BIM in Defence

by Andrew Johnson | November 13, 2020 |  6 min read

BIM in Defence
Home / Insights / Digital Technologies / BIM and Defence

For some time, organisations across the AEC industry have been exploring strategies for digitisation, including the introduction of digital information management – a process which provides a standard, plain ‘digital’ language for coordinating and sharing information across all phases of built assets lifecycle. But this digital way of thinking is not exclusive to construction and infrastructure.

The UK defence sector has announced it will increase support to identify efficiency savings and improve the effectiveness of its operations, and in 2018 the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) setup the BIM implementation team to support the delivery of Government Construction Strategy commitments. It has cross-government working groups to ensure it meets the required standards and are currently developing DIO-specific targets to achieve this.

The DIO is now also investigating the concept of ‘digital twin’, which generates real-time digital replicas of physical assets enabling the end-user to reap the benefits of data analytics, reduced operating costs, early identification of maintenance issues and improved performance.

Implementation of technologies such as these are often perceived only to benefit large, costly, complex Ministry of Defence (MOD) systems, but it does not have to be this way. Integrating BIM methodologies into existing systems could be hugely beneficial at all levels.

BIM Integration

The Armed Forces have been leaders in logistics and asset management for decades. For the past 15 years, they have been using an intelligent and informed Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool known as “JAMES”: Joint Asset Management and Engineering Solution.

JAMES provides an intuitive and powerful ERP system through a managed service that delivers a range of tools, providing a true through-life management capability for the millions of military equipment parts used by the UK Armed Forces.

The system is the backbone for linking the supply chain and other internal MOD logistic systems. There is a vast opportunity to adopt BIM into JAMES to link different data sources to support whole-life asset management of equipment assets and systems. The key is to identify data requirements for asset management, whilst defining asset information model and then integrating such data with the models, creating a ‘digital twin’.


Whilst serving as a Military Plant Foreman (MPF) in the Royal Engineers, I was continually investigating new techniques to improve and manage earthmoving construction equipment, increasing productivity, efficiency and safety. Back then, there were simple tools to assist in this process, although it was mainly down to personal experience, lessons learnt and best practice.

I left the military two years ago, but am still heavily involved in problem-solving and, where possible, supporting the military. I am currently working on the Innovate UK-funded project, SiteView, for which we are creating a management system to view earthmoving construction equipment within a project, collecting real-time data using a 3D model, in a 4D platform, synchronised with all the activities occurring on both the works programme and on-site.

We are incorporating Artificial Intelligence, and this is providing new opportunities – especially in real-time decision making. On-site, testing starts this month and already the team are excited about implementing BIM in this process.

Implementing BIM

In 2018, I researched the cultural impact of implementing BIM in the UK construction industry, focusing on the drivers and barriers. It was evident that implementing BIM into the Royal Engineers is possible, but also to the broader defence sectors.

I took the Research Data from questionnaires and from the NBS annual BIM report, which investigates the achievements and challenges of the industry. Four years on from the BIM mandate, we still have the same main barriers to using BIM: poor client demand, lack of in-house expertise, lack of training and anticipated high costs. The conclusion and recommendations of my research highlighted that organisational culture is the main issue.

Part of my research was investigating what drives high-performance. I concluded that culture drives high-performance in organisations, so they can achieve better financial and non-financial results, such as customer satisfaction and employee retention. I believe the Armed Forces have a high-performance culture which allows it to set out values and standards from inception, such as basic training.

Using certain behaviours and leadership skills leads them to achieve superior results by setting clear goals, defining clear roles and responsibilities, creating a trusted environment, and encouraging personal growth.

BIM in Operation

The DIO has implemented BIM across the military infrastructure. In 2015, it reported on how the British Army – specifically the Royal Engineers – should be adopting BIM. The report looked at the CAPEX costs and capability gaps on achieving Level 2 to the BS 1192 standards. Since the report and the release of the BS EN ISO 19650 series, there have been numerous investigations and research into implementing BIM within the Royal Engineers, but work is still ongoing.

Security Minded

The armed forces deal with highly sensitive data and have constraints which prevent sharing information with third parties as they require a high degree of reassurance. Organisations with access to government assets are screened by the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS). It is rigorous and consistent and is the main barrier to implementing BIM in Defence as it restricts data sharing and collaboration from external parties and teams.

Even internally, the Software as a Service (SaaS) tools are only scratching the surface as they have limited functionality due to security concerns. There are always new challenges of fitting new systems into existing infrastructure. Until recently, there was limited information regarding security and information management relating to sensitive assets. This summer, ISO 19650-5 was released, which is the specification for a security-minded approach to information management. It outlines the process of reducing the risk of loss, misuse or modification of sensitive information which can impact on the safety, security and resilience of assets, services and the built environment. BIM Academy is currently working with organisations to assist in developing a security strategy and management plan.

Forward Thinking

I have learnt a great deal from my experiences whilst serving in the military, as a soldier, a manager and a leader. It allowed me to be part of a high performing team, sometimes leading or sometimes being led. Experiencing life outside of the military, now working in the built environment, I see both sides and there is great value to be had from both the defence and the construction industry.

The wider organisational culture is now changing and those who are leading the transformation for the industry are achieving high performance results. Attitudes are also evolving, as we are now witnessing other industries, such as mining and oil and gas, adopting BIM, and at BIM Academy are supporting them on their journey.

The defence sector needs to follow suit and adopt this systematic approach to evolve with the other industries. With a combination of our high performing teams and their own, we are an unstoppable combination for the adoption of BIM.

For more information, contact [email protected].