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Will BIM make us good?

Posted: 11th July 2013

Richard Saxon CBE
CIC Executive Board Champion for Innovation
UK BIM Ambassador for growth

“I’m not bad; I’m just drawn that way.” Jessica Rabbit’s* plaint puts in a nutshell what has been the source of bad behaviour in the construction industry for decades. We may be good people but we try to make a living in an environment based on supremely unreliable information: drawings. We run big risks in trusting others’ drawings as they will let us down however hard they try not to. It’s been very possible to make a living by expecting the information to be bad: suppliers bid low, then claim their way to profit based on the frequent changes caused by weak information provided to them. This style of behaviour poisons the project atmosphere.

This culture has also led to another bad behaviour: thinking that one cannot make money unless others lose it. The win-lose; zero-sum fallacy is deeply rooted in construction. It’s nonsense of course, but is fed by the feeling that others send the bad information to you deliberately to undermine you. Even some clients act as if the best value their designers and builders can deliver is a money-losing price.

So can BIM make a difference? Can it break us out of the death-spiral? It can do that because it promises to deliver trustworthy, sharable and computable information: drawings and data which won’t let you down. It sweetens the pot by promising to cut your costs too, not be an extra. Risk and waste come out in chunks. That is seductive stuff, even more than Jessica.

Not that it’s going to be easy to change the engrained behaviour of the bad guys: some firms’ business models are based on survival in the quagmire of bad information. The sort of changes we need are:

• Clients investing in proper pre-project planning, not a hasty start based on a half formed business case, starved of resources.

• Facility managers gathering data on what works and doesn’t work, to input into future briefs and to start the Soft Landings process;

• Architects realising that not every design needs to start from square one, and that a rigorous approach to information management is a huge risk reducer;

• Engineers joining in from early on so that concepts are not undermined later;

• Tier 1 contractors putting in a bid that they are prepared to see as the final account;

• Quantity Surveyors doing value engineering on a data-driven basis so that capital cost targets are not achieved by raising whole-life cost and that carbon targets don’t get lost;

Good behaviour is within our grasp. Clients can get better buildings for less money and in less time. Consultants and constructors can make more money whilst charging less. Collaboration can be real, not faked, with win-win methods leading to gain-shares for all. We might even be on the way to providing buildings which are fit for purpose, guaranteed by insurance. Though not tomorrow: save some of your dreams for down the road.

• For younger readers, Jessica Rabbit was the cartoon seductress in ‘Who framed Roger Rabbit?’ Robert Zemekis 1988.

Contributor: Richard Saxon CBE is champion for innovation on the CIC Executive Board and UK BIM Ambassador for growth. Click here to see his report ‘Growth through BIM’. To find out more about Richard Saxon click here