Building Information Modelling (BIM) came as a game-changer in construction. Here’s a software with the potential to radically transform the way we build – from initial planning and design to construction, operation, and maintenance.

Yet, beneath the gleaming 3D models and promises of efficiency, a nagging question lingers: is BIM truly a game-changer, or is it creating a widening gap within the sector? Hardcore traditionalists are yet to be convinced. Too costly, too time-consuming (to learn). People would rather swallow the cost of mistakes on the job than invest in new software. They would rather lose time because of a lack of coordination than spend time learning something new.

Despite resistance, 3D models of buildings are coming to life, thanks to Revit, the $20 billion industry and a standard in BIM. The question is whether the industry can harness that potential, turning BIM beyond a 3D rendition tool into a powerful collaboration platform. But is that a bridge too big, too far?

The BIM Promise: A Vision of a Better Built World

Club BIM paint a compelling picture of the tool:

  • See the Unseen: BIM unveils a building’s inner workings before a single brick is laid. Clashes between systems – a costly problem in traditional construction – are spotted early, saving time and money. 
  • Data as the Foundation: Everyone involved in a project taps into the same centralised 3D model. This eliminates confusion and keeps teams on the same page.
  • Efficiency Amplified: BIM automates repetitive tasks, analyses design options speedily, and streamlines communication, freeing up engineers, architects, and contractors to focus on the truly complex. 
  • Building a Greener Future: BIM empowers designers to consider energy efficiency and environmental impact early in the process. Materials, building orientation, and even demolition waste can be evaluated within the model.

When Promise Meets Pain

Building Information Modelling (BIM) has arrived in the construction industry with the promise of revolutionising design and building processes. Its benefits are undeniable: 3D models give us extraordinary visualisation, centralised data cuts costly miscommunication, and automated processes enhance efficiency. BIM even offers tools to create sustainable buildings.

However, BIM adoption has been slower than many expected. One of the towering obstacles is stubborn tradition. The other is cost. The investment in BIM software, hardware upgrades, and the necessary training can be substantial. This creates a significant barrier to entry for smaller construction firms and subcontractors, who already operate on tight margins. Additionally, BIM requires learning new workflows and mastering new software – a time-consuming process that few can afford. 


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Michelle du Plessis, SHFT co-founder and BIM consultant with Bricks & Bytes

Factors that make it hard to invest in BIM.

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  • New Skills, New Challenges: BIM demands new workflows and ways of thinking. Professionals accustomed to 2D drawings face a learning curve, adding a hidden cost to implementation.
  • Collaboration Isn’t Automatic: Projects become data-driven with BIM. But differing standards, lack of interoperability, and old-fashioned contracts can make sharing information a nightmare.
  • Lost in the Details: BIM models can be incredibly detailed, but too much information can be paralysing. Finding the right balance is crucial to avoid slowing down decision-making.

The ‘Little Guys’ and the BIM Question

The most heated part of the BIM debate centres on smaller construction businesses – the subcontractors, material suppliers, and specialised tradespeople who form the backbone of the industry. For them, questions loom large:

  • Where Does It Fit? While large contractors see the big picture benefits of BIM, a plumber or electrician might struggle to grasp how it improves their everyday work.
  • Cost vs. Benefit: The investment in BIM might seem out of reach for smaller businesses, especially when immediate returns are unclear.
  • Fear of the Unknown: Is BIM just another overhyped trend, or will it truly add value for smaller players?

Tech’s Slow Burn: Lessons from History

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Tech Disruption Can Take Decades—Just Ask Architects”, offers a sobering perspective. Even innovative technology takes time to permeate complex industries. Architecture’s journey with computer-aided drafting (CAD), the precursor to BIM, shows that smaller firms have been slower to adopt, and similar patterns could play out in this new technological shift.

Closing the Gap: Making BIM Work for Everyone

For BIM to live up to its transformative potential, the industry must take decisive steps:

  • Education for Impact: Training must go beyond theory, showing smaller firms how BIM streamlines bidding, estimation, and on-site coordination.
  • Standards That Connect: Data silos defeat the purpose. Clear, universally accepted BIM standards will smooth information exchange 5.
  • Right-Sized Solutions: Cloud-based, modular BIM tools can make adoption more affordable and flexible for businesses of all sizes.
  • Celebrating the Small Wins: Case studies highlighting how smaller players have successfully used BIM will instill confidence and drive wider adoption

The Path Ahead: Bridge Or Divide?

BIM isn’t a magic bullet. It fundamentally changes how we approach construction. The industry has a choice: embrace inclusivity and make BIM’s benefits accessible across the board, or risk leaving a significant portion of the sector behind. The future of BIM depends on collaboration, knowledge sharing, and solutions that work for the little guy just as well as the big players. Only then can construction reap the true rewards of this digital transformation.