Why smaller businesses need to be involved with BIM

Les Pickford

Freelance writer and former Editor of the RICS Construction Journal (RICS)

Smaller businesses have a huge opportunity to use BIM on their projects, says Andrew Turner, Vice Chair of BIM4SME and a Partner at Henry Riley. But they must be prepared to invest time to learn before they spend.

Andrew Turner

The main challenge for small and medium sized businesses isn’t actually spending money on software: it’s spending two days a week for a few months to truly understand what BIM means for you.

How much time depends on your discipline, so ask yourself: how will your work differ in a BIM world? You’ve got to understand this before you start spending money.

There will be a software cost but this can be kept to a minimum at the start, e.g. through a temporary, student or network licence. A couple of licences might cost £2,000 so make sure it suits your business needs.

The first step for any smaller business is to understand your role – are you a data user like a quantitiy surveyor, or a data creator like a designer?

Most surveyors will be data users so you’ll need to obtain some data to play with. Reading about BIM is good but real experience is better and trialling BIM alongside a current project means you can learn without the risk. Yes, you’ll spend time, but you’ll learn about the obstacles you’ll face on a real project.

Software is important but BIM is more about your role and your discipline, and your transition to these new ways of working. So understand how you can do your current role using BIM first, then adapt. Don’t try to do everything from the beginning.

Dispelling myths

Contrary to some views, quantity surveyors are going to be more important, not less, in a BIM world. For example, at Riley Consulting we’re one of the first BIM auditors. We’re not looking at models for clash detection or design issues, but using our costing, valuation and comprehension skills. A quantity surveyor's role will not disappear but we must adapt our services to BIM.

And BIM is just as relevant to small projects as it is to larger ones. We’re using BIM on existing-build projects between £0.5-1m but using the same approach on £10-15m projects. The processes are the same, just on a smaller scale. And doing four or five small projects in the space of one large one means you’ll probably learn more.


Collaboration should be happening anyway, regardless of BIM. However, BIM collaboration means time and cost efficiencies, which can produce big returns over a project’s lifecycle. If everyone understands processes, documentation and file formats etc at the beginning of a project, life will be so much easier when you have an impending deadline.

So share information to learn with your peers and supply chain, don’t try to do BIM on your own – that would be a big risk. Being open with your supply chain will also widen your network and help you develop relationships for the future.

But this sharing/talking/collaboration approach doesn’t just mean using social media. These platforms have finite audiences so look much wider for your leaning conversations.

Also, you must understand what outcomes stakeholders want from a BIM project because they might not be the same thing. You might be trying to learn, others might want to streamline their business and the client might just look for a return on cost. If everyone has different aims they’re going to expect different end results.

The impact of not using BIM

Without smaller businesses there is no construction sector. So it’s not a case of just wanting them to be involved with BIM; we’ve got to show them why they need to be involved. This benefits everybody.

But this means all smaller business disciplines – from architects and mechanical and electrical designers to suppliers and surveyors. If we’re running a construction project digitally we need everybody to be involved.

As the world becomes more ‘online’ so we all need to start thinking about BIM, digital ways of the working, apps, etc. Without this focus we will become archaic very quickly.

The benefits for smaller businesses

BIM is a business opportunity to get on the right path for the next 15 years. You’ll eventually look back and wonder why BIM was even a conversation. It means you will be leaner and win more work and/or become more competitive. But it’s a medium to long-term game. Taking a short-term view would be a mistake as you’re unlikely to get a return on investment within a few months.

Smaller businesses are also ideally suited to adopting BIM – they can make decisions and adapt to client/project/industry needs really quickly, especially if they’ve learnt how to use BIM before it really matters on a live project.

BIM is an opportunity, not the threat many think it is. But only if you consider your time as an investment.


BIM4SME provides resources, best practices and knowledge to help the UK's small and medium-sized enterprizes (SMEs) get ready for the government’s 2016 BIM target and deliver efficiencies in cost and value by sharing information.

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