The BIM guy who came in from the cold

I first became interested in BIM when the articles started to discuss people, processes and industry efficiencies rather than the gratuitously techy articles on how clash detection, 3D modelling and high definition rendering would change our world forever.

At the time I was working in a multidisciplinary office where analogue was king, the drawing boards had all but gone, but CAD was being used to deliver the same 2D information except the corners were sharper, and the details had lost much of their character.

It’s fair to say my new found passion for BIM was not shared by everyone. There was a resistance to change, which often gets blamed on people being stuck in their ways, but at the time they had a point. The CAD tools we were using were mature, robust and in the right hands quick and accurate, the benefits of changing to the newer technology simply weren’t compelling enough.

Then the wind changed…

The UK’s biggest construction client, the government, had seemingly lost its faith in the ability of construction to reform itself without additional impetus. The construction strategy in 2011 asked for efficiencies that the traditional approaches were unlikely to achieve and with the surprise kicker of mandating COBie which added a considerable weight to the need to adopt new technology or be forever locked in battle with a multi-coloured spreadsheet alongside trying to do the day job 20% more efficiently. At this point BIM became inevitable, and really exciting.

I read everything I could find. I tested all the software I could lay my hands on. But I still couldn’t see a sensible route to achieving the mandate.

On my third reading of PAS 1192:2, I was coming to the conclusion the required technology for Level 2 BIM simply wasn’t available and that the construction industry and the software vendors really needed to get their heads together fast, when a chance phone call led to a job offer to do exactly that. It took some soul searching to decide whether I was willing to take one for the team and divert from my architectural career to design some software to help remove the barriers to meeting the mandate. I was, and I did.

What I thought was potential career gamble turned out to be a fascinating adventure leading me to work with some of the very best in the global BIM community and some of the world’s biggest contractors in developing a Common Data Environment (CDE) fit for our digital future. I will always look back at my time at Viewpoint Construction Software with great fondness as we achieved great things together which put us firmly ahead of the competition in collaborative BIM. I was even afforded the opportunity to share my research and our work on stages from Washington DC to Sydney and many great places in between including the home of the RIBA at Portland Place and great universities across the country. However all good things must come to an end, as the software became ready for the mandate and the challenges became more technical and less industry specific I knew it was time for a new challenge.

I could have gone back to straight architecture role, ‘came in from the cold’ like John le Carré’s famous spy novel. But I couldn’t do it, I’m gripped by BIM and wanted a role that allowed me to use the knowledge I’d built up on my adventure in the technology sector as well as my formal training as an architect. Those aware of the ‘Geordie BIM Mafia’ phenomenon won’t be surprised I didn’t need to look far to find a new adventure in North East England as there is a melting pot of digital architecture, construction tech companies, BIM project management experts, and respected academics in the field. I’ve found my new home as head of Darlington based BIM Strategy, a digital sister business to Niven Architects I’ve joined a business keen to do things digitally, with a team passionate about sharing our knowledge of the practical applications and benefits of BIM.

In my mind the tipping point has now been breached and the technology is now there to deliver at Level 2 maturity. To all the other construction professionals who have rolled up their sleeves to make sure the technology evolved rapidly ahead of the mandate I salute you. It’s not been easy and it’s often frustrating, but there is a real difference to be seen in the tools we have available. Our design tools are faster and easier to use, sharable OpenBIM outputs are now achievable and more fit for purpose and a great selection of solutions for model analysis have emerged to take advantage of the data rich outputs being created. There will be a continued race between the software vendors to develop and deliver new and better solutions, but I genuinely see a set of solutions out there that are ripe for adoption and ready to replace the traditional analogue way of working. There is also no doubt in my mind that the mandate, the BIM Task group and the wider BIM community have all played their part in pushing us over the tipping point. It’s an exciting time, but there’s not time to rest on our laurels as Level 3 is already in the pot.

Furthermore, if Digital Built Britain is a sign of things to come, there is even more collaboration with the technology sector required to ensure the tools keep pace with the ambitions.

I’ll be writing plenty more about what we do here at BIM Strategy and what I have planned for the future in coming weeks so follow this blog, follow us on twitter and feel free to get in touch with me directly on

I look forward to working with as many of you as possible in my new role.

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Niven & BIM Stategy