Like every organisation, construction industry organisations are proud of their culture and if they have managed to survive the recent economic downturn, have every reason to attribute some of that success to organisation culture. Every time a significant economic disruption occurs, it often brings some disruptive technologies which affect organisation culture. Everyone has more time to think for a while and technology may offer a competitive advantage. 2D CAD came to the fore during the last major recession, this time BIM is on the rise. BIM was not born out of this recession though as the concept of parametric 3D design tools have been used in the automotive and car industries for well over 2 decades. The construction industry is adopting BIM in a much slower fashion, not because construction is any more cut throat that the automotive or car industries but because of economies of scale. There are significantly more construction related organisations and the organisations are significantly smaller leaving only small amounts of money individually by each organisation for upskilling and even less for research and development.
BIM is now disrupting construction culture. Sounds negative but it is a fact and this is a downside to BIM that cannot be ignored. It must be managed. So who is going to manage this disruption. People with management skills mixed with a knowledge of BIM and what disruption is occurring. So for an organisation that is ready to adopt BIM, it needs to be determined to deal with the disruption caused by BIM and find a BIM guru that has management skills or a manager with very good BIM skills.
Are there managers with BIM skills? At present, very few really. Unlike the IT industry which has most of it managers under 50, construction managers tend to be at least 50 years old. Of course there are some that buck the trend in both industries but this is the norm at present. For a significant number of those over 50, 2D CAD wasn't a skill they generally adopted. Yes, many got by very well without CAD skills as drawing is only one facet of construction deliverables. Those who did CAD and those that didn't. CAD was a little frightening if you didn't know how it worked as it required some computer skills which were new for most but more importantly it required a significant investment of time to get good at CAD. For various reasons, only younger staff had the time to invest in learning enough CAD to be productive so it became the younger persons game. Younger staff are often paid less, so if you were neither young or older, you had to hedge your bets. Learn CAD and become a potential CAD monkey, which would ensure some certainty of employment or focus your energy and efforts on everything else with better prospects of becoming a manager which paid better. The recent downturn saw a lot of middle-management culling for which quite a number went back to education to learn BIM.
Does BIM really need a Manager?
If you perceive BIM as 3D CAD, then the answer is no, 3D is a minor disruption to your current processes and your organisation may or may not make the gradual transformation from 2D to 3D.
If you you perceive BIM as information management, then the answer is resolutely yes. Managing information requires management skills. This maybe good news for any under employed or unemployed managers who have made the effort to learn BIM. Unless your organisation has bucked the trends of the last 2 decades, you have a group of managers who know very little about BIM and a group of CAD/BIM staff for whom some have the requisite skills to manage BIM. You would be right in thinking that the last thing you now need in the throws of a recession are more managers. I have been in this industry for more than 20 years and I can certainly testify that the amount of work not directly associated with production of information has dramatically increased. There are some good reasons for this, many to do with increasing standards of quality and performance but also some for reasons that don't make sense any longer and has much to do with slow adoption to new new work practices.
We certainly don't need more managers, we need to change the roles which will be difficult as many of the current roles in the construction industry have been there for a long as anyone can remember. The construction industry is very old and roles such as architects and engineers are less than 150 years in existence, project managers have been around for only 30 years, health and safety roles for just over a decade and sustainability roles are really less than a decade. Pardon the industry pun, but no role is set in concrete. Prior to the architect which is one of the oldest management professions in the construction industry there were Master Builders. The master builder was a one stop shop but as construction projects became more complex, architects and engineers brought new skills that help propel the industry forward. It must have been disruptive for master builders though. Nowdays, on a traditionally procured project, an employer must deal independently with at least half a dozen professionals who don't often work together as efficiently as the employer would like.
Information becomes very difficult to manage and as each profession has proprietary means of delivering information, the employer or building operator ends up with a mish-mash of data that is often time consuming and difficult to convert into information that can be used to efficiently and effectively operate a building. BIM has massive potential to become the unifying factor for the construction industry but it needs one more ingredient; someone to manage the information effectively and ensure the outcomes meet the employers requirements. In order to ensure the information is unified for all disciplines, this person needs to have over arching responsibility for all information being delivered at the various stages of a project and most importantly at practical completion to facilitate a timely transition to Operations and Maintenance.
The UK Government through the Cabinet Office and the BIM Task Group have identified a role called the BIM Information Manager. This is a significant and important role with many responsibilities. The person undertaking this role requires strong BIM skills, excellent management, people and importantly coordination skills. There are some similarities and overlaps with the project management role as the BIM Information Manager is responsible for ensuring deliverables are delivered on time. A Project Manager is often employed separately by an employer to manage the design and/or construction phase of a project on behalf of the employer. As part of the Best Practice Guide for Professional Indemnity Insurance, the BIM Task Group in association with the Construction Industry Council have concluded that in order to mitigate additional professional indemnity risks, the lead coordinator must fulfil the BIM Information Manager role. Traditionally, the Architect is the lead coordinator and therefore the BIM Information Manager role is best suited to the Architect. The next couple of years will determine if Architects step up to this role. If not, the alternative is a further decimation of the role of the Architect and a significant role at that; a new breed of professional maybe be born or the design role will be split into 2 stages with two sets of architects which is common in some countries, the latter stage would be undertaken by BIM savvy architects.
BIM Information Manager = Lead Coordinator + Information + 3D software
Taking a step backward ironically to that of the Master Builder, the best solution for the construction industry is for architects to step up to the role, providing the glue required to make the industry more efficient and cost effective while providing opportunities for better design through technology. Many architectural firms are hurting at the moment and don't have the ability due to size and turnover to sufficient invest in the future of BIM which will ultimately lead to the erosion of responsibility and therefore fees. It doesn't take a Phd to determine that on the whole the larger architectural and multi-disciplinary organisations have a clear advantage. The decisions made by larger firms in how they step up to the BIM Information Manager role will determine if the role will be undertaken internally by one of the current disciplines or if it will splinter out into another distance role akin to a Project Manager. Maybe some Project Managers are interested but I suspect most don't have an interest or the skills in BIM which makes this a less likely scenario. Perhaps BIM Information Managers may become good Project Managers? Perhaps the organisation with the most disciplines will step up? I have no doubt, this will all play out in the next 2 years setting the tone for the next 20 years.
It is all exciting up in the air at the moment but if you have the right skills, the role of BIM Information Manager is a progressive move. Unlike 2D CAD which created CAD Managers that looked after the CAD for an organisation, the BIM Information Manager has responsibilities to the wider project team. The role is appropriate for a person with strong coordination skills and a good knowledge of BIM processes. Upfront planning and clear definitions of everyones involvement in the BIM process are important for a BIM Information Manager. Be prepared for adversary though especially from those who are not willing to adopt to a new industry culture. Like a Project Manager, you need to understand what must be delivered and when. Any deviation from successful delivery of information must be avoided where possible and considered carefully where it cannot. Managers that have upskilled to BIM need to be careful not to fall back into old ways of delivering information as you will end up duplicating effort and/or delivering poor quality information which does not match requirements.
Like nature, the construction industry abhors waste or at least should.