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Breaking barriers in BIM – insights from across the profession 

09 May 2019

Sharing knowledge, making sound investments and educating clients can all help drive more value from digital tools.

Breaking barriers in BIM – insights from across the profession 
Image credit: Matthew Garoffolo/Unsplash

A recent survey conducted by ICE and ALLPLAN UK shows that while adopting BIM is mostly seen to have been the right choice for engineering organisations, it’s currently less common to see a direct positive impact of BIM on profitability and project performance.

We’re also seeing that incomplete data at design phase, changes to design and means of exchanging information are among the top factors that lead to increased project risk.

With these barriers identified, what can we do about them? At a recent roundtable convened by ICE and ALLPLAN UK, leading BIM practitioners identified key action areas including sharing of knowledge, education of clients and making sound investments.

The survey

In January 2019, ICE and ALLPLAN UK surveyed 250 ICE members to measure the profession’s latest progress with implementing BIM.

The survey sample included civil engineers, technicians, designers and consultants from a variety of organisation types.

Key findings from the survey include:

Experts in BIM ranked the following sources of errors that lead to increased risks in projects:

  1. Incomplete data from other design parties (73%)
  2. Design changes (55%)
  3. Exchanging information between parties (45%)
  4. Incompatible software (43%)
  5. Exchanging information between software systems (40%)

Some 82% of respondents agreed that adopting BIM has been the right choice for their organisation BUT:

  • only 35% agreed that BIM has improved company profitability
  • only 41% agreed that BIM has increased speed of delivery
  • only 37% agreed that BIM has reduced cost over-runs on projects

We have long known that incomplete data and design changes are causal factors of delays, cost overruns and rework within projects, and these factors clearly still prevail. Quality of data and availability of data remain key issues, but designers and suppliers are not necessarily to blame.

Often, information requirements are not clearly set out in contracts, and infrequent clients are often not educated on what “complete” means and what the ramifications are if not specified.

We now have powerful digital tools available to aid information exchange. While some software systems could be more user-friendly and tools are not always in line with standards, the issues are much more to do with people and processes.

There remains a lack of full understanding about project workflows, and we lack skilled people who really understand how to build and interrogate datasets. Practitioners are commonly comfortable working with 2D documentation and using 3D models to assist, but often less comfortable with checking and approving deliverables in full 3D.

Vendor lock-in remains a major issue, and many organisations could do more to fully research the right tools to deliver the outcomes they need before making long-term financial commitments to suppliers.

Addressing barriers

It’s worth remembering that the BIM movement is less than 10 years old, and that while great progress on digital transformation is being made within civil engineering, it has not been long since our sector was ranked as one of the worst performing on digital adoption.

It’s likely that many infrastructure organisations remain on a journey to realising best value from digital tools, and we may expect that if we ran this survey in 5-10 years’ time, naturally more organisations will be seeing differences to their bottom lines of profitability and speed of delivery. However, we must continue to actively drive adoption and tackle some of the barriers.

Continue to develop a whole-life information culture

Infrastructure is fast becoming an information-based industry, and everyone working in the sector must realise that we are all now information managers.

Built assets are typically in place for 100 years or more, and they are only built once. We must continue to apply whole life thinking to realise the full benefits of BIM, as elucidated in in the quality management principles within ISO 9001 (ISO 9001:2015 Quality management systems).

By treating data as the valuable long-term asset that it is, and being incentivised to work towards outcomes to society rather than project handovers, information will continue to allow us to engineer at new levels and deliver added benefit to people and businesses.

Share knowledge

The civil engineering profession must get better at sharing both good and bad experiences of managing data and information flows, and we must find more effective ways to apply learning within organisations and draw learning experiences out of organisations.

Real lessons are crucial to engendering practitioner confidence and helping organisations see value in digital tools, all the way down the supply chain. ICE has a key role in disseminating knowledge and continues to do so through its Digital Transformation campaign, but as an industry we must become more open about sharing both successes and failures.

We also need more case studies of how BIM and other digital solutions have helped save money and led to growth, for large and small enterprises alike. These success stories are crucial to building the business case for digital solutions, together with informed decision making. If you have a story that ICE could share, please get in touch.

Make sound investments in software and people

To help avoid negative impacts of vendor lock-in, investments in BIM software and other digital tools must be well considered. Organisations must ensure that decision-making capacity is supported by strong knowledge and insight in both engineering and technology, and extensive time should be spent researching available tools to understand which can deliver required outcomes. Informed decision making is crucial to maximising value from digital tools, especially over the whole life of an asset.

Infrastructure organisations must also invest in the right expertise to maximise the value they can get from information. As set out in ICE’s 2018 Professional Skills report, our approach to solving the skills challenge must recognise that civil engineering is about managing and operating infrastructure as well as designing and building it, and that civil engineering skillsets must be able to adapt and evolve to get the most value from new technologies and the information it presents us with.

Demystify BIM for clients

It’s crucial that clients, especially one-off or infrequent clients, understand their role in setting project specifications, information requirements, and validation and verification processes at handover stages. Clients must recognise the importance of this in avoiding rework and cost overruns, and ensuring supply organisations work towards the required outcomes.

Early engagement and close ongoing communication with the supply chain is important, as set out by Project 13’s Capable Owner model. To support this, clients (especially infrequent ones) could benefit from clear “how to” guidance on how to set information requirements and apply standards to help deliver the outcomes they need. This could be based around three key areas that must be fixed from the outset: completeness, consistency and accuracy of information.

Key recommendations

  1. We must continue to develop and information culture within civil engineering, that reflects an understanding of both whole-life infrastructure management and outcomes to society.
  2. As a profession we must find new and better ways to share knowledge on information management, enabling real learning from both successes and failures, and of how digital tools and good information practice have enabled growth, especially within smaller enterprises.
  3. Investments in BIM tools and other digital solutions must be well considered and based on sound understanding of both engineering and technology, to ensure that outcomes can be fully met.
  4. Infrastructure organisations must also invest strategically in both people and information processes, to drive more value from technology across whole life performance.
  5. Clients, especially infrequent ones, would benefit from clear “how-to” guidance on setting project specifications, information strategy and information requirements across the life of projects.

Download the report

  • Ben McAlinden, manager (international partnerships) at Royal Academy of Engineering