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BIM - A site manager's view

Malcolm Clarke talked to CITB about how his firm uses BIM.

Our business was built around teamwork back in the 1990s. In fact our strapline was “buildings built on team work”. All of our work was selected around the basis of doing it in a collaborative way, which to some extent is the reason why we stayed the size we were. 

BIM came about for us when we got onto some local authority frameworks. It enabled us to demonstrate projects to our clients, but also showed the value of BIM to our supply chain by working collaboratively. Fundamentally, it's just a better way of working.

In the last three years, our turnover’s increased, with £23m turnover for this year. We’ve got an expansion plan for the next five years as a result of the changes that are happening across the industry. 

From our point of view, it’s made us much more efficient. Our sustainable profitability is improving and that’s what we’re using to make us more competitive and more profitable.

On a project basis, it’s predictability of timescale, predictability of cost, improved customer satisfaction, improved supply chain satisfaction, which is part of reducing the cost. Once people get it and they believe in what you’re doing, they start to reduce their prices. They’re not cutting their margins, what they’re doing is taking out some of the risks that are inherently priced into their pricing structures. That happens with both designers and contractors and suppliers. We’re starting to see that.

On open book situations, it’s reducing the cost to the client. On competitive single-stage tenders, we’re able to be more competitive and we’re more profitable as well. What are the accreditation options? There are three options – One is BSI, one is an NFB scheme, and then there’s another organisation called Ocean, we ’re probably going to go with them. We’re already ISO 9001 and 14001, so the next step is getting PAS 1192 accredited.

We’d done a lot of the analysis about being BIM ready. We did that over a year ago and we’re ticking all the boxes. We were assuming there would be a much bigger drive for Government saying you’ve got to be able to demonstrate you’re BIM-accredited to stay on tender lists, but they haven’t actually done that. From our point of view we wanted to demonstrate that anyway.

We’ve seen it. You are getting resistance from people who think they don’t need to change, but you get that whenever anything’s slightly different. I’m sure they had the same problem when people swapped horses and carts for cars. 

We set up Kent BIM, which is a specialist group off the back of Constructing Excellence. You’ve got members from across the industry – clients, subcontractors and main contractors – and the idea is to demonstrate to each other and to support each other on the BIM journey.

We were doing a presentation at Kent Constructing Excellence on supply chain engagement, and took two of our Mechanical and Electrical subcontractors along with the Contracts Managers and Design Managers that are working together on a project.

They had questions fired at them about how they engage with BIM, whether it was worth it, whether they’ll carry on with it, did they think it was helping them improve their businesses, and so on. The guys were so engaged with it and a lot of the supply chain were saying “about time too!”

The main contractors have spent lots of money on software and stuff over the years and subcontractors tend to hold back. Now there’s loads of free stuff that we would’ve had to pay for years ago, but they can get all these apps for free. So they can look at 3D models on iPhones and tablets much more affordably than those of us who were looking at it 10+ years ago.

You’ve got the systems to give them better information that they can look at on site so their teams are building things at once. They haven’t got to wait for someone to go and print off a drawing. All those, some people say “little things”, are actually quite big and they make a massive difference to the supply chain, and whether they can make any money, so they love it.

Those companies who modernise, change and really get hold of the BIM agenda – not just to tick boxes but to deliver the benefits from it –will be so far ahead of the other contractors that the other contractors won’t be able to survive. It’s just a case of at some point there’ll be a critical mass where enough people will be doing it correctly that the others are consumed or rolled over.