The French Digital Transition Plan in the Construction Industry (PTNB) proposed by the government will support the deployment of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in public procurement. Although this solution will increase efficiency, collaboration and innovation, it will also reorganize the current distribution of roles in the construction sector. Each player must prepare for this change if they want to make the most of the available opportunities.

 

The construction industry has undergone several revolutions, from drawing boards through computer-aided design to BIM (Building Information Modeling). Over and above the issue of the operational deployment of BIM and the challenges and opportunities it represents, we also need take into consideration the impact of this revolution on how the building sector itself is structured.

 

Upstream Stage

BIM has certainly disrupted the traditional role of architects in France by bringing it closer to that of the Anglo-Saxon model. This raises the question of what the future responsibility of architects and engineering companies will be and where their respective roles begin and end. Until now, using 2D drawings in the design phase meant that design consultants handled conflicts during the execution stage. In today’s world of digital models, errors and disputes emerge very early on in the project stage, which means that the project manager must carry out structured work during this stage… This in turn means that tender documents will be increasingly detailed and take on the appearance of “as built” elements, as is already the case in the UK.  The two main players involved in these stages (architects and engineering firms)  will grow much closer together. The former will acquire increasingly technical skills, while the latter will develop greater expertise in architecture.

 

 

Downstream Stage

With BIM, the borders between the work of engineering firms and that of construction companies will become less watertight. BIM is trimming the scope of the French MOP Law (on public project management and its relationship with the private architectural and management teams) by making a less clear-cut transition from the design stage to the execution stage. The challenge for engineering firms and construction companies will then be to control the entire BIM chain so that they maintain their full domain of operation. The challenge will be to control the entire BIM chain as far as the operational stage, in order to transmit to the building’s operator all the data needed to maintain the infrastructure in question. In this overall process, the critical issues focus on the stages and interface limits between the players (designers/builders/operators) on the one hand control over execution design, and on the other configuring the structure and its model so that it operates efficiently. This means that engineering companies will increasingly be playing the role of integrator.

 

What will be the impact on SMEs?

BIM opens up new opportunities to each player. However, if they fail to grasp these opportunities by mastering this tool, they may find their business activity gradually starts to shrink. Coordinating design offices, for example, have already seen a significant reduction in their mission scope.

 

BIM can be found throughout the supply chain, involving all players in the industry from command generators to SMEs. This also means that the relationship between larger and smaller players is changing. Using this tool raises many questions among SMEs and SMBs.  What role will they be able to play alongside majors in engineering and construction and large independent companies? How will they ensure and take ownership of this deployment? How can they be helped to go digital? Where is the funding? Keeping abreast of needs in terms of capacity and volume will require a considerable investment for these organisations. Equipment purchases can lead to over-investments amounting to several thousand euros per workstation according to the French Federation of Unions of Engineering, Consultancy and Digitisation (CINOV).

 

For design offices (either SME-internal or small DOs) profitability losses due to changes in software and methods should be expected, and will impact their use during the early years before the benefits of this deployment become visible. In a market that has been under strain for almost a decade, will there be sufficient cashflow to bear these almost inevitable inherent losses?  The financing of working capital requirements (WCR) is still difficult for SMEs, yet these players are stakeholders in the sector and help maintain its equilibrium by subcontracting on large projects, offering local relays on other projects and sometimes acting as a market regulator.

 

There will be a division of labor, SMEs and SMBs that can “talk” to the project through their direct involvement in the BIM object, either during design or execution. There will also be those whose contribution will be reduced to making resources available and working on small tasks,” which means they could disappear completely.

 

Although it disrupts traditions, BIM does boost creativity, enabling new methods, new services and new business models to emerge that bring innovations both in technologies and in relationships between players. Architects, engineers, and command generators are collectively building a smart “robot” called BIM. Today it has just 20 arms, but in five years there will be a thousand. Contractor, engineering firm, surveyor, design office, construction company, and building operator will then have the type of robot that makes its business more efficient, more energy, cost efficient, and more stimulating for its staff as well as being more attractive to its customers.

 

By Albane Levieux and Christophe Fournier