

What will make a difference to your business? It might be reducing paper, but it may equally be about reducing the number of internal emails. Or reducing the amount of re-work based on working from outdated documentation on site. Perhaps it’s safety related, or even invoicing. No problem is too small to start, but knowing what you’re trying to improve means you’re in the driver’s seat. You’re the one putting the tech to work, rather than trying to figure out how the tech works.

The game is changing, and BIM is definitely part of this world, but to get there we probably need a bit of a rolling start. And it seems the best way to do that is to actually look away from the light, rather than stare into the sun.