BIM for all

Adrian Wild, founder of Integro Construction Software, looks at why smaller housebuilders and developers are missing out on practical BIM software solutions which could bring a range of benefits.

Feature-heavy CAD and Building Information Modelling software products are popular with a number of large housebuilders. Their high-end construction projects in particular merit the investment in time, money and manpower necessary to get the maximum firepower from their software solution.

But then there are the housebuilders who don’t require this level of complexity. They don’t require COBIE outputs or IFC linked systems, and neither do they need many of the other features on offer. For them, such a product may be impractical.

It was not so long ago that businesses were constructing new homes using half a dozen drawings and a few Spec, Building Regulation Notes, and Standard sections. Yet today, in the name of progress, they’re being asked to adopt multiple software systems to run their businesses. Paradoxically, in the short term anyway, this digital transformation is looking more time-consuming and difficult than a drawing board and a scale rule.

So what’s the alternative? Where is the shopping list of ‘practical BIM’ solutions for housebuilders to pick and choose from – user-friendly integrated packages that will make life easier, more accurate and more profitable? Well, they are few and far between.

Slow software take up

Construction is considered one of the least digitised industries in the UK, but the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with housebuilders themselves. With very little choice, there’s not much to motivate this huge swathe of the industry to embrace a digital transformation.

But then the ‘BIM’ acronym doesn’t help the cause either. For some, it sounds high risk and expensive, especially when margins are tight anyway. ‘Digital construction’ better conveys the use of data-rich objects. It does what it says on the tin, describing what is essentially a less scary, more user- friendly, start-to-finish process.

What housebuilders really want

Most housebuilders and developers want a straightforward system that will seamlessly share one set of high-quality data through- out each stage of a build lifecycle.

‘System’ doesn’t mean compatible software products requiring importing and exporting. The ideal practical BIM delivery model is one piece of software that literally costs a design in real-time as the user designs it. And interestingly, not even the big software names can offer that.

Housebuilders want office-based time savings. They want efficiencies in building, reduced time to build, capital cost savings, and fewer errors as the project passes between stakeholders – e.g. designer to estimator.

They also want instant results. Housebuilders can benefit enormously from integrating data-rich model and project information databases to build a virtual representation of a house type and all of its assets – in hours, not days and weeks. It would make the concept of quickly assessing the feasibility of a scheme a reality too.

Then there’s mission critical work which definitely requires agile tools. Imagine a small housing development with four house types that all need customisation to meet the requirements of the local authority – aesthetics like stone facing, specific parking rules, and so on. They need to be able to accommodate these changes quickly.

Being able to see the impact of their alterations in real-time could be a game changer. Digital construction should be all about making truly smart optioneering decisions. Analysing the effects of design and specification decisions on project cost and energy performance – as the changes are being made – is likely to be on any housebuilder’s wish list.

It starts here

So bring on the market challengers, bring on the competition. It’s healthy for everyone – it encourages innovation, speeds up idea generation, and stimulates good customer service.

Ultimately, a digitally transformed sector can bring down the cost of construction – making homes more affordable and energy efficient. That’s got to be worth the research and development.

And if there is already another affordable data-rich CAD estimating system in the UK, the industry will be all the better for it.

Adrian Wild is founder of Integro Construction Software’s BuildingWorks, and is involved in cross-industry group Bim4Housing