Digital Construction

BIM: It’s good to talk!

In a recent blog I wrote about the importance of managing change in relation to BIM. One of the foundations of successful change is good communication. Back in the mid 1990s, telecoms giant BT ran an advertising campaign around the theme of ‘It’s good to talk.’ The campaign, starring Bob Hoskins, reportedly delivered BT an incremental £5 billion boost over the five years it ran. So what’s this got to do with BIM I hear you cry?! The success of the campaign was in its simplicity and the power of good communication.

Communicate to collaborate

It goes without saying (I hope…) that BIM is a collaborative process. An organisation’s BIM capability to deliver measurable project outcomes is only as good as the capability of other organisations in the supply chain. Delivering measurable project outcomes is in turn reliant on those organisations across the supply chain being able to work collaboratively towards common goals. Understanding and harnessing the collective capabilities of a project supply chain is crucial to the success of a BIM project. Or any project for that matter.

It makes sense that one of the foundations of success is having processes in place to ensure that common understanding exists. Hence the requirement in PAS 1192-2 to assess supply chain capability during project procurement. But, whilst the Pre-contract BIM Execution Plan provides a project level assessment, organisational change for BIM requires a more strategic approach.

The importance of structured communication

One of the recommendations we often (in fact, always) make to the organisations we work with is to open the conversation with their project partners about their knowledge and skills in relation to BIM and their ability to embrace collaborative working. A common complaint we hear from designers and contractors is that ‘clients aren’t asking for BIM.’ And where they do, they have an unstructured approach to specifying what they want. ‘This project shall be delivered to Level 2 BIM’ is not infrequently encountered. Similarly, clients are often unaware of what their supply chain can deliver for them and as a result have unrealistic expectations.

Some of the more enlightened clients and contractors we have worked with have recognised this. And those which have made most progress have done it in an open and structured way.

Unfortunately, one of the most common things we see is general BIM questionnaire, often using questions from the CPIx assessment forms. A blunt approach perhaps, and a guaranteed turn off, it can feel like a hard gate selection process to some subcontractors. It is perhaps a necessary evil if organisations, particularly contractors, are dealing with large supply chains. However, this approach can feel unfocused and the value of the information collected is questionable. The best results are when organisations take a more open and collaborative approach. This includes clients as well as contractors.

BIM: It’s good to talk

Possibly the best example is a large local authority we worked with, which engaged a wide range of organisations on its consultant and contractor frameworks in an open and honest conversation about the potential approach to BIM. Delivered through a series of monthly workshops over a six month period, that group is still meeting and continuing the conversation two years on. We also know that both client and supply chain are actively engaged in BIM projects, and more importantly they are now beginning to report positive benefits.

The same is true of subcontractors who suspect their Tier 1 contractors want BIM but haven’t had the nerve to ask them the question. Sometimes this is through fear of giving the wrong answer and sometimes it is simply not knowing the questions to ask. Again, we have seen good examples of where main contractors have engaged collaboratively with their supply chains to understand their current capabilities. Subsequently, these contractors have been able to support their supply chain partners to develop their BIM knowledge and skills. And vice versa in some cases! Together they have been able identify the most appropriate processes, tools and systems to support BIM and collaborative working.

Sometimes, it simply comes down to picking up the phone and asking the question. As the saying goes, ‘It’s good to talk.’