Global Industry Director of Construction at IFS around Building Information Modelling (BIM) skills shortage and 4D scheduling technology from a construction SMEs perspective.
Government infra spending pledge could help reignite UK construction, but local firms must spend on skills and new tech in order to maximise benefit.
UK construction output continued its decline in Q4 2015, according to the latest findings of the Office of National Statistics owing partly to a fall in public housing and infrastructure spending. UK construction companies must have therefore cheered the Chancellor’s infrastructure spending commitments in last week’s budget review.
Although an encouraging step to re-energising the sector, the Chancellor’s commitment will not be a quick fix. For these projects to come to fruition, UK construction will still have to resolve a persistent skills shortage, highlighted as a main barrier to regional growth by a recent report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Local construction companies can therefore be a central part of the solution.
Is there an opportunity for small-medium construction companies?
The Government projects include HS3, rail networks and a series of road improvements in the North of England. As the projects begin over the next five years, they will generate significant contracts for construction companies and boost regional development.
However, in order to realise these opportunities, local construction companies will have to invest in plugging their BIM skills shortage and accelerating the adoption of 4D scheduling technology reaping efficiency benefits and taking ownership of their resource planning processes. Multinational corporations (MNCs) are already undertaking major pushes in both of these areas, so this will be essential to remaining competitive.
How can SMEs become the best contenders?
While a number of consultancies and multinational construction companies have the capacity to implement long-term Building Information Modelling (BIM) in practice, many smaller business see this as a hurdle and a box-ticking exercise, rather than focusing on the significant long-term benefits BIM will bring. This is particularly important in the context of the budget review. Most of the announced projects are incredibly large-scale which makes it very difficult for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to become involved. In order to maximise their chances, they should use their size to their advantage and build nimble and forward-looking teams. The lowered business rates announced by the Chancellor also present an incentive for SMEs to make these decisions sooner rather than later.
Across the industry, it is difficult to find people able to navigate BIM and those who currently can, have great leverage in the job market. The industry has to address a lingering perception gap here, as BIM remains a poorly understood term and one mainly associated with flashy visualisation tools. That does not do justice to the real and lasting value that it yields to a business’ bottom-line in harnessing the power of information. Businesses can implement a more integrated, modern set of business processes and systems. Specifically, BIM pools all of the project’s information at the same place and presents it in a similar fashion to all actors involved. This not only improves coherence, communication and cooperation among the team but also reduces errors and time-consuming rework that are common at early stages. On that basis, local companies should therefore opt for a far-sighted strategy when it comes to BIM and recruit IT specialists with relevant skills on a long-term basis, acknowledging that BIM will be essential in remaining competitive in the years to come.
This forward thinking can already be seen with the UK government prioritising BIM as part of its Digital Britain initiative. As a result we are increasingly seeing the term BIM appear in job titles at many construction firms and local companies should make sure they are engaged in these energies, particularly as skills pools tend to cluster in business centres such as London. As they tend to hire and train their personnel locally, SMEs have a vested interest in the success of schemes that enrich the talent pool of their communities and regions. Backing these schemes will also improve their credibility as regional stakeholders which may in turn boost their chances and candidacy for local projects.
Maximise workforce efficiency with 4D scheduling technology
With 4D scheduling technology – the linking of individual 3D CAD components or assemblies with time or schedule-related information – construction businesses can ensure material production and delivery are matched exactly to construction project timelines. This process is further streamlined by 3D printing technology, which enables parts of buildings to be constructed off-site. Historically, such ‘detailed’ scheduling was done on spreadsheets and there is now an opportunity to automate and streamline this process through a resource planning platform. This ensures that resource usage is maximised and that production schedules match construction project timelines. This is critical given the incoming flurry of projects that companies will have to keep abreast of. This type of technology enables companies to model potential new projects and scale accordingly – a particular challenge for small and medium-sized businesses which may have never experienced a busier pipeline.
Local construction companies should welcome the spending promises made by the Chancellor. They should not presume, however, that they will naturally benefit from the plans to increase investment in key projects. Instead, they should reciprocate with a few commitments of their own. Namely, build richer ties with their ecosystems, develop a BIM talent pool that their larger competitors have traditionally monopolised and modernise their planning processes with a tailored 4D software solution.