Are we creating a class system in the construction industry where large projects are for the elite, supported by BIM to keep the underdogs at bay?
Are we reinforcing the BIM supported elite’s stranglehold on large projects? Are we perpetuating a class system within the construction industry?
Following my reading of an article in AJ focussing on the difficulties small businesses face when battling to win larger projects, I worked to standardise the PQQ questions on finance and insurance that it brought back to my attention.
During 2018 and 2019, DDC Solutions focused on supporting smaller practices to utilise the BIM process and technology that was previously monopolised by bigger firms. The AJ article confirmed to me that SMEs are playing the same game as their larger counterparts whilst being subjected to different rules.
My experience of working for clients with substantial resources has led to me the understanding that even those such companies need to comply with BIM Level 2 requirements on sizeable projects, they continue to be required to fill in tiresome PQQs.
The policies and requirements put in place to serve large practices are done so in response to their elevated financial status and were not in place when they began as mere SMEs. In addition to this bias, BIM continues to stall the growth of SMEs by putting up an additional ‘ability’ barrier for them to comply with. Little wonder the phrase ‘adopt to BIM Or go under’ is in increasingly common use.
Understandably, small practices are seeing the supposed glory of High Rise projects and BIM Level 2 through different lenses to that of their larger counterparts. Withstanding architectural abilities, design, or ambitions, an SME is attempting to grow in the midst of an industry that is setting it up to fail.
AJ has identified the following barriers to SMEs in kick-starting growth:
- Previous Experience
In addition to these, an SME is also faced with the BIM Level 2 / ISO 19650 requirement, more often than not alongside the prescribed use of specific software.
I subsequently began discussions with a selected group of small practice directors. I was keen to gain a more thorough understanding of the risks a developer would see in such a practice and how these have impacted upon insurance and financial thresholds. Largely, the concerns seem to focus on the timely delivery of correct information.
From this, can we presume that the issue lies in technology and process? If a small practice has the correct software, in turn they have the correct BIM / ISO 19650 process and so can demonstrate what information will be produced alongside when and how it will be delivered. They will have the support behind them to develop and deliver and they have the required knowledge. With this key concern addressed, does a small practice remain undesirable to take on such a project?
Let me paint a hypothetical picture. A developer has the ISO 19650 implemented and works with a small practice that is able to meet every point of the process requirements set as well as having a fast collaboration and communication response time and the direct attention of an architectural director. Would the risk in this scenario not be less than that present when working with a large, non-ISO 19650 compliant practice boasting a slow response time and lack of oversight by an architectural director? Size surely can’t be everything.
Lack of large project experience could continue to be a barrier, the jump from a kitchen extension to a HSBC tower being a sizable one. However, by applying different targets and policies in line with project types and the abilities of the SME, the industry would be bolstered by opening up the playing field and encouraging competition.
We still need to consider the BIM Level 2 / ISO 19650 requirements set in the PQQs. Yes, being BIM or ISO compliant will not help with the automatic rejection of insurance and turnover in the PQQs. However, it will be useful when opportunity arises in which to influence and demonstrate capabilities and capacities. Having BIM / ISO compliance in place, both for developers and small SMEs, will automatically demonstrate efficiency at the very start of communication on the project.
Another hypothetical. A developer is asking for process and deliverables on Day 1. The BIM / ISO compliant SME can respond with the process and deliverables proposal, including full 3D coordination testing of the site, capability statements, BEP, CDE process and collaboration, modelling and training strategies, and knowledge evidence for all team members. Something that usually takes weeks or months to achieve on any given project is instead delivered on Day 2. Surely working with such an SME that can demonstrate this level of capability would not lower the risk to a project.
And we come back to the rejection of the underdog.
How can we expect small practices to compete in an industry designed for big business? How can we expect SMEs to grow in a climate that rejects based on PQQ before giving incentive to progress and grow?
If we are to reach the lofty goals set for the UK construction industry whilst continuing to be a dominant market, it is imperative to change direction. We must move away from a monopolised industry in which talent and innovation are silenced. Policies, targets, and process will remain, but altered to give small companies the space and agency with which to contribute, grow, and ultimately thrive.