Program:
ARTO KIVINIEMI: Introduction of BIM from the British perspective

ARTO KIVINIEMI: Introduction of BIM from the British perspective

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a key element of RYM’s PRE program and a subject area for which Finland is renowned the world over, and for good reason. BIM was introduced to the Finnish industry about ten years ago, which is very early by international standards. The PRE program focuses, quite correctly, on the comprehensive development of processes instead of technology.
Yet, the situation is not the same all over the world. When I started as a Professor of Digital Architectural Engineering at University of Salford in May 2010, BIM was an almost unknown concept to most people in the industry and universities, or at best a term referring to a particular software. When I started developing the new “MSc in BIM and Integrated Design” curriculum for our university, most comments were like “modeling is way too expensive and complicated” and “modeling will not be introduced in the industry for a long time, they want employees who can make drawings”. That made the conservative reputation of the Brits seem quite justified. Fortunately, the management of our school still believed in my vision and endorsed the development of the program.

In October 2010, the market situation changed abruptly. The government’s construction technical adviser Paul Morrell announced at a conference in London that the government would soon require BIM in all public projects. Ever since, the entire construction sector has shown keen interest in BIM. The government’s strategy for the construction sector completed in May 2011 orders the compulsory introduction of BIM by 2016. The implementation of this requirement is being prepared by many teams that are developing solutions for related practical problems, such as the data content to be handed over to owners, procurement methods, contract law, and insurances.

According to some studies, the UK has become the most advanced country in Europe after Finland in the deployment of BIM in just two years. I have never before witnessed such speed of change. Admittedly, the change is still in progress, and in some respects it is still more talk than reality. Nevertheless, the situation makes me wonder what might cause the speed of change.

MARKET FORCES ARE DRIVING THE CHANGE

The process here has been in many respects quite different from the one I witnessed when leading the VERA technology program in Finland in 1997?2002. The first big difference is public funding, or rather, the almost total lack of it. As the government has pursued its policy of severe budgetary stringency, it has cut financing for both research and education very heavily in the past few years. As a result, most universities are faced with great financial problems. Yet, the introduction of BIM is making rapid progress, and both the industry and academia have strong representation in all workgroups. That seems paradoxical but it is probably due to the strong position of trade organizations and the wealth accumulated over their long history.

The construction sector is in a deep recession, and everybody seems to regard BIM as a ‘lifesaver’ something you have to be strongly involved in to secure your future. The public sector in Britain accounts for about 40% of construction sector investments, and especially the number of infrastructure projects is large. Another reason could be the strong hierarchical culture of the country. If demand comes from a high enough source, it is not easily questioned, but generally accepted almost automatically.

As already stated, the situation is evolving, and only time will tell if the ongoing process leads to real change or whether it is just talk like in the numerous ‘changing the construction industry’ reports produced over the past twenty years or so. At present, however, the industry seems to be committed to the change in earnest. Leading companies are working over their organizations to allow deploying BIM, and expertise is in demand.

During 2011?2012 Salford was the only university with an official BIM master’s programme. This academic year the number is 5 to 6, depending on the definition, and BIM experts can easily find jobs despite the deep recession of the construction sector.

FINNISH EXPERTISE IS NOW IN DEMAND!

What then, is the moral of the story for Finland? We were among the first to introduce BIM, and Finland is considered internationally a leader in this technology. The demand and deployment of BIM is increasing rapidly, and talent is in short supply in this field. This might offer us the opportunity to export expertise and provide education services. Education is increasingly moving online – more than 2/3 of our BIM students are distance learners – which makes the location of the University is of little importance.

However, the time window is limited. Global change in the construction sector seems to have started, and in the light of the British example, it can happen very quickly. Action is now required if we are to exploit Finland’s strong reputation in the field.

ARTO KIVINIEMI
Professor
University of Liverpool

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