Building Information Modelling (BIM) specialist John Eynon speaks exclusively to UK Construction Online about the BIM proposition and the prospect of a digital built environment.
Could you provide our readers with a bit of an introduction? What is your professional background and how did you come to work with the UK BIM Alliance?
I am a Chartered Architect and Construction Manager with about 35 years’ experience in the industry. Over that time I’ve worked in public and private architectural practice and for a while on my own. Since the late 1990s I’ve worked mostly for main contractors in design management and work winning. Job values over my lifetime vary from several thousand to over £50M across a range of building types.
My involvement in BIM probably started around 2010/11 with the formation of the Task Group and the declaration of “The Mandate”. I became the South East BIM Champ of the Regional Hubs network as we were at that time. Later on I became Joint Chair of the national network, and we rebranded as BIM Regions UK. We have been instrumental in the formation of the UK BIM Alliance and I am a founding member of the executive team leading on engagement. Personally I’ve been involved in BIM management, consultancy, and training. Over the last few years I’ve published books on design management and BIM for construction managers.
The UK BIM Alliance has been formed by the BIM Regions, communities and aligned organisations to provide industry leadership to achieve BIM Level 2 business as usual by 2020.
Historically, the construction industry has been slow to embrace new technology. Is this still the case? Why do you think this is?
This is a mixed picture. And probably has always been. There are leading lights, early adopters and innovators who are prepared to go first and maybe take a hit sometimes but learn through the process – innovation isn’t a straight line! Due to the competitive nature of our industry with low margins, risk is always a big factor, and cash is tight.
There are a number of factors at work here that give many the excuse to hang back and see how others are doing first. The big issue for some here is that BIM and digital transformation can directly influence competitive advantage. More business means you get to stay in business. You need a longer view beyond the short-term.
Also there is this underlying attitude against sharing best practice, learning and experience. Other industries have crossed this barrier, and we need to do the same.
How do you go about changing attitudes to innovation in construction? Where do you begin?
To be honest, I think the mandate has done its job. It worked for a while, but public sector spending has shrunk, and so has the influence. The big stick doesn’t work so much. And there is no Level 2 policeman coming round to check up on you.
We need a different conversation. Value. Efficiency. Quality. Safety. Client Expectations. Risk reduction. Profit.
BIM and digital ways of working can improve all these aspects of a project and much more. I think as companies see the value their competitors create and the work they win, that will start to change and win hearts and minds. This is Darwin in action. Once the evolutionary drive to survive kicks in, the tide will become irresistible. The strange thing is, it already is for many reasons, but most haven’t caught on to that yet.
Are any sectors more behind than others?
Again, this is a mixed picture. Designers and most major contractors are making progress. There are some notable supply chain stories. But the main work lies with clients and SMEs.
Clients are critical as they will drive the need for adoption and working digitally but even now few have grasped the value working in this way can provide for them over the asset life-cycle.
Whilst central Government are working to Level 2, other public sector bodies such as local authorities present a very mixed picture. There are leading lights and others struggling to get started.
SMEs are also a key ingredient as the main players on any project may well be using BIM but lower down the supply chain the picture is very different.
Has last year’s BIM Level 2 mandate been successful in driving uptake? In your experience, are organisations aware of the benefit and amenable to change?
I think the mandate has kept BIM on the agenda over the last few years. With the industry trying to climb out of recession, it would have been easy for BIM to be kicked into the long grass. The mandate has helped prevent that but we need to start talking both about the benefits and the reasons why a change to digital working is so important and beneficial for the industry.
Few organisations, businesses or individuals really embrace change. However, the recent Farmer Report – “Modernise or Die” – paints a disturbing picture of our industry and the imperative for change at all kinds of levels. The writing is on the wall, and in a way change now is a way of life for us all. You just need to look at advances in technology over the last decade, or, as a ‘boomer’, over my lifetime.
Understandably, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the UK economy. Going forward, what role might new technology play in alleviating these pressures?
The Level 2 framework is being adopted around the globe as well as in the UK. We are exporting BIM, both in terms of standards and process but also the expertise and training to support that. The intellectual framework that we now have is the envy of many around the world, and has put us among the leaders in the global digital economy.
BIM and digital ways of working can give us a trading and competitive edge – globally. We’re moving towards a data-driven global society and built environment industry and I think UK PLC is well-placed to play a leading part in that.
What advice would you have for sceptics or those oblivious to the benefits of BIM and the Internet of Things?
There isn’t a one size fits all solution. It depends upon your role in the project process. The impact for say designers could be great whilst for some supply chain minimal. And likewise regarding training and investment costs.
Dare I say it, look at your peers and competitors. Talk to the people you work with and your clients. Look for exemplars, see what the leaders in your field are doing, and the value they’re getting out of working this way. Go to a conference; join your local BIM Regions group, or specialist BIM 4 group. There’s plenty of information out there now, mostly free, and low cost meetings as well.
The biggest mistake would be to do nothing and watch your peers move ahead of you. These are business and career-defining moments. Few seem to grasp that. The transformation to digital is inevitable, we are already a data-driven society. We need now to be a data-driven industry.
The age of connection and data is here. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. We see this day by day on our phones and tablets. Mobile. Connected. More data. More apps. The Internet of Things and Internet of Everything are already a reality and growing exponentially.
It’s a digital life – we need a digital built environment.