Will BIM Companies change to tier 1 contractors?

In April 2016, government legislation came into play making it mandatory for centrally procured projects to use Level 2 BIM. The government have shown their commitment to the future of BIM technology with the Centre for Digital Built Britain, a partnership with the University of Cambridge.

Clients, architects and engineers have seen the benefits of BIM and it is fast becoming an industry standard in construction design. In other areas, however, its potential has not been fully realised. While many companies have adopted BIM software, until all contributors to a project use the same systems, problems and inefficiencies are inevitable.

Problems faced by the UK main contractor business model

With productivity levels that have barely changed in decades, and a skills shortage, exacerbated by a decline in migrant workers and a long-term lack of training, UK contractors are facing difficult times.

Construction is lagging far behind other industries when it comes to investment in innovation and what little there is comes mainly from Tier 2 specialist contractors. Laing O’Rourke has developed a digital engineering team and is looking at new ways of using BIM but they are the exception.

A recent ICAEW report declared the construction sector to be fragile. Low margins and high risk leave companies vulnerable to unexpected problems which can quickly turn profit into loss. Decisions are made on the basis of lowest cost rather than whole-life value and this is a disincentive towards investment and innovation.

Imagining a new tier 1 contractor model

The collaborative approach to construction contracts that BIM systems facilitate is clearly beneficial to all involved, from client and designer through the whole supply chain, but it also presents challenges. Traditional large main contractors can be slow to adopt new technology and adjust to new processes. Smaller companies or those new to the market can often steal a march on established organisations where maximising the potential of new technology is the name of the game.

No-one understands the technology better than the BIM specialists and, as we move towards Level 3 and increasing degrees of complexity, expertise in systems management will become ever more important. It is perfectly possible to envisage a BIM company becoming a technology-led main contractor either through recruitment, merger or acquisition.

How will BIM evolve?

The aim is for BIM to evolve towards encompassing the entire lifespan of buildings from conception through design, construction, occupation and, ultimately, demolition. The development of 6D BIM, for optimising sustainability, and 7D BIM, for asset management, are the stepping stones towards enabling BIM to reach Level 3.

The essence of BIM is a system that provides tools for improved communication and greater collaboration. As with all new technology, users will find their own innovative ways of using the tools to make BIM work better for them and this is where the true potential of BIM will be realised.

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