Governments Can Help Fix Construction Woes With Global BIM

April 7, 2022 Andrew Friendly, Autodesk VP

Image of technology-forward city skyline illustrates the advantages of implementing global BIM policies

  • Global BIM (Building Information Modeling) mandates and policies will help align countries on building standards, improving international collaboration.
  • The UK paved the way for BIM policies. It established a government agency in 2011 to drive BIM adoption nationally.
  • One benefit of global BIM mandates is the sharing of data and building standards, giving emerging countries the tools needed to create larger projects.

BIM (Building Information Modeling)  has transformed how structures are designed, planned, built, and operated. Projects are delivered faster with less waste; using BIM also creates opportunities to reskill workers. Worldwide, digital transformation in construction has been slow. But global BIM policies are now being championed at the federal level, which is accelerating government digital transformation, aligning countries on building standards, and creating a common language to facilitate international collaboration.

Digital transformation in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry has historically been fragmented, with industry and governments at varying stages of adoption. Digitally progressive companies have a competitive advantage: They are able to deliver projects faster and for less money. With governments taking the lead in the global BIM movement, there will be added incentives to strengthen the construction industry and build smarter.

What Is Global BIM?

Global BIM is the idea that nations create and implement a common set of standards for built assets in the digital realm. Global BIM promotes shared learning, collaboration, and mentoring between nations—the UK, for example, is well advanced in construction technologies and is partnering with countries such as Singapore, Colombia, Vietnam, and the United States to share learnings about digital transformation. The goal is to create a digital approach to design, plan, build, and operate buildings and infrastructure.

BIM means many things to many people. It encompasses technology, standards, skills development, and a way of managing projects. BIM has grown from its original roots as 3D-modeling software and is now seen as an information methodology for the design, build, and management of a construction project. A primary motivator for a global BIM program is aligning governments through a common approach that will set a baseline for construction worldwide. With an evermore-connected planet, it will take a coordinated effort to forge this path and design for the future.

Two construction workers view a digital model on the jobsite, representing the implementation of global BIM mandates.
BIM has evolved from 3D-modeling software to encompass information methodology for designing, building, and managing construction projects.

The Evolution of Global BIM 

2011: The Early Days of Global BIM

In the UK, the Centre for Digital Built Britain asked a clarifying question in 2011 (PDF, p. 6): What is the role of governments and public-sector representatives to help encourage and stimulate this innovation? The multidisciplinary organization was formed to raise awareness and encourage emerging technologies in engineering and construction throughout the country.

But overhauling the largest industry in the world in just one country seemed to defeat the purpose. That’s when the global BIM collaboration idea emerged—the UK program could benefit from a mutual partnership with other governments around the world to develop best practices. This led to the recognition that digital transformation in AEC needs a unified, strategic approach and that governments could be well-positioned to orchestrate the movement.

2015: Governments Begin to Get on Board With Global BIM

In 2015, Chile approached the UK to learn more about this government-led approach to BIM. The two countries launched a partnership, and Chile began to apply a similar model with modifications as needed. It’s a collaboration that continues to this day. The UK then partnered with Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Vietnam, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

In 2015, the EU BIM Task Group was formed. This was a sign that governments were ready to take an active role to advance the movement toward a worldwide digital construction industry.

2021: Global BIM Summit Launched

In March 2021, the Global BIM Network officially launched the first-ever Global BIM Summit. This network of more than 2,000 public- and private-sector representatives from 100 countries is building a collaborative framework for advancing BIM best practices worldwide. It will have social and environmental implications that will improve the quality of life for all people.

Why Global BIM Is on the Rise

Representing 13% of global GDP (PDF, p. 20), construction is one of the largest industries in the world—one that has long been plagued by inefficient processes and resistance to operational changes. According to McKinsey, large construction projects can run up to 20% over schedule and 80% over budget. Construction has been one of the last industries to adopt new technologies, with only a single percentage point of its revenue invested in digital tools. As a result, collaboration has been hampered by siloed information, easily disrupted supply chains, and low productivity.

There are three reasons why global BIM is finally beginning to catch on:

1. Digital Acceleration in 2020

While the pandemic disrupted the global economy, it accelerated digital transformation around the world. In some cases, companies are three to four years ahead of schedule in their technology journey, as they’ve increased remote working and collaboration, migrated assets to the cloud, used advanced technologies in operations, and built supply-chain redundancies.

2. A Disruption-Ready Industry

The second reason is widespread recognition that the AEC industry is ripe for disruption. The past 10 years or so have seen a shift to recognizing the value of BIM. Architects and engineers see productivity gains and quality improvements in building assets when they move to digital models.

3. BIM Acceptance

BIM has been legitimized around the world. As companies and countries see what others are achieving, many have accepted it as the new way forward. For example, the UK BIM Program is well-known in the built-environment space. It has become a beacon, demonstrating how governments can take an active role.

What Is the Role of Governments in Implementing BIM Mandates and Policies?

Private companies have largely been on their own digital journeys. Those with the resources and the desire have invested in software, artificial intelligence (AI), robots, and smart machines and quickly realized the benefits of the “faster, better, cheaper” method. But it’s also led to an uneven playing field, giving bigger companies a leg up in bidding and securing jobs. When governments get involved, it can help bridge the gap between where the industry is and the untapped potential of BIM.

Government-led BIM implementation is effective for several reasons, including:

A Top-Down Approach Helps Establish Common Processes and Standards

There is tremendous value in governments encouraging BIM to improve construction delivery and asset operation. The AEC industry within and between countries is incredibly fragmented, making it difficult to establish common standards and processes.

The world faces a $15 trillion global infrastructure gap by the year 2040. That is the difference between projected investments versus what really needs to be spent to support the global population. Governments are the guardians of public infrastructure and are responsible for delivering societal value; they secure the benefits from a more digital and efficient delivery partner. Encouraging BIM helps achieve this.

Governments are the guardians of public infrastructure and are responsible for delivering societal value; they secure the benefits from a more digital and efficient delivery partner.

Collaboration Stimulates Innovation

One idea behind the international program is aligning governments on common processes and language and encouraging developments in areas where they don’t compete. BIM, by design, is a collaborative platform; using the cloud, people can work together from anywhere in the world. Whether it’s government to government or the public and private sectors working together, the technology facilitates seamless workflows. Combining the top-down leadership from the public sector and the expertise from private industry is critical to stimulating innovation and bringing the global construction sector together.

Creating a Common Language Around BIM Helps Exchange Information Across Borders

To build an interoperable system, governments must harmonize the language around BIM. This will help in the exchange across borders; easier trading with less misunderstanding will be possible if a common language underpins the procurement of infrastructure projects. For example, if Colombia is building a road network, it will use similar terminology as a European country to deliver the project. Those are codified in a multipart international standardization document called ISO 19650, which sets out some of these common terms around the methodology of using information in delivering projects and operating assets.

What Is a Common Data Environment?

In this global effort to pool resources, organizations will rely heavily on common data environments. A common data environment (CDE) is primarily a process for collaboratively producing and managing information. It can be supported by solutions such asa cloud-based, digital hub where all project-related information, including BIM, lives. All players involved in a project have access and can work from the same information on their preferred devices—it’s a collaboration game changer.

Benefits of a CDE include:

  • Greater transparency: All information is visible to everyone.
  • Reduction in rework: 52% of project rework is due to poor data management.
  • Boost in productivity: It reduces time spent looking for information.
  • Integration of programs: Different software comes together in one place.
  • Higher-quality projects: Accurate data reduces human errors.
  • Data security: A CDE builds a secure environment for data privacy.

Global BIM Breakdown: Policies by Region

Although collaboration is the centerpiece of international BIM policies, each country is on its own digital journey. Here is an overview of some BIM policies around the world.

Image of the London skyline reflects impact of UK and global BIM policies.
The UK’s BIM mandate led to setting targets of 50% faster project completion and 33% lower construction and lifecycle costs by 2025.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the 2008 financial crisis was a turning point. With major cuts in public spending, projects needed to prioritize cost and productivity savings. It was the primary driver of digital transformation in construction.

In 2011, the Centre for Digital Built Britain began as a government program to drive BIM adoption nationally and internationally. The government implemented a BIM Level 2 mandate for all public projects by 2016. This UK government BIM mandate significantly contributed to savings of $4.25 billion (3 billion pounds) on public projects between 2011 and 2015 (PDF, p. 5) and led to the UK government setting ambitious targets for 2025 under its Industrial Strategy (PDF, p. 21) of 50% faster project completion and 33% lower construction and lifecycle costs. With the spotlight on this program, other nations approached the UK to learn how they could implement a federal BIM program. Now, the UK is the leader in global collaboration efforts.

An image of the Santiago, Chile skyline illustrates progress made through global BIM policies.
Chile launched the BIM Network of Latin American Governments to collaborate with neighboring countries.

Latin America

Chile has been at the forefront of Latin American BIM transformation, partnering with the UK in 2015 to learn how to move to a digital model. Chile then became a mentor for its neighboring countries.

In 2018, Chile organized a BIM conference with other countries in Central and South America. It was the start of the BIM Network of Latin American Governments, a collaboration that now includes Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. These countries also implemented their own national BIM groups. Although BIM has been slower to take hold in Latin America, countries are making rapid progress—some of which are even implementing BIM mandates today.

Image of Singapore, an early adopter of global BIM policies.
Singapore was an early BIM adopter, implementing policies in 2010 and offering subsidies to companies undergoing digital transformation.

Asia

In Asia, countries are leveraging BIM integration to become more accessible to a wider market, build a more competitive construction sector, and increase trade opportunities. But still only 7% of companies have fully integrated the digital tool into their operations. In the region, two countries making digital strides are Singapore and Vietnam.

Singapore was an early adopter in the region with its Building and Construction Authority implementing BIM policies as early as 2010 and offering subsidies (PDF, p. 46) to companies for digital transformation. By 2015, BIM plans were required for projects more than 5,000 square meters.

In Vietnam, the government has taken a structured approach to rolling out BIM across the country, steered by the Ministry of Construction. The country partnered with the UK and private companies in the United States to learn best practices and design an implementation plan with nationwide expansion of BIM in 2021. It has even created the BIM Academic Forum, based on the UK model of a consortium of universities that work together to improve the curricular development for digital construction.

Image of the Helsinki skyline; Finland has been a European leader in adopting global BIM mandates.
Scandinavia has been a leader in Europe’s BIM movement; Finland launched national initiatives in 2002.

Europe

Europe is further along in its BIM journey than many regions, with the UK and Scandinavia being the most advanced while others are making steady progress. The EU BIM Task Group formed in 2016 with 14 countries. Today, 27 governments are represented, aligned by a common mission: “By sharing best practices, we can go faster with our own transformation programs and show united leadership to industry.”

Scandinavia has been a global leader in the top-down policies, with BIM mandates in each country to use on public projects. Finland began a national push for BIM back in 2002; by 2007, 60% of engineering firms and 93% of architects had incorporated BIM into their projects. Germany had been slower to adopt BIM, but the country implemented a mandate in 2020.

Image of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin skyline. Wisconsin was the first US state to implement global BIM mandates.
In 2009, Wisconsin became the first state to require BIM for all public projects over $5 million.

United States

The US is advanced when it comes to BIM, but the main driver has been industry rather than government. In 2009, Wisconsin became the first state to require BIM for all public projects over $5 million. Some state agencies, like Departments of Transportation, have adopted BIM standards; some federal agencies, such as the General Services Administration and the US Army Corps of Engineers, have done so, as well.

There has been no national BIM government mandate, but the tide is turning. In February 2021, a roundtable of federal agencies gathered to move forward on making BIM standards a reality. With the new American Jobs Plan calling for an infrastructure overhaul, there is an opportunity for the country to unify digital transformation.

6 Benefits of Global BIM

Despite the industry’s slow adoption of digital technology, the results show that creating global policies for digital construction can benefit everyone.

1. Saves Money

Global construction saw a mere 1% (PDF, p. 6) year-over-year growth for the past 20 years. It’s an industry weighted down by inefficiencies; 98% of megaprojects run over budget by at least 30%. Introducing digital-technology workflows centered around BIM can reduce costs and save the industry at least $1 trillion worldwide by allowing for:

  • Reduced rework. Creating visual representations helps architects and engineers explore design possibilities and anticipate issues through a generative process. By the time the physical structure is built, most errors have been eliminated during digital design, so money is not wasted on the time and materials for reworking the built structure.
  • Faster project delivery. Creating data environments breaks down silos, establishing a single source of information and making projects less susceptible to disruption. Real-time collaboration enables greater productivity and faster delivery.

2. Fosters Equitable Environments and Better Socioeconomic Outcomes

A core value of global BIM is to create better outcomes for people and places. A global collaboration effort gives developing countries the tools, information, and access to capital needed to build a better world for their populations.

Construction workers view a digital model on a tablet, illustrating benefits of adopting global BIM mandates.
A digital workflow creates a data trail of institutional knowledge.

3. Uses Fewer Resources Thanks to Shared Data

On each project, data is captured in great detail and then stored in a cloud-based system. Instead of spending resources to recalculate information, similar projects can reuse these data points. A digital workflow creates a data trail of institutional knowledge that can be easily shared. Different agencies can use this information to optimize their own projects.

4. Helps Create a Leaner Construction Industry

Waste has long been a thorn in the construction industry’s side. Inventory, logistics management, downtime, and equipment failures are just a few areas that create congested workflows, rippling throughout the operation and building up waste. Digital tools such as BIM, AI, and mobile-communication platforms connect people and workflows, enable predictive maintenance, and create a circular economy for a leaner industry. Having digitally driven lean operations is a good foundation for reducing the carbon footprint of construction.

5. Builds More Resilient Infrastructure Worldwide

Infrastructures around the world are at their breaking point as age-related wear and a changing planet are weakening systems. BIM can help engineers test specs and measurements with a digital model to calculate the best way to build and the most appropriate materials to use. Building better, longer-lasting structures that can withstand rising oceans, stronger storms, and higher heat is a must from this point forward. A global BIM network, such as the one launched by the UK in spring 2021, can help governments support one another by facilitating an information exchange on how to build resilient infrastructure. It’s a welcome first step in fostering cooperation and sharing best practices.

6. Promotes a Thriving Global Workforce

Revitalizing construction with digital technology goes beyond how buildings and bridges are constructed. It creates an opportunity to reskill a global workforce for jobs of the future and appeals to the next generation of workers who often overlook construction careers. In an industry with a labor shortage, a digitally connected environment can fill the gap and build a thriving workforce.

4 Lessons from the United Kingdom’s BIM Mandate

This national-level approach was among the first of its kind, arriving nearly a decade ahead of a set of international standards, and their influence has opened a path for BIM to flourish across borders. Here, Andy Moulds, head of information advisory within Mott MacDonald’s Smart Infrastructure group, shares insights from projects delivered under the mandate, offering practical advice for firms undergoing BIM transformation.

1. Understand the Terminology

The BIM Level 2 guidelines mandated curtailing carbon emissions and reducing the cost of the UK’s public assets by up to 20% by April 4, 2016. The rules also govern how information-rich 3D models and nongraphical data are created, shared, and managed throughout a project’s lifecycle.

The first step in meeting the terms of BIM Level 2 is understanding what the guidelines require—and how definitions are changing. Over the past eight years, Moulds says, British standard 1192 of the mandate has been an “important and common-language approach for how people can share and manage information in a collaborative way.” Recently, the standard has been the basis for the international standard ISO 19650, which applies to the organization and digitization of building information across the lifecycle.

The Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG), a UK government-funded group working to build consensus around shared definitions for information-management standards, was created in 2018 to build on the foundational work completed in the past few years. Moulds says BIM Level 2 applies, in practice, to the “design-and-build” phase of a project.

But standards are evolving to reflect the broader role BIM can play as an approach to information management, guiding the handover and end-user operations of large-scale infrastructure projects and smart assets. “One way of looking at it is that we’ve managed to get the Trojan horse into the city,” Moulds says. “Now, we have to get the soldiers off the horse and take over the city.”

For now, the chief lesson is to “think about your client base, where they are located in the world, and consider who is driving their agenda to ensure your operations are meeting the needs of your largest clients,” Moulds says. He adds that the British mandate is being replicated, in principle, in many countries: Australia, United Arab Emirates, and increasingly in Europe—and estimates that perhaps in three to five years, this kind of approach could spread to the United States.

bim mandate la connector model
A model of the Los Angeles Metro’s Regional Connector. Courtesy of Mott MacDonald.

2. Use BIM to Improve Multidisciplinary Coordination

For large-scale infrastructure projects, coordination within and across teams is a key benefit of using BIM. In helping develop the master plan for Heathrow Airport’s third runway, Mott MacDonald used collaborative BIM technology to integrate the work of master planners, airfield engineers, architects, urban designers, and legal and business professionals. “With BIM, you can evaluate many more options at far greater speed and with more constraints than ever before,” Moulds says.

As part of the IDT, Mott MacDonald led the development through a complex master-plan process, covering hundreds of options for the airport and the surrounding transport and environmental infrastructure, evaluating myriad considerations. The BIM information formed a common basis for regional-scale planning decisions—such as the prospective impact on the M25 roadway, major river diversions, and the surrounding landscape—and facilitated coordination with other local development projects.

3. Use BIM to Win Business and Improve Workflow

The mandate has also led to a new willingness among business leaders and government bodies to invest in BIM as a fundamental part of their growth and development strategies at a national level. “Our Smart Infrastructure team was in Indonesia last week, where Mott MacDonald is providing BIM technical training as part of a government-funded sustainable-development program,” Moulds says. “The main difference from three or four years ago, looking at stakeholders’ attitudes toward the UK mandate, is that there used to be reservation or doubt. Last week, there was little nervousness and much more positivity. … In middle-income countries, applying BIM can really help with transparency and opening a path to tackle bribery and corruption.”

bim mandate thames tunnel overlay
A model of the Thames Tideway Tunnel project. Courtesy of Mott MacDonald.

Once a project is underway, using BIM can mean significantly less time at the drawing boards. Citing a 2017 study of the approach taken on the Thames Tideway Tunnel—a London infrastructure project designed to reduce untreated sewage flow into the River Thames—Moulds says BIM model-based delivery led to far greater efficiency by reducing the number of 2D drawings required at early design stages and as changes were incorporated.

Predicted to take 18 months, the design for the joint venture by Costain, Vinci Construction Grands Projects, and Bachy Soletanche was completed in just 12 months. Mott MacDonald is also using BIM to design the complex Ordsall Chord railway expansion in Manchester, England, and the Los Angeles Metro’s Regional Connector line—the first 3D design delivery for the Metro system.

4. Lead From the Top

Above all, Moulds says, leveraging the new collaborative BIM standards to cut project costs and pursue new business opportunities requires a proactive leader with the conviction to advocate for a digital-first approach. “In a traditional industry, there must be a push for the positive uptake of new ways of working,” Moulds says. “Sometimes, there is reluctance, but if people actually trust in the process and believe their colleagues and stakeholders are increasingly working in this way, there is a huge amount of gain to be had.”

Author Jeff Link contributed this section.

The Future of Global BIM

With the launch of the Global BIM Network this year, there is a rapidly growing movement for governments to work together to revolutionize engineering and construction. BIM is just the starting point. There will be a greater push to standardize the industry across borders and build out the collective knowledge repository of the participating countries. As that base grows, the purpose and mission of global BIM collaboration will grow and include concepts such as:

  • Internet of Things and greater connectivity
  • Greater automation with AI
  • Robotics
  • Mobile, real-time communication for workers

By 2050, there will be an estimated 9.8 billion (PDF, p. 1) people inhabiting this earth. Countries are on the path to working together to ensure mutual success in supporting populations through better methods of building. It’s a movement that’s only just beginning.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in June 2021.

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