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From Captive Cult to Culture Change | Does the rise of Digital Engineering require the demise of BIM?

How do you persuade the wider construction industry of the importance of Building Information Modelling (or BIM)? And in doing so transform it from being perceived as something a little bit nerdy and cult-like into being an accepted part of mainstream company culture? Hurley Palmer Flatt endeavoured to find out by bringing together a host of speakers to give a series of short, sharp presentations on the subject at a breakfast seminar on Wednesday 10th October.

Despite the fact that the group approached the topic from different angles – Vicki Holmes, for instance, is a learning partner at Multiplex Construction, while Roger Martin co-founded The Mindset Difference, which aims to change the way employees in companies work together –  a set of broad themes emerged.

The importance of language featured heavily. As Sarah Fox, a lawyer by training, pointed out: ‘Culture is an intangible glue that binds people together.’ She added that BIM wasn’t so much concerned with technology as getting ‘the right information to the right people at the right time.’ Her contention is that BIM is overrun with jargon ‘which means nothing is meaningful’. It was a theme picked up by Rebecca de Cicco from Digital Node, who chimed: ‘There’s a huge language barrier when we talk about BIM and digital engineering, regardless of where in the world you work… We’ll need to be able to understand the language so we’ll be able to trade across offices and regions – at present that doesn’t currently exist.’

Taking a different, and perhaps more overtly practical tack, Mike Moseley, an infrastructure innovation expert, discussed the importance of collaboration in huge engineering projects. He took the example of iP3, which was spawned from the Crossrail project and acts as a platform between a slew of major clients and their supply chain. ‘It’s a place where ideas can be shared and there’s a pot of money that can drive a number of ideas,’ he explained. Some of his sentiments were echoed by Martin, who described how many company structures are a ‘rich breeding ground for cliques and cults’, and examined the importance of an organisation’s culture to propagate new ideas. ‘We can often make the assumption that our view of what’s required is the only one there is, which doesn’t lend itself to accommodating others,’ he warned.

‘The problem with a BIM team is that is becomes another function of the business,’ agreed Holmes. ‘You have your design team, commercial team, planning team and your BIM team. They do stuff in 3D, while everyone else does it in 2D. And that’s absolutely the opposite of what digital construction is all about. It’s a process, it’s overarching.’

And collaboration was a need that Miles Walker, an independent consultant who has also worked with the likes of HOK and Foster + Partners, returned to in the penultimate presentation. ‘Working together is absolutely key,’ he explained. ‘I can’t express enough the importance of understanding everyone’s capabilities and making sure that whatever you’re going to set as a standard that you procure it correctly. There’s no point awarding a big contract and then coming along later with innovation. You have to be in early.’

Perhaps it was appropriate (if enjoyably unexpected) that Hurley Palmer Flatt’s Group BIM Manager concluded the morning with a quote from Malcolm X: ‘Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.’ Empathy, language and collaboration, it seems, are the key to spreading the word on the importance of BIM.