10 years of BIM Academy

by Peter Barker | November 9, 2020 |  6 min read

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In 2020, BIM Academy celebrates its 10th anniversary. In the past decade we have grown into a world-leading digital solutions provider for the built environment, combining our expertise in research with digital construction consultancy to successfully deliver projects across digital engineering, construction and infrastructure in 19 different countries.

For some businesses, success is the result of hitting the market at the right time. Sometimes it is a product of many hours of hard work, often there is a little luck thrown in too. This is very much how it was for us.

It’s hard to believe, looking at the company’s trajectory from 2010 to 2020 – and its optimism for future growth – that BIM Academy began its journey prepared to accept that it might be a “transitional three-year project” at most.

The idea of BIM Academy was born from the need to try something new, and to solve the problem of how to engage with the construction industry’s influencers that a digital revolution was needed to secure the future of what was then an industry behind the times. To quote the age-old proverb, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’; a decade ago the need was great to bring about significant change and digitise the way we design, build and operate.

From the beginning

Every journey begins with a single step and many businesses are built from the most modest beginnings. Looking back at a time when I was leading a design team at Ryder Architecture, involved in technical design and management for large public sector projects, the accepted industry processes and technologies for delivering these increasingly complex projects was often quite inefficient, involving obsolescent CAD practices, multiple information silos, unnecessary task repetition and rework.

It became clear that this way of working was unsustainable. We were working in an essentially analogue world with CAD systems often being used as no more than electronic drawing boards. It was evident there was a need to streamline this approach.

Traditionally, construction has been, and in some areas continues to be, systemically dysfunctional. It quickly became apparent that strong action and a clear direction was needed to overturn the construction industry’s slow approach to adopting digital technologies.

There have been positive changes over the last 10 years, but many construction industry professionals are cautious and averse to digital adaptation. This is for a multitude of reasons: short termism, fixation on capital cost and lowest price, lip service to zero carbon and lean construction targets, not to mention the disinclination to accept change.

At a time when the UK was facing economic collapse and austerity, we were optimistic process improvements could still be made. If, as an industry, we could learn to adapt and adopt the emerging digital technology that offered us such promise, new methods of digital construction would be realised and change the face of construction forever.

A game-changing moment

To put this into perspective, in the mid-2000s, a study by McKinsey examined different industries and business sectors globally and their adoption of digital technology. It identified finance, media and manufacturing at the top of that ladder, with construction second from the bottom, precariously hovering above farming.

Come 2008, the global economic crisis saw an even stronger need for smarter ways of working to drive productivity and achieve more for less. There was a huge demand for better ways of thinking out of the crisis.

The UK Government released a new construction strategy, visioning how as a nation we could reinvigorate the industry. More specifically, how we could make it more efficient and economical.

The government owns and manages a significant number of buildings and facilities – from justice to highways, health and schools – and the information they possess on these buildings is often inaccurate, unreliable or absent, with a lack of drawings specifications and operations manuals.

The result is that time and money is being wasted, not just in the design and construction of those facilities, but also in their maintenance and operation. Furthermore, at a time when we needed to improve our buildings performance to meet the climate emergency, our prediction and analysis of their environmental impact is inconsistent and sporadic at best.

The UK government outlined its strategy to reduce the capital cost of their facilities by 20% and reduce operational costs by an ambitious 80%. This couldn’t be achieved without a suite of radical initiatives.

One of the key components of this strategy was the requirement for the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) on government projects to assist in achieving the ambitious cost and carbon efficiency targets it had previously set.

BIM allows for the creation and coordination of better-quality building information, from design to operation to reuse, with multiple benefits associated with reduced waste and rework, cost, programme, environmental impact, safety and wellbeing.

During design and construction, BIM enables clients and stakeholders to visualise and interpret the design team’s response to the brief and the emerging design options through dynamic digital 3D modelling, rather than flat 2D drawings which can often be impenetrable or misinterpreted.

It is worrying to consider how many designs in the past have been signed off by clients who did not fully appreciate what they were going to get at the end of the construction phase.

The influence of BIM

When we established BIM Academy, we were excited about the promise of this emerging technology. Few architectural practices had recognised the potential at the time. At Ryder, we realised that by investing time in early planning of a digitally-enabled workflow we could deliver more for less.

But there is more to this than simply a 3D design model of a building: BIM is about planning, organising, creating and harvesting structured information, plus the understanding of the predicted and actual performance of our built assets.

This realization, that it was more than simply the geometry, pushed us even further. Through our investment in an award-winning Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Teesside University and close collaboration with Northumbria University, we learned to extend the information model beyond design authoring and coordinated into the measurement of embodied carbon in building structure and fabric, thermal and daylight analysis, 4D construction simulation and phasing, and even people flow modelling.

We knew at that point, things were about to change on a monumental level.

Where it all began

We were able to undertake a rapid early analysis of environmental design options and their reiteration to establish the optimum solution – all at a far earlier stage than traditional processes, which often involved specialist environmental analysis tools being deployed much later due to their complexity and time and cost of deployment. And often at a point on the project when it was too late to change the design without significant cost and disruption. We could, for example, check daylight, thermal performance, wind turbulence and acoustics based on the emerging digital design model. This was our point of no return.

The birth of BIM Academy

The leadership team at Ryder Architecture recognised the enormous benefits of BIM and made the decision to investment in staff time and software deployment.

From 2006, the practice was beginning to see real benefits in terms of productivity savings and enrichment of its client services.

By 2011, in response to the economic crisis the UK government’s construction strategy, it issued a mandate that required all government procured construction projects to be delivered using a set level of BIM Standards by 2016.

I distinctly remember our discussion back in 2010 that industry needed help, and we set about outlining the steps we needed to take to be able to offer new digital solutions to how we interpret, understand and adopt BIM at every project phase and for all actors across our supply chains.

Fast forward to 2020 and we have been supporting developers, designers, contractors and asset operators in their digital transformation journeys. Through a continued partnership between Ryder Architecture and Northumbria University we have become skilled in unlocking the digital potential needed to drive client project success and their organisational growth.

We bring a new perspective to the meaning of digital, one which enables our clients to achieve better results. At BIM Academy, we are motivated by the desire to improve the way people and technology work together, and predict the next 10 years will be equally as transformative.

If you would like to know more about what we do and the services we provide, please contact us at [email protected]