BIM – born in the USA

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In the second instalment of a series of articles examining the level of BIM adoption globally, Rebecca De Cicco of Digital Node and Women in BIM turns her attention to the USA

In my previous article, I outlined how Australia is implementing BIM, the level of support BIM gets from government, and what challenges the country is facing, particularly when it comes to skills.

In this article, I turn my attention to the USA, a nation that faces similar challenges to Australia and the UK, even though its BIM implementation plan began back in the early 2000s and continues to evolve.

Trying to determine what’s happening in the US in terms of BIM adoption and implementation is difficult, given the size of the country and its complex structure of federal and state government bodies, each with their own frameworks.

It was in 2003 that the General Services Administration (GSA), through its Public Buildings Service (PBS), established the National 3D-4D-BIM Program. It promoted a policy mandating BIM adoption for all PBS projects and outlined its intention to partner with BIM vendors, other federal agencies, professional associations, open standard organisations, and academic and research institutions.

Pushed by industry

While the GSA is pushing the value and benefits of digital technology and BIM for projects, there hasn’t been an overall government push like we’ve seen in the UK. In the US, it comes more from industry. While the efforts the GSA has made are extremely worthwhile, they are not measured, so there’s no way to know how industry is utilising the processes.

When formulating its own government response to BIM, the UK looked to the US and its National 3D-4D-BIM Program. Since then, the UK has taken further steps to make BIM ‘business as usual’ and has a framework for maturity with UK BIM Level 2.

In the US, however, it’s quite difficult to embed a consistent methodology against a backdrop of political division and fragmentation. In the US, advanced users and organisations don’t like being pushed too forcefully on a process-driven approach. They see each project as an individually distinct challenge, driven by different client needs and requirements.


Take standards, for example: the development and use of standards like the PAS 1192 suite doesn’t exist in the US. There are national CAD standards and a national BIM standard, but these are quite complex and, as a result, not driven across the industry consistently.

About the author

Rebecca De Cicco is the director and founder of Digital Node, a BIM-based consultancy working with clients all over the world to educate, manage and support the implementation of a clearly defined process, underpinned by technology.

As a small consultancy, Digital Node is connected to many experts across the globe, so we reached out to our global community to validate our thoughts regarding BIM implementation in the US.

A fellow gunslinger, Aaron Maller, director of Parallax Team, is a good friend and close ally when it comes to BIM and pushing industry in a technology-focused way.

He told us: “As with many countries, the extent of the proliferation of BIM on AEC projects in the US depends widely on the prowess of the practitioners you ask. Many are using BIM, and leveraging the values of it in tangible ways. What isn’t happening in the US is a country-wide debate, a club-style academic exercise over BIM standards, mandates or requirements, where everyone tries to agree on one ‘hypothetical’ set of standards by which projects will happen.”

According to Maller, “Companies have standards and some project owners have standards.” These get fleshed out and melded as a project kicks off and, as a result, the projects are more than capable of succeeding.

But, he points out, many parts of the world currently debate standards and workflows, “as if only a national or global standard can mean success, but it simply isn’t true.”

The US has developed a National Standard before (for CAD), he points out, and though many companies used it, it certainly was not the majority. Even so, many companies were successful at CAD, comfortably ignoring the national CAD standards.

“The mileage the US gets out of its BIM projects – like the standards used – varies widely, depending on how seriously both the clients involved and the practitioners take BIM, on any given project as well as their knowledge and understanding of BIM,” says Maller.

“One notable thing I will say about BIM in the US is that I don’t have to look far to find real examples of projects that are done well, all the way down to the details, well beyond the lustre of marketing material.”

The hugely important industry-driven group, the BIM Forum (which is the US chapter of buildingSMART International), adds Maller, is an extremely active community and has developed specifications for use by the AEC industry. “The LOD specification document, although historically heavily geometry-driven, is being used all around the world, even more so than tools such as the NBS BIM Toolkit, or the LOD Specification in the UK,” he says.

The BIM Forum’s mission ‘to promote and support the use of open BIM standards throughout the industry in a long-term effort to drive towards fully digitized information exchanges’ is one to be applauded, he says, “even though they don’t push for an actual framework for adoption.” They also support industry as heavily as they can, being a not-for-profit and voluntary group of people offering their time for free.

The challenge of the skills gap

The US has always been a tech-savvy country with strong digital technology skills, making it a world leader in the digitisation of many industries and fields. While the skills shortages we see in the UK regarding BIM are similar for the US, the focus on education and digitisation in the latter is much more advanced. For example, universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working hard to push innovation and digitisation.

As I’ve already suggested, however, the process-driven aspects of BIM are of less concern to US organisations. Take, for example, the hugely successful coworking specialist WeWork: it is pushing the ability to design, construct and manage assets all over the world without a structured process like the UK BIM Level 2 approach. For WeWork, it’s more about ensuring that the end client ultimately saves money and time during all stages of a project.

On the whole the open culture of the US should assist in the drive towards greater collaboration. Most people I am connected with in the US and Canada are open in their levels of communication and happy to share. This open culture, as experienced at events such as Autodesk University (AU), helps attendees in coming together to learn, to share and to promote their companies and processes. For me, this openness is what makes such events so valuable.

That kind of openness is much-needed at a time when digital innovation is moving at a rapid pace. Advancements in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are likely to change the face of construction as we know it. We should be using collaboration to prepare for the challenges ahead. The UK could perhaps learn an important lesson from our American cousins in that regard.

Read Rebecca’s other articles in this series:

‘BIM, the Chinese way’
BIM adoption in the world’s most populous nation.

‘BIM, the Kiwi Way’
The growth of BIM in New Zealand

‘BIM in Australia – are we there yet?’
The level of BIM adoption in Australia

‘BIM in Europe – a bright future?
How Europe is grasping the opportunities available to deliver a harmonious digital construction industry

NXT BLD 2018

Rebecca addressed NXT BLD 2018, presenting her unique global perspective on BIM adoption, specifically with implementation of Smart City projects. See her presentation here.

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