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Exclusive UK Construction Media interview: Alan Muse



UK Construction Online’s Matt Brown talks exclusively to Director of the RICS Built Professional Groups Alan Muse about the construction industry’s perception of BIM and preparation for the BIM Level 2 mandate in 2016.

Alan Muse has been leading RICS’ response to the government construction strategy and sits on the CIC BIM Forum. He is a member of the group established to develop the BIM protocol and leads project management, quantity surveying and BIM initiatives within the RICS including the development of skills, training and guidance for RICS members.

 

At Digital Construction Week there was a theme of collaboration and making technology work for people. Do you think there are a lot of misconceptions about BIM that are putting people off from realising its true potential?

Yes, I think there are three major misconceptions regarding BIM at the moment. Firstly, BIM is expensive; secondly, BIM is disruptive and thirdly; BIM is for clients.

I think the ‘BIM is expensive’ issue is particularly acute with SMEs and engaging with them and providing more evidence to the industry that there is a return on the investment made in BIM is pretty key. Some of that evidence is starting to come through now in terms of the research being done because of the push change to get to Level 2. The more that is disseminated and awareness is obtained of the benefits of that expenditure accruing through the industry, the more that SMEs will engage in a positive way. Engagement from SMEs in terms of a supply chain; working down construction is key with BIM. I think that is putting people off but it is getting better.

The ‘BIM is disruptive’ one, I think all the genuine objective research that’s been done in this area, does show that in the long term BIM does improve productivity but a lot of private sector businesses feel that initially its disruptive.

But all change is disruptive; we’ve been through this before with computers, with CAD systems and then the benefits have accrued and people have caught up and embraced that technology in their business. The issue that it is disruptive is not something that you can immediately say is untrue but I think the fact is that most investments are worthwhile in the long run in terms of technology and that has proven to be the case in the past.

Thirdly, ‘BIM is for clients’. I think the reason a lot of professionals are saying that is because it’s to some degree passing the buck to clients in terms of insisting upon the investment that’s necessary for them to be involved in the construction project.

It’s important that clients do understand BIM and do push change in the industry. But from the client’s point of view, it’s very much a supply side of the industry issue in terms of if they want a more efficient and productive service to give them better profit margins then clearly clients are going to expect industry to perform in that way. Therefore ‘BIM is for clients’ is to me is a bit of a red herring.

It’s up to professionals to improve their way of working, their margins and business efficiencies. This is what clients are working for and it’s important for clients to support BIM and understand BIM but BIM is not just for clients in my view.

Is reluctance to change the biggest barrier to BIM?

I think it’s certainly one of the big barriers. The reason that it is so important is of course is that it presupposes a change in culture, which is always difficult to invoke. One thing that is often not talked about in terms of BIM is all the other things that have to change to maximise BIM adoption. Those things that have to change have been discussed extensively in terms of the UK government construction strategy. I’m talking about early contractor involvement, early supply chain engagement, changes in legal systems such as integrated project insurance, processes for interdisciplinary working to maximise the effect of BIM in terms of collaborative work amongst the design team. All these other issues have to be worked upon by the industry in order to maximise BIM adoption and maximise BIM advantages.

You can use one without all the others but you won’t get the full effect until the industry changes in that sense as well. I think the government’s realised in terms of its strategy. The private sector struggles with that to some degree in certain areas but it needs to understand all these other facets are really part of the same problem and that is the industry getting better at delivering for clients.

There seems to be a fear of people’s jobs being under threat from technology in some quarters, what can be done to change that mind-set?

There’s always been a fear of new technology ever since the Luddites; it’s a fact of human existence. The key point here is if you look at history, technology has never displaced labour to any great degree. So actually those fears are unfounded in most cases.

You can see it with computers; CAD systems and going further back, you see it with other examples from history. So what happens is new service streams are developed, which allow analysis and use of the technology so it’s an unfounded fear that’s the first thing for the industry to realise.

Secondly, I think it’s a very exciting change in the industry that’s looking to deliver better project performance. Most professionals should support that if they understand the fear of replacing their job, all be it a fear that is real in terms of some automated processes does allow potential for new service streams to develop and it’s the new service streams that people should be looking at that. They’re the frontiers of our profession.

At Digital Construction Week, Enterprise Ireland were very enthusiastic about the example being set by the UK in terms of government and industry working together mandating BIM. DO you anticipate other countries following this example?

I’m going to a conference in Hong Kong in January where this very subject is going to be debated because I think a lot of people have been interested in the mandate in the UK. It’s been seen as something of a success in terms of push change for the industry and really useful in nudging the market as it where.

This idea of having an industrial strategy and improving the industry is one that a lot of other countries are very interested in terms of a better construction industry but also in terms of the fact that governments are usually substantial industry clients. So of course the efficiencies in the industry are going to benefit the public purse, which is the important consideration for all governments around the world, particularly in the prolonged age of austerity.

With the Level 2 mandate coming up, do you think in terms of training enough is being done to make sure people have the skill sets to deal with it?

We are the only professional institution in the UK to launch a certificate in BIM management and so I’d very much say the answer is yes. We’re also looking at a thorough review of all our professional pathways to qualification to ensure that technologies such as BIM are represented in those competencies and pathways. In fact, speaking to higher education in that regards, higher education are already introducing BIM into degrees that lead to professional qualifications. It’s important we’re aligned with that thinking.

I think there is two almost separate issues here. One is short term and one is long term. Certainly in terms of professional qualifications and higher education, we need to be looking at those issues but that’s really a longer-term change that the industry and certainly the professional institutions need to adapt to but I think there are short-term issues as well in terms of people wanting a cure for BIM on their projects.

Larger clients tend to want a solution for invoking BIM on their projects so therefore to train existing professionals who have experience in the industry in the use of BIM on projects, such as our Certificate in BIM management, we feel is important. We feel the other reason, which is as important because lots of people are using terms like BIM Manager but nobody has any certainty in the market place what that term means and what the benchmark is for competence, is that there needs to be more badging in the market place to ensure that clients know what they are buying in that regard.

A number of people involved in BIM training have called for a government-backed recognised training scheme. Is this something you would like to see?

Yes it is but we’ve already tried to develop that ourselves but what we are desperate for is people to recognise and endorse our ICS certified BIM management qualification.

Why reinvent the wheel? We’ve gone to a lot of trouble and effort to develop that certification. It’s based upon the government’s learning outcomes from the BIM task group and really people should be getting behind that qualification and looking at. We don’t mind refining it and adapting it but we do want to see some real industry participation in developing it.

You wrote a comment piece for UK Construction Online in March 2015 were you talked of a two tier system developing between those actively looking to adopt BIM and those that aren’t, with the larger companies more inclined to be BIM ready. Is this still the case?

Well I think it is the case but that’s a typical change curve for the industry in that the early adopters want competitive advantage and obviously they’re further up the change curve; I think that’s a natural market phenomenon.

There have been strenuous efforts in the last 18 months, certainly from others and ourselves, through the BIM for SMEs group. We, for example, have a knowledge transfer partnership in place with Henry Riley, a medium sizes QS practice to try and push change in that sector of the market.

It’s a fact that most of our members are actually in SMEs and therefore SME engagement with BIM is key. We’ve also developed quite a bit of guidance such as BIM for Cost Managers which most large practices would already know quite frankly but from an SME point of view, its very important for them to get their learning from the global practices that they can feed down into their practices.

Dissemination amongst our members of best practice learning in BIM is extremely important and we can do this through case studies, conferences and we can do that through guidance and insight papers.

Something that would go hand in hand with BIM is the International Property measurement standard, which RICs have been working hard developing. What kind of reaction are you getting to this?

Measurement is essential to surveying and therefore all surveyors whether they work in the UK or internationally. Because it is obviously an international standard, they are interested in measurement particularly where it relates to benchmarking measurement like floor areas, which IPMS covers. I think the reaction has been very good.

It obviously links to BIM in terms of a classification for floor area measurement and should be thought of as such. And I think actually it’s a key level in terms of standards around BIM because first of all there are very few international standards that you can apply to BIM models. Secondly, the works of building smart in terms of open data standards at a technical end needs to be supported with process standards and classification standards from the professionals themselves so actually it’s an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle in developing classification systems for BIM around the world.

We are reviewing international construction measurement standards now, which are looking for classification on the cost side. So if we can compare costs on a standard way across the world, as well through ICMS, then this will be another facet to allowing BIM to being used on a global basis by global practitioners.

Again, global investors in construction; there’s global flows of money around the world and this is becoming an increasing issue as we can see for example with Chinese investment in the UK. It’s no good saying my local market is not relevant to international standards because we do things in our own way because the global flow of money around the world dictates that we all have to be international these days.

We believe from a surveying point of view, internationally accepted best practice standards are the way forward but we also believe there’s no point in a UK professional institution saying to the rest of the world, “this is the way to do things” because that doesn’t work. What we need to do is have collaborative coalitions of professional bodies around the world to develop these standards. That’s how IPMS was developed; that’s how ICMS will be developed and that’s how other measurements standards will be developed through this best practice collaborative procedure that was actually used for international financial reporting standards successfully initially and is being used in terms of these standards in land, property and construction.

What are your predictions for the construction industry in 2016?

I think steady as she goes. That’s the reality and the hope. I say that because it’s well known we are reaching capacity constraints in the industry. The next challenge is investment and productivity; these are key areas to improve and that’s based upon a lot of what we have talked about in terms of BIM and other industry changes. So I don’t think the industry wants a lot more work but I do think it just needs to get better at what it does and therefore productivity as aligned to Mr Osborne’s thinking is where we should be looking to as an industry to improve.

 

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