Build the future on BIM

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a process for creating and managing information on a construction project across the project lifecycle. By centralizing all the data and building on the same set of digital models, everybody involved in the project collaborates, creating a “single point of truth.”

In essence, with BIM you build it twice: first digitally, and then physically. As a result, each part of the building can be optimised more effectively in the planning stages to result in a greater whole life value for the building.

In a BIM project, information is provided by several professionals at the same time, in a single centralised design. All this data is used in various phases of the project life cycle. It can be used to create “new data,” by running various analytical tools or comparing data sets quickly and efficiently. It is also possible to make structural and energy simulations, to replicate the economic exploitation of the building until demolition.

A BIM model is more than an architectural design – every component of the building is captured in one place and incorporates detailed information and specifications for each asset, such as price from supplier and thermal performance. Details like this allow the sustainability of a building’s design to be accurately managed and forecasted.

BIM has been almost universally (and successfully) adopted in the automotive and aeronautical manufacturing sectors. The construction industry has been slower to implement this technology and its processes, but it has seen an uptick in implementation internationally within recent years.


Many Western countries have already widely implemented BIM including:

  • Australia
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Holland
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
  • USA

The UK has seen a particularly successful adoption of BIM, after its government mandated that all public projects are build using BIM.

Spain is following suit after its government set a target that the construction and rehabilitation of all public equipment and infrastructure be compliant with BIM processes by 2020. This incorporates all phases:

  • Design
  • Construction
  • Maintenance


Why are governments pressuring the professionals of the Built Environment to work with BIM?

The benefits of digitizing the construction process are widespread:

It is quickly becoming the technology of choice for those looking to design sustainable buildings:

  • From design to maintenance, BIM can create and maintain facilities that have lower carbon emissions, are more efficient, and cost less to run.
  • BIM allows the client to budget costs for the major elements of the building, and set environmental targets for the design team at an early stage. These can include embodied carbon, waste management and lifecycle running costs.
  • When it comes to selecting materials, BIM allows the design team to quickly compare the costs and environmental impact of multiple materials.

BIM helps cut costs by enabling better decision-making and more efficient processes. It eliminates time wasted having to rework designs to fit environmental or budget constraints, as well as fixes that would be costly to make once the project is underway. It also prevents projects from having to be redesigned at the last minute to achieve the desired BREEAM rating.

Building maintenance itself encompasses a range of factors:

  • Is it cost-effective?
  • Is it sustainable?
  • Does the building provide a good experience for those using it?

BIM considers all these elements since the beginning.


Interview to Mr. Vaughan Harris, Executive Director – BIM Institute:

  • BIM´s implementation means a revolution. We guess it´s not easy, as it´s well known that normally people like to keep using the tools they already know how to manage…it´s about the comfort zone. In the events and workshops you are organizing, could you measure how receptive the professionals of the Built Environment are? Are they positive, open? What percentage from the total number of Architects in South Africa do you think they represent?

Digitisation of the construction sector is a logical and much needed (r)evolution. BIM software and processes are used exclusively in the automotive and aerospace industries, very successfully. But people are always resistant to change, and we find that often it is the senior management that is the most reluctant to modernise their systems.

BIM is like the Matrix movie, “Not everyone can be Neo, but by joining the revolution you believe – and fully understand – that in order to transform we have to join the resistance if we want to better our future. You either see it or you don’t.”

As a BIM visionary and someone who sees the returns that companies get from BIM across the supply chain, it frustrates me that so many organisations – especially asset managers – just don’t “get it.”

Architects are much more receptive, on the whole, but as it is a collaborative process, it is important to include the entire supply chain, and that can get sticky.

  • How does BIM INSTITUTE see the future of its implementation in South Africa?

The BIM Institute is working extremely hard to be the authority on BIM in SA, to accelerate and smooth the way for the widespread implementation of BIM. We have written up an “Implementation Guide” with the help and support from global associations and the Institute’s steering committee, a diverse group of the country’s best and brightest in the BIM Industry. This guide is in line with international best practice and ISO standards, and gives very specific advice on all aspects of using BIM in a construction project.

Internationally, the best rollouts have been in countries where government has mandated the use of BIM in all public sector projects. This stops much of the doubt and pushback, if you want to tender for big infrastructural and government projects, you need to be compliant.

However, if the government doesn’t take the lead, foreign investors will. These investors are based in first world countries and expect digital construction. They are driven by the bottom-line, and BIM can cut a project’s costs by around 20%. They have little tolerance for project over-runs and expect projects to be finished on time and within budget. This is what BIM is engineered to do.

  • What help are you getting? Who is supporting you? Just private sector?

The private sector has been the early adopters of BIM in South Africa, but we are in constant talks with various government bodies and recently, with Treasury. Getting Government on board could be a longer process than we would like, but as I said earlier, Foreign Investors are demanding BIM now.

But people are always interested in the newest gadgets and the incredible technology that goes hand in glove with BIM. We get to showcase drones (that are used to survey the site and even to 3D scan whole buildings) as well as some amazing 3D printers that are now printing houses around the world. You can do a full 3D tour of a building before the ground is even broken. It is easy to get excited.

  • Going back to Governmental Institutions: since the moment we know that African cities are growing at the fastest rate, they seem to have a very important role in all this. Do you think they are aware of how important BIM is for the future of their cities? Who else, apart from Treasury, is helping out?

We are in discussion with many government departments, especially the National Department of Public Works as well as Infrastructure and Development, but we have also made some great headway within the Regional Government departments and even some of the larger municipalities. It can get frustrating when you see how slowly the wheels turn in the public sector, but it is in our mandate to lobby on behalf of the sector, and the response has always been positive (if slow.)

  • A good way to extend its use would be through Architecture and Engineering University Schools, with the inclusion of the subject BIM. Is it already happening? Do you collaborate with any University?

    We offer online courses that are internationally accredited. Some of our steering committee members are lecturers in local universities and colleges and I am also a registered lecturer at UCT. We are also working closely with one or two of the universities and colleges and the software developers to help get the methodologies into the hands of the students. It is a work in progress. 
  • What are the easiest programs to start with? Do you recommend any in particular?

I will give you the results of our BIM in South Africa survey (see below) and you can see the most popular software programmes in SA.
The top 6 are:

  • AutoCAD
  • Revit
  • ArchiCAD
  • Bentley
  • Trimble
  • Tekla

The most important thing to remember when starting your BIM journey is that BIM is not a tool, it is a process of working. It is a way to communicate, it is a way to collaborate. It is not just a visual aid, it is an incredibly powerful tool that allows you to create a single source of information for everyone working on a project. Once you realise that, you are on your way.

  • How could we, the social media, help you educating architects to start changing their main tool today?

You are doing it already. By opening up the conversation and pointing to the logic behind digitizing the industry, we have started a conversation. I would invite your audience to sign up to the BIM Institute’s free membership and even take an online course with us. We publish some great case studies and offer unbiased advice.
If your audience would like to see examples of countries that have taken the leap and seen incredible results, I would suggest that they have a look at the UK and Canada as the leaders in implementation.

We also run our internationally accredited BIM BAM BOOM Workshops at various expos around South Africa year round, so keep an eye out for those as we have some great (and often heated) debates and presentations at those, and you can meet people who work in the field and manage projects, from huge complex buildings to smaller renovations using BIM.

For further information

Know more about the related upcomming Events:

  • DIGITAL CONSTRUCTION EXPO 2017│When: 23 – 24 May 2017│Where: Gallagher Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • BIM BAM BOOM Johannesburg WORKSHOPWhen: 4th & 5th July, 2017│Where: Sandton (Venue still to be finalised), Johannesburg, South Africa
  • BIM BAM BOOM Cape Town WORKSHOPWhen: 15 – 16 August 2017│Where: Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa

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