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Ireland’s BIM journey: Interview with Enterprise Ireland’s John Hunt

UK Construction Online’s Matt Brown catches up with John Hunt from Enterprise Ireland to discuss the Irish construction industry and how it is faring on its BIM journey.

John is a Senior Strategic Advisor on the Built Environment and is passionate about realising the benefits of Building Information Modelling.

Ireland's BIM journey Interview with Enterprise Ireland's John Hunt

When we last spoke, Enterprise Ireland had launched its strategy for 2016. Are you happy with the progress made so far? Is it too early to say what impact Brexit might have?

Projections for 2016 were overwhelmingly positive from the internationally trading organisations in the construction sector at the end of 2015. The US, UK, Netherlands and Belgium markets in particular all looking to make significant contributions to exports. In Q1 2017, we issue an annual business survey and from the collective responses it will be possible to make a firm assessment of the impact the UK Referendum result has made.

Certainly, the health of the UK construction sector is closely related to the growth and success of the companies Enterprise Ireland represents. The impact of cost inflation and of demand uncertainty are the immediate concerns. With a view to the longer term, we are keen to support the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan with capability, capacity and innovation from Ireland and to support the industry’s transition to digital tools and processes.

Could you tell us about the role Enterprise Ireland plays in encouraging research and innovation?

The application of research and innovation to business challenges is critical to the success of the Irish economy. We provide a wide range supports for both companies and researchers in Higher Education Institutes to develop new technologies and processes that will ultimately lead to our clients successfully differentiating their products or services across global markets. In addition to own programmers we provide expertise and access to funding and research partners across Europe.

On a personal note, has there been any piece of technology you have seen recently that excited you with regards the difference it could make to the construction industry?

Recent progression in VR and AR technologies are well on the way to improving how the industry communicates and collaborates internally and externally and have incredible potential. For me, I’m seeing firsthand how generative design is beginning to impact on waste and inefficiency and to optimize design and design review. An emerging company called ‘Trupivot’ optimise the cost, carbon and design of concrete structures, by comparing hundreds of alternatives and input variations in seconds. A process that could take weeks and months if done manually.

Has the passing of the BIM Level 2 mandate in April resulted in more business for the companies you represent?

The contract requirement for BIM by a number of UK clients both public and private in the past 2 years has certainly led to more business for the early adopters. Nonetheless, we anticipated some inertia between scoping and supporting a central requirement through to developing the Employers Information Requirements – so didn’t expect a step change for the supply chain immediately.

Is Ireland still a magnet for overseas investment and is this the main driver of BIM in Ireland?

No, it’s not the main driver, I think the drivers are largely threefold. The State Departments that are constructing new Health and Social Infrastructure remain the largest clients of BIM in Ireland. Similarly, there is no doubt that the UK’s mandate and the wider recognition of BIM across the EU has been highly influential.

Ironically, it now looks to be the Irish supply chain that are promoting the benefits of BIM to the large U.S. hi tech companies that continue to invest in Ireland. “BIM beyond design”, delivering efficiencies through the construction and in the operation and monitoring of the asset are new areas of value add.

Do you think there is growing awareness of BIM or the digital process?

Last month Enterprise Ireland and CitA published our second national AEC survey measuring BIM adoption in Ireland and reported that 76% (67% 2015) of respondents possessed confidence in their organisation’s BIM skills and knowledge. 79% of the sample also reported an increase in demand for BIM in Ireland.

Are we any closer to seeing Ireland introducing a BIM mandate?

We are certainly seeing significant progress in the role of Public Leadership in Ireland and confident we will see a more formal adoption strategy by Q2 2017.

Do you see any parallels with Scotland and their BIM journey?

Many, and would certainly recognise the Scottish Futures Trust as being at the forefront of developing highly innovative tools and supports for wider BIM adoption across the public sector. The challenges and opportunities of both markets are similar and as a member of Ireland’s National BIM Council, I can say the shared learnings from SFT have certainly helped to inform the Irish journey.

How well positioned would you say Ireland’s SMEs are on their BIM journey?

As you’d expect, we see variation on individual BIM journeys, but variation is determined more so by the sectors the SMEs operate in rather than the scale of their organisation. Strong evidence suggests that digital tools in particular have enabled small and medium sized companies to compete as if they were much larger entities both in domestic and international markets. An SME designer form Cork for example, EDC, are providing detailed design for M&E services for significant developments in Nigeria. Collaborating through a central BIM has enabled them to provide a far deeper level of design (and larger fee income) than would have been feasible traditionally. From a sector perspective those end users and clients who have recognised the value of the asset information or have identified early challenges in the design and build that can’t be ‘de-risked’ with a traditional approach have certainly been the earliest adopters.

Do you think we have reached the point of no return yet in Ireland with regards to BIM?

The tipping point. I’d be very surprised to see a large new build hospital not adopting BIM in Ireland today, so yes, in sectors such as Health, we may well have passed the point of no return. By contrast, sectors such as commercial, or small to medium scale private residential still have some way to go. I think what we can say with some certainty is that technology will continue to address some of the fundamental inefficiencies of our industry. Combined with increasing global competition and consolidation, I see little opportunity for a backward step.

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