A little bit of BIM

7 August 2013 — Analysis: “Can you attend the BIM conference,” The Fifth Estate editor Tina Perinotto asked.

“Sure,” I said. I’m nothing if not enthusiastic. “And BIM is…?”

“Take a recorder,” was the reply.

So I found myself, after just over a year covering the sustainable built environment still coming to grips with trigeneration and embodied energy life cycles, at the AMCA BIM-MEP AUS Construction Innovation 2013 Forum last week.

And it was good.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of women – about 10 in total perhaps. The crowd, and the lecture hall at Melbourne’s Exhibition Centre was packed, made up by about 350 men mostly with short back and sides, in dark suits. Some of the ties were blue.

“Typical engineers’ convention,” said one of the women, an engineer herself, at morning tea.

I was glad I had that recorder. Some of the concepts were difficult for a layperson to grasp, but I guess that’s also the issue the industry faces with its clients. Preaching BIM to the non-converted. I imagine it’s like slipping your foot in the door and then speed talking your religion to the cynical or bemused. Hard work.

But there are also converts. At different levels. Perhaps like sustainability.

Some want just “a little bit of BIM”, others want a bigger buy-in because they know, somehow, that BIM must be good for you, and yet others want to run with BIM all the way. They’re the clients that the contractors like best.

There’s also BIM-wash happening, Hollywood BIM (all glitz no substance), and I guess, one day, BIM fatigue.

But even to the uninitiated, you can see, if everyone gets their act together, BIM must be the way of the future.

To me, most speakers seemed to say that if standards were formed and then governments, clients, contractors and sub-contractors all pulled together, BIM would be more efficient in terms of time, cost savings, better work practices, better management and, ultimately, better buildings.

There were also some great take away lines.

“BIM doesn’t build buildings, people build buildings.”

“BIM is beautiful but is it the sole solution. No.”

“This is not anyone’s fiefdom. It will be a collaborative effort.”

But it still comes across as a brave new world. Indeed one speaker told participants they needed to be “bold and brave”.

And one of mixed messages. On who is pushing BIM, who wants BIM and how BIM can be communicated to huge teams all looking at the same contract but with different eyes.

One speaker said being in BIM management was akin to being a United Nations peacekeeper or a marriage guidance counsellor.

And over and over speakers asked how they could start communicating on BIM and how they could start it early enough to ensure it was relevant or even usable.

Now, with an engineer for a father, I have probably picked up a hammer and nail about 10 times in my life, and mostly to hang pictures.

Our home was one of not touching tools or motors or anything slightly mechanical. I think dad may have even taken control of the Leggo blocks.

But even I went away last week with the feeling that the building industry is on the edge of something huge.

Quite what, I am still not sure, but certainly something that will revolutionise the way projects are managed, built and delivered.

But like with anything worthwhile, it will take time, vision, leadership and collaboration. I guess I’ll watch this space.

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