The event was the CIMCIG Chairman’s debate – and it surely says something for the standing of the organisation that Paul Morrell was happy to participate and expand his vision for a collaborative building industry with the assembled marketing professionals.
But what more relevant platform? Much of the debate focused on who should be driving the implementation for BIM. Government? Client? Or the industry itself?
At the end of the day it will be up to the industry. As Paul Morrell repeatedly stated – BIM is a mechanism available for people who want to use it. Do we really expect government to prescribe a working practice or fund its development? And do we really expect the clients to gain a sufficient understanding of the process to dictate to suppliers how they achieve the end result?
As Chris Gilmour of BAM pointed out – one definition of marketing is “to understand your client’s needs and re-orientate your business to deliver them”. So perhaps it is up to the enlightened marketers within the construction industry to take the lead.
Paul Morrell summarised the government’s role as that of a significant client. This client knows what it wants – a collaborative building process where all participants work together to eliminate waste and deliver excellent projects on time.
The call for collaborative working is hardly new and many government advisors (Egan, Latham et al) have asked for change. However, the mood in the room last night indicated that the concept is no longer up for debate. BIM is a method to achieve collaboration and discussion focused on the practicalities of implementation rather than the necessity.
Most companies represented in the room (a heady mix of contractors, designers and manufacturers) appear to be implementing BIM to some extent and there seemed to be general agreement that failure to do so would lead to businesses becoming obsolete.
On the face of it, producing a single set of designs to which all parties contribute seems a no-brainer. Chris Gilmour of BAM summarised the argument: “we want to design things just once”. The opportunities to remove waste from the system are huge – but what are the barriers?
To Paul Morrell it’s simply about culture. He is deeply critical of an environment where the default position is to defend existing practices without considering whether an alternative is better.
To other speakers, and particularly those representing smaller design practices and consultancies, there was the inevitable caution surrounding significant financial investment without any certainty over the financial return. Alan Crane of CIOB pointed out that designers are key to the process, but also likely to work for smaller companies for whom the level of investment required is a challenge.
The choice of software system is one risk. Mike Sheehan of WSP pointed out that there is still much work to be done developing BIM compliant software that is genuinely fit for purpose and no-one wants to be the organisation supporting the Betamax of the BIM world.
Another, as indicated by Karl Redmond from Leeds Metropolitan University, is the need for significant training and skill development.
It’s not easy to commit significant investment in such difficult trading conditions, but perhaps now, when cost is at the top of everyone’s agenda, is actually a good time to consider a system whose principle benefit is efficiency.
Ultimately, the decision to embrace BIM will be leap of faith for each organisation. In answer to a question about proving the business case for implementation, Paul Morrell reflected: “Can I be bothered to do the business case? I remember when we voted on whether we wanted to move to email. The investment required to so at the time was about £4m and the immediate cost saving was to our post bill – about £100k. But we knew it was the future: unstoppable.”
Lively discussion continued for the rest of the evening, and into the bar afterwards, with a truly engaged and vociferous audience.
This is typical of CIMCIG events – learning combined with networking and the opportunity to debate with other industry professionals. Justin Ratcliffe, Chief Executive of the Council for Aluminium in Building was one appreciative attendee: “If I worked for six months I would be hard pressed to put together an event as good as this one. The strength is in the audience – a great mix of disciplines who genuinely want to engage and learn from one another.”