Friday, December 17, 2010

What does 2011 hold for the construction industry?

There can be no denying that 2010 has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, but the construction industry in general seems to have been severely impacted by the global economic difficulties.

We have all been affected in one way or another by the toughest downturn many of us can remember.  However, such times can often lead to a re-emergence of stronger companies that find themselves better placed to grow and develop in changed marketplaces.

There is a renowned level of lethargy in the construction industry in general when it comes to changing practices and adopting new procedural methodology, but 2011 could be the year that sees a radical overhaul in the way that construction projects are driven, managed and delivered through the emergence and uptake of BIM (Building Information Modelling).

It is widely acknowledged that there is a vast, but under-achieved potential for the transformation of the industry through the realisation of ICT technological developments.  This is not the first time that I have spoken about the future of construction and its potential for being overhauled by BIM, but it is a point worth mentioning again.

Early use of CAD
This is the technology that may have the greatest impact on construction since the introduction of computer aided drawing in the 1980’s – CAD being one of the greatest advances construction has ever known.  BIM represents more than a procedural development; instead it is more of a new approach.  Conceptual realisation, procurement, design, manufacture, coordination, programming, delivery and maintenance can all be transformed and pulled together by the BIM ideology.

One important point to highlight, BIM is not a quick fix or a panacea for the industry.  To realise what can be gained by BIM, we require a wide scale and sweeping overhaul of mind-sets and the increase of openness to accept such a new way of working across all levels of construction.  BIM is heavily dependent on IT infrastructure and systems, and depends on and promotes collaboration.  In the UK, it might be said that these are not some of the best qualities that can be observed in construction at present.

Earlier this year, the government’s chief construction adviser, Paul Morrell, publicly identified BIM as a key part of the future procurement process for public buildings.  A report based on a current trial of BIM in government projects is expected next spring.  This is expected to “mark the beginning of a commitment to a timed programme of transformation”.

BIM could be a key component to the success of projects being developed and progressed by the schools capital review team under the schemes replacing BSF.  This follows trends observed in other countries that have already accepted BIM as a new standard, that have seen positive results in delivery and financing.

This month also saw Paul Morrell call on the government to mandate BIM use on all public schemes valued at £50m or more.  Some key points and recommendations are included in the Innovation and Growth Team reporton Low Carbon Construction (view here), including:

  • Recommendation 3.11: That the industry should work, through a collaborative forum, to identify when the use of BIM is appropriate (in terms of the type or scale of project), what the barriers to its more widespread take-up are, and how those barriers might be surpassed, leading to an outline protocol for future ways of working.
  •  Recommendation 6.14: That government should mandate the use of BIM for central government projects with a value greater than £50m.

So, where does this take us in 2011?

Only so much can be achieved by businesses looking to streamline and economise on practical and physical improvements.  Cutting expenditure and resources can only go so far before the business becomes inoperable.  This leaves the methodology and way that projects are approached and managed as a target for review.  By improving the way tasks are controlled and developed through the uptake of new ideas and technologies, further efficiencies may be able to be realised over and above those gained by physical change.

Glasgow Southern General Hospital

Other countries already mandate the use of BIM for large government schemes, with many contractors realising its benefits for more routine projects.  Here in Scotland, we have this week heard news of the final approval for some exciting major projects, including the Forth Road Bridge, A8 upgrading and the new Southern General Hospital project (pictured).  Plans are also set for the upgrading of Glasgow Queen St Rail station.

With the potential to transform the construction industry as we know it through technology, develop our methodology to aspire to a new level of excellence and undertake a wave of exciting major projects, 2011 could represent a re-birth and renewal of construction in the UK.

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