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Dear USA, the UK Is Beating You at BIM

BIM (Building Information Modelling) has been shown to give architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the tools they need to plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure more efficiently.


Proponents claim that BIM is a natural way forward and the technologies are being adopted all over the world. The take-up rate can vary considerably between markets, however. The UK, for example, is widely recognized as a world leader when it comes to BIM adoption and standards, while the US lags behind.


So why is this and is the situation likely to change any time soon?


The state of the global BIM market

The global BIM market is growing rapidly and various forecasts predict that this growth is only set to accelerate over the next few years.

A recent report published by Zion Market Research predicted that the market is set to nearly triple between 2016 and 2022. In 2016, the report says, the worldwide market for BIM was valued at around $3.52bn (£2.63bn at today’s exchange rates). By 2022, it expects the value of the market to hit $10.36bn, representing a compound annual growth rate of nearly 20% between 2017 and 2022. The report’s authors cite improved visualization, increased productivity, and a dramatic reduction in costs as drivers for the worldwide implementation of BIM and a corresponding growth in the market.

The report says that one major factor in the market’s predicted growth is the rapid industrialization and scale of construction projects in emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil. Government regulation is also a major driver in many territories.

Zion Market Research said: “The major factors which are driving the growth of this market are rapidly increasing construction activities across the globe. Government regulatory bodies are also taking initiatives to raise the adoption of BIM in their respective countries. Adoption by small and medium enterprises is giving momentum to the BIM market.”

North America is seen as a fast-growing regional market as more governmental agencies adopt BIM. Europe and Asia-Pacific are also predicted to experience continuing rapid growth within their own markets.


How did the UK get ahead of the US?

As already mentioned, government regulation is one of the primary drivers when it comes to BIM adoption. In the UK, the government put a BIM mandate in place that required all projects funded by central government to be “delivered with fully collaborative 3D BIM” by 2016. This has naturally had a major impact on BIM adoption over the past couple of years, but there has also been a ripple effect.

Not every construction company works on government contracts, but once a practice starts to become industry-standard, it tends to be taken on even by those companies who are not directly mandated. The ‘2016 effect’ also started to have an impact long before the mandate was introduced, as companies needed to adapt their working practices, get used to the systems, and make sure they weren’t left floundering when the requirements were brought in.

A McGraw Hill survey on BIM adoption dating back to 2014 tracked a 10-year journey for UK clients and compared adoption rates in the UK and the USA. It found that even then, two years before the introduction of the government BIM mandate, the UK was way ahead of the US. It revealed that the vast majority (98%) of UK clients said they used BIM in some of their projects, while 86% used it in more than a quarter of existing projects. In the US, by marked contrast, less than two thirds (59%) used BIM at all. Additionally, 88% of early adopters in the UK were formally measuring the impact of using BIM while less than a fifth (18%) of their US counterparts did the same.

“98% of UK clients said they used BIM in some of their projects. In the US, less than two-thirds used BIM at all.”

In the past, the most common trigger for owners’ engagement with BIM in the UK tended to come from designers. While BIM adoption in the UK started as a bottom-up process driven by designers, the report concluded that it was then primarily driven by a top-down intervention by the state. That has also been the case in other countries that adopted similar policies, including Singapore, South Korea, and Scandinavian countries.


Will the US follow suit on BIM?

While other countries have adopted their own BIM policies and increased take-up rates, the UK is still widely recognized as a world leader – not only in adoption but also in BIM standards.

According to a national BIM survey in the UK, the large-scale adoption of BIM is also helping the government to meet a number of strategic aims, including:

  • A 33% reduction in initial construction costs and built asset whole life costs

  • A 50% reduction in build time from inception to completion

  • A 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment

  • A 50% trade gap reduction between the import and export of construction materials and services

The potential benefits seem pretty clear, but will the US follow suit?

Rachel Burger of Capterra wrote: “Since the government has mandated that all public-sector construction projects will be delivered using BIM by 2016, the UK has seen astounding growth in BIM adoption. While my American anti-regulation alarm is tingling, I’d say that what the UK has done for its public sector is not bad.”

One issue is that, unlike in the UK where public construction projects ultimately originate from a single agency, the US has numerous agencies, all with their own rules and requirements. This makes it less likely that there will be a BIM mandate on a national level any time soon, but many local government agencies are starting to put their own requirements in place.

In 2010 for example, Wisconsin became the first state to require BIM on publicly-funded projects with a budget over $5 MM. As the benefits of BIM become more apparent, a bottom-up process will also see more and more companies adopting the new technologies—  but whether the US will eventually catch up to the UK, we’ll have to wait and see.