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Why BIM is ideal for small practices

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BIM may initially seem bewildering but, once adopted, its workflow efficiencies will give you more time to spend on design, writes Robert Klaschka

The uptake of BIM – or lack of it – by small practices remains a regular subject of concern both in the press and on the conference circuit.

Architects are faced with a barrage of contradictory statements. Just a few examples include: ‘Small or medium enterprises (SMEs) are struggling with the barriers to BIM’, ‘Innovative SMEs are forging pathways in BIM’, and ‘The government has made a commitment to give 40 per cent of contracts to SMEs’.

Added to this is an increasingly patronising tone, with large contractors and consultants offering to help or teach SMEs what they should do, when on closer examination these bigger companies don’t really understand BIM themselves.

Architects are faced with a barrage of contradictory statements

And if that wasn’t enough, there is a professional battle to contend with over providing certification for the BIM management role, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which was first to market, competing with a rival scheme from the Building Research Establishment.

All this confusion is maybe one of the reasons why in the AJ’s recent housing survey more than half (52 per cent) of practices said they were not using BIM when designing homes.

There is no question that it is a bewildering environment in which to take first steps. Even so I would urge BIM adoption today.

Half of practices are not using BIM when designing homes

There are great opportunities both internally with the associated efficiencies of your information coming from a single model environment, and when you are seeking new business, because more and more clients and contractors are starting to look for practices that can deliver through BIM, and this alone may get you a seat at the table.

As the owner of a practice, the most important thing you should consider is how the process and software can help you improve productivity and performance. Before you even think about purchasing licenses or creating libraries, first and foremost you must consider what generates business for you and what your particular focus is.

Don’t allow your workflow to be driven by software feature lists and marketing. It is easy to be drawn into producing information out of sequence or that you don’t need because the software allows you to. But you have to make the system work for you, not the other way round. Think about the process and deliverables of a job and let them drive how you use the software. Each sector has particular libraries and software that should be investigated to see how it might be of use.

Small practices by their nature are more open to sharing and collaborative workflow

If you have members of your team who are already proficient in using BIM technology, use them as a sounding board to understand their experience. This information should help to inform your decision making, but keep your business priorities at heart. It is also important to consider the consultants you work with. Are they able to work with you if you adopt new processes?

When you do start to work with others, don’t try and reinvent the wheel. In the UK we have the gold standard process in the BS and PAS 1192 (specification for information management) suite of documents for collaborative working. Learn how to use them because, even if you are not required to on your first collaborative projects, there is no sense in creating your own version. While these are complex documents, the principles are clear and much more straightforward to set up on a smaller project.

Don’t worry too much about the perceived problems and dangers of the collaboration process. Small practices by their nature are more open to sharing and collaborative workflow. The lack of collaboration culture is more a problem for large corporates, which tend to be more risk averse.

Start now because for smaller projects, including homes, BIM is well suited, and will make your production information workflow much more efficient through more automated coordination, drawing production, visualisation and scheduling.

You take the benefits, and it is your choice what you do with the time you save: lower fees or more design time. I know which I would choose.

  • Robert Klaschka is founding director of Studio Klaschka, and author of BIM in Small Practices: Illustrated Case Studies from RIBA Enterprises. He is a core group member of BIM4SME and BuildingSmart and UK chair of the Bentley Community.
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