BIM in Australia

by Will Joske | April 16, 2021 | 5 min read

BIM in Australia
Home / Insights / Digital Technologies / BIM in Australia

Despite having had a different journey towards BIM adoption in the construction industry, the challenge for Australia is likely to be shared by all.

It is well known that despite industry lobbying, there was never an Australian federal government mandate for BIM standards for project delivery. However, it is safe to say that the UK offered a de-facto standard for many of us: an approach made more certain as the ISO 19650 suite of standards is expanded. State governments (as well as many non-government clients) have recognised the potential value of BIM applied to project delivery that support improvements in asset management.

We now have guidelines, such as Victoria’s Victorian Digital Asset Strategy and Queensland’s Digital Enablement for Queensland Infrastructure, that reference ISO 19650. While this is a significant step towards consistency, it does not create instant capability.

With regards to BIM adoption, I don’t believe that Australia is fairing much differently to any other country working their way from ‘implementing’ to ‘business-as-usual’.

Along this journey of adoption, a positive is that design consultants and contractors have embraced BIM for their own benefit. 3D model authoring, scheduling, visual communication and extended realities, 4D, 5D, clash detection are well embedded processes that are fostering greater collaboration within the supply chain. The benefits are indisputable, and these BIM uses will be implemented without the client necessarily specifying them (perhaps not even being aware that they are taking place). However, there is something missing from the list – delivering digital data as part of the project handover.

One reason this may be is that the benefactor sits outside of the supply chain, and therefore the incentive to invest is harder to justify commercially. Another compelling reason is that in order to deliver digital data that has tangible value, it needs to be useful to the operations of the built asset. Despite their motivation, the supply chain can only estimate how that digital asset and spatial data should be defined and structured. Realistically, if the client is not engaged, why do more than deliver PDF as-built documents and O+Ms?

It can happen with sophisticated clients and projects, but having clearly stated information requirements and data structures is not yet business as usual. To extend BIM to what is surely its most important objective and benefit, we need to build bridges from either side of the Delivery Phase to involve clients and other facilities and asset maintenance stakeholders. This may be stating the obvious, but it is a very real obstacle and has been the impetus to promoting greater digital literacy beyond the technical roles in our industry.

One tactic used when seeking greater engagement from a client is to use case studies that demonstrate the benefits delivered in time, money, efficiency, user experience, and health and safety that BIM can bring to the Operational Phase of the built asset.

One way to do this is to put BIM into proper perspective in relation to the built asset lifecycle. Put another way, we need to put BIM back in its box and relate better to the objectives, processes and language of facilities and asset management. For example, if I was to research BIM uses most, if not all, lists retrieved would include examples such as ‘Maintenance Scheduling’. This example was included in Penn State’s BIM uses resource, which itself has been the starting point for many other lists since it was first published around a decade ago.

If you shut your eyes and concentrate, you can actually hear the FM people in the meeting room as their eyes roll to the back of their head… some architect just suggested that BIM should replace one of their fundamental activities. There may have been more relevance in the detail of the BIM use, but this is an example where common language and understanding went missing.

There is of course a shared intersection between the Delivery and Operational phases. The principles of BIM are that every time an event is triggered – from routine or reactive equipment maintenance, all the way up to the delivery of entirely new facilities – the relevant information is shared with the supply chain, updated, handed over and integrated.

In late 2020, Penn State revised their list of BIM Uses and, for those placed under the operate phase, the uses now describe how BIM models can assist with visualisation and interpretation of information relating to things such as live data, assets and space.

This is a welcome improvement, and I would also discuss with the client the idea of being more careful about the delivery of the 3D model as a project deliverable. For example, what is the purpose and value of a complete record model, i.e., complete, fully detailed and site verified. Is it a better proposition to specify a model designed to work with specific use cases in operations, such as providing an interface to asset management, way finding and identification, i.e., reduced detail, site verified, and restricted to certain asset types. Which scenario is going to be easier to manage over time? Is specifying a 3D model deliverable of any benefit at all?

The implementation of BIM within industry in Australia is challenging. As a value proposition to those stakeholders in the Operational Phase, there are real risks when investing in project outcomes that can’t be managed or worse, never used.

There are many voices that support greater uptake of BIM in Australia, demonstrations of sophisticated software, and introduction of the digital twin and smart cities. It can be very persuasive, but can also gloss over the need for deeper understanding and commitment necessary for demonstrable success throughout the region. The recommendations within the Building Confidence report (Shergold and Weir, 2018) regarding the collection, sharing and maintaining of data and intelligence support this need for greater compliance and accountability.

Those who do have the opportunity to influence clients, owners and FM stakeholders for better project outcomes must keep in mind the smaller steps needed to achieve the bigger possibilities and bring a unified approach to the adoption process so that we may reach the BIM for ‘business-as-usual’ stage at an accelerated pace.

For more information about the challenges of BIM implementation in Australia, please contact Will Joske.