The construction industry is undergoing some huge changes, with BIM continuing to make a big impact. In light of this, a major paradigm shift is predicted in terms of how we will be designing our buildings.

For fit out, BIM will allow for such a high level of detail in planning stages that minimal on-site construction will be required, as most elements can be pre-fabricated and assembled onsite instead.

This will mean that those working within the fit out industry – from client and contractor, to subcontractor and supplier – will require new skills.

However, one of the key things preventing BIM from being a success is a lack of supply chain engagement. This is by far one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for contractors. BIM offers us the invaluable chance to collaborate with our supply chains much better. An accurate model provides transparency of project information, as well as the roles and responsibilities throughout the project life-cycle. It defines the critical path of who does what, and when.

At this stage, many subcontractors can’t – or won’t – invest in BIM as the return on investment is currently not visible enough. If our supply chain doesn’t keep up with these changes, we could all lose out on a tremendous opportunity.

The problem

A significant percentage of our fit out supply chain is SMEs or family-run businesses. This often means that the individuals within such companies take on a number of roles in addition to core business activities, from quality control and sustainability to health and safety. As a result, there is a distinct lack of resource for BIM.

Additionally, there are not many fit out projects currently being carried out using BIM. We all know what good looks like, but, in a buoyant market, who would want to take the risk of a wholly new approach? This rings true especially for fit out, where the element of surprise is always there, unlike mainstream construction. However, we do expect there to be a longer-term ripple effect on the fit out sector following the Government’s BIM target for public sector jobs.

As well as our governing bodies, clients need to be more invested. They need to take the lead on making BIM a priority and take full responsibility for its implementation. The only successful BIM level-3 projects seem to be those that are ‘owned’ by the client. This not only makes BIM a lot more accessible to the supply chain, it positions it as an essential part of winning work. Lastly, as an industry, we need to be more joined up and collaborative in how we work.

Collaboration has become a buzzword for construction, taking prominence at the recent EcoBuild conference. However, it’s something we’re lacking and it’s a vital part of BIM’s success.

The solution

There are a number of steering groups and industry bodies that are working towards a more collaborative approach to design, construction and the use of BIM. By being a part of such groups, Overbury is opening the door to its supply chain, providing the education and tools they need to use BIM. This is what we need to do as an industry.

For example, the Federation of Interior Specialists (FIS) is an organisation which aims to support, develop and train our supply chains, providing a keen understanding of growth areas. Within the FIS is the BIM4FitOut task group, which Overbury is a part of.

Through our involvement in the FIS BIM4FitOut task group, we’ve had the opportunity to work with the British Standards Institution (BSI) regarding the development of a BIM verification process. Undertaking consultations that raise issues affecting specialist contractors, such as ourselves, we have assisted in the BSI’s development of the BIM kitemark.

By creating this BIM verification, we are assured that all certified projects reach a certain level of quality, creating a benchmark and raising the bar for minimum standards. Also, as client understanding of this verification grows in maturity, it could mean the difference between your business winning or losing a bid.

Taking a leap of faith

We’re making progress, but there’s still a way to go. We need to hone in on collaboration and education if we’re going to continue to progress.
There is huge value in partnering with a recognised or UKAS-accredited industry body like the BSI. Not only will this give you assurance of your own processes, you’re also opening the door to conversations with other businesses across the industry. The FIS and the BSI are creating channels of communication that would otherwise not exist, allowing for a much more joined up approach.

A high level of collaboration will not only ensure consistency across all projects, but it will create a culture that drives innovation, breakthrough solutions and knowledge sharing. This is currently unfamiliar territory, but the value of such an environment is arguably priceless.
Positively engaging with our supply chain, and providing subcontractors and suppliers with the information they need, is the first vital step towards getting BIM right.