BIM: what is it and how is it shaping the construction industry?


What is BIM?

BIM is defined by the Construction Project Information Committee (CPIC) as ‘a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility creating a shared knowledge resource for information’. It is a collaborative way of working which uses a digital model to store and to coordinate information by the architecture, construction and engineering team all in one place. 

The delivery of a project with BIM implies a great potential. Despite the need for a longer than usual design phase, It optimises the coordination, by producing more accurate and shareable data for the benefit of a faster and less risky construction. The potential of this technology goes as far as having a digital living model that can supply information from the conception of the building – or infrastructure – to its completion and even maintenance. As it all sound fantastic on paper, this innovative approach has encountered many challenges in fining his way into the construction industry.



BIM requires and high level of coordination and collaboration within the team. Staff members need to reach all the same way of working with the software. To achieve that the training should be done for all the employees at the same time in order to have the same experience and the same use of the software implemented in the same way. This aspect is facilitated in small firms where the staff members are limited to a small number. The simultaneous training also develops new working and learning skills which should promote an efficient exchange of information through communication and coordination within the team. This will add to the practice quantitative and qualitative benefits in terms of project delivery and work environment. The team needs to work as a group where there is no-blame atmosphere but a learning and participatory environment. The idea is to settle a long standing structure based on professional responsibility.

In terms of resourcing roles, the introduction of BIM can value the role of the Architect which becomes the coordinator of the whole design and building process but with the advantage of sharing the responsibility with the engineers and contractors. Adopting BIM the Architect should assume the role of interdisciplinary leader but keeping its work related to designing skills. BIM also opens opportunity for the introduction of new professional roles within the practice as the BIM Manager.



BIM implementation is a long term investment for the company and its training, learning and integration process takes time unfolding also in financial implications for the company.
The estimated cost to fully integrate BIM into a company is around £9,500 per head including computers software and training. This cost needs to be added to other equipment expenses that cover printers, other graphic software, materials, etc. (Arnott, 2015). Whilst the investment needs to consider that the company will register an initial loss but with a significant return in benefits for the firm and the clients in a long term period covering the expense. To control the initial loss there are alternative solution such as a client investment or Government financial incentives to support BIM implementation in architectural firms. The Government had played an important role in terms of financial support aiming a complete introduction in all the firms in the UK of BIM level 2 within the decade, starting by supporting university facilities that are giving free advises on Government BIM requirements and objectives.

In terms of design process and related fees, the adoption of BIM implies an initial increment of fees during the first stages of the project due the involvement of more employees with more BIM experience to satisfy the high request of information needed. This will result in a new balance of the cost in favour of the first stages of the design process; while the later stages that will be reduced in terms of time and work load.

Moreover, by adopting the BIM method the increment of the fee quote will add value to the firm itself. In a long term expectation the profit should increase accordingly to the company proficiency. Although, the relatively introduction of BIM within the industry is making difficult to predict the income increment in direct relationship with the BIM adoption.



As a collaborative live model, issue related to the liability of the shared information were at the centre of many debates. Indeed, the introduction of BIM within the construction market makes hard a clear identification of legal responsibility between the design parties involved due to a lack of legal precedents and the not yet established sequence of the whole process. It became immediately evident that the adoption of BIM system within a practice requires changes in documents and procedures of copyright law, insurance, contracts, terms of appointment and liability in order to facilitate the work. First of all, the adoption of new typology of contract such as Joint Contracts Tribunal – Constructing Excellence (JCT-CE) or Project Partnering Contracts 2000 (PPC2000) will work more efficiently with the BIM process rather than the standard model helping to manage some issues such as the right of ownership of the model and who is responsible for it, clarifying also insurance policy matters.


How is BIM impacting the construction industry?

It has been almost a decade since the introduction of BIM (Building Information Modelling) have shown its first effects into the construction industry.  As many changes occurred – from the RIBA Plan of Work review in 2013 to the introduction of new roles, such as BIM manager, within the design team – much more must be done to take the full advantage of this technology.

It is quite a challenge to convert the industry in this mindset of working. Despite the employment of BIM softwares in largely diffuse, it can be argued that at an industry level we are still in the transitioning period. The main factors include: Initial investment cost, training period, typology of practice and jobs (small jobs, design team no using BIM).

As costs of BIM implementation are quite significant, especially for small practices, often in there is hesitation in taking this investment. Often companies implement to BIM if they have found themselves collaborating with others that have already establish their experience with the system. However, without looking at the bigger picture, especially having the new generations of professionals trained and educated to this standards, more practices are now adopting this way of working because, even without using the full potential of the software in collaboration, there are still great advantages.


Considerations: Advantages and disadvantages

BIM also enables advanced workflow capabilities that augment the design process, from concept to the building’s completion. By allowing an effective cross-checking process between all the design components since the early stages of the project, many common issues arising during the construction phase have seen their risks lowered thanks to a greater coordination phase. Whilst the site information is increasingly accurate shrinking the construction phase, this unfolds into a longer design stage often disorientating a long established process in the industry.

The need of multiple data having to work together across various disciplines, had significantly improved the communication between the design team members including a risen awareness of the need of clear plan of deliverables and a collective design strategy.

However, as these software are predisposed to store an unthinkable amount of information that can be employed for numerous resources, calculations, predictions, and many more. However, despite the ability of the software, there are still doubts that this potential can be used without investing in greater hardware capabilities, an expense that not many practices have the privilege to afford.

One of the most compelling returns of using BIM software is a highly detailed three-dimensional visualisation. This viewing mode not only helps the clients to navigate and picture their projects on the contrary to the often-difficult-to-read flat plans, but it provides a resourceful way to preview all the building elements in the pre-construction phase. Space-use simulation and clash detection tools ensure a more efficient coordination between the design team, contractors and consultants enabling to thoroughly analyse any error or miscalculation and to correct these preventing any costly delays on site.

Building up information in the complex three-dimensionality of BIM software however, takes up some time, as well as to coordinate the elements’ classification between all parties in order to make use of the aforementioned tools. The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 brought appropriate adjustments to reflect these changes in project’s organisation of timetable, fees, and resources. The plan indeed allocates a longer design period yet a more detailed and coordinated set of information. The objective is to foresee and mitigate all the possible risks to reduce the site timing and costs – being the most expensive phase of the project – to the minimum. By encouraging pre-fabrication, improving material estimates, and providing better control over technical decisions, the construction process is optimised and the overall built will be better executed. BIM software comes into help even with Health & Safety, as the reality capture technology can be used to visualize and plan site logistics ahead and to evaluate the hazards levels during the project execution.

It is important however to stress out that these adjustments need to be taken on board across the industry, by professional and clients to be effective and beneficial.

A model that stores all the necessary information, can be easily shared and date instantly transferred to each consultant, that will use and add theirs too. That would save up time both in the initial collection of information as well as the reception and communication of them. The same model can be employed to develop accurate studies of its services, such as Environmental Impact Analysis or to produce risk assessments strategies.

Nevertheless, the built data efficiency does not exhaust with the project delivery. As future dispositions envisage to include an as-built digital reproduction of the completed building to the handover pack so that it can be used to monitor and manage its long-term life.


Overall, the innovation of BIM modelling is not just limited to the design process, but it benefits all the activities and organization involved in this process facilitating the identification of eventual problems and also the resolution of them before that the actual construction will start such us clash control mechanisms. In these terms, it brings significant benefits to the financial aspect of building process.  BIM is a system that potentially allows a multi-dimension analysis including time (4D), cost (5D) and facilities management (6D). If these information are kept correctly updated and shared through the same model, the cost control of the building will be easier since the first stages. However, the implication that BIM is bringing as a shared model between more parties, is the involvement and coordination of all of them in order to identify costs and stages of the building process.