BIM in Europe – a bright future?

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In the fifth instalment of our global exploration of BIM adoption, Rebecca De Cicco of Digital Node shines a light on how Europe is grasping the opportunities available to deliver a harmonious digital construction industry

For many decades, Europe has grown ever closer through its shared aspirations of peace and economic prosperity. And, while many commentators are still debating the question of a United States of Europe, for us in the world of construction, we are beginning to see a harmonious push and realisation that we can (and indeed have to) develop a world-class digital construction sector together.

In my series of articles for AEC, I’ve examined BIM implementation in Australia, New Zealand, China and the US, but now it’s the turn of Europe – the second smallest continent by geographic size, but with the third largest population of the seven continents.

The state of BIM implementation The road to BIM implementation in Europe is making good progress to date, but historically European public sector bodies have been disjointed in their approach having been independently driven by different countries like Germany, Finland, France and the Netherlands etc.

Finland and Norway were the trailblazers, being the first to set standards, and  now most countries in Europe have embarked on their programmes to support implementation but have (at least over the last five years or so) been slightly different in their approach. And, as I’ve discussed in previous articles regarding the adoption of BIM processes and standards, the challenge of creating a unified approach to BIM implementation is hugely important.

Collaboration across borders and standardising common practices have many benefits, not least that of reducing costs in compliance to a country’s specific methods, but also to increase the speed of adoption by learning from each other. So the creation of the EU BIM Task Group in 2016 was a particularly exciting moment for collaboration.

The group consists of public sector experts from infrastructure, public estate owners, public clients and policymakers from 21 nations. Co-funded (initially for two years (2016-2017) and extended through to 2019) by the European Commission (who endorsed BIM in its EU Public Procurement Directive (2014)), the EU BIM Task Group were tasked “to deliver a common European network aimed at aligning the use of Building Information Modelling in public works”. Their primary function, however, was to develop a handbook containing guidance on universal principles split across four themes including procurement measures, technical considerations, cultural and skills development, and the benefits case for policymakers and public clients.

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.


The Handbook for the Introduction of Building Information Modelling by the European Public Sector was released in 2017 and “encourages the wider introduction of BIM in response to the growing challenges faced by governments across Europe and public clients to stimulate economic growth and competitiveness while delivering value for public money”.

The handbook has already been translated into 11 different languages with another three to be completed soon, realising the consolidated message and consistent methodology for BIM implementation. The group has also been successful in removing some of the ambiguity that exists across different groups and regions, especially around terminology and standards with good leadership across those groups.

The handbook references the UK’s BIM journey and methodologies (known widely as a global exemplar of adopting BIM) but this alone cannot and will not be enough to ensure the complete and effective implementation of BIM across Europe, as well as the challenges with language and culture. Although the EU BIM Task Group has achieved much, and from the push within the EU, it is quite isolated regarding the way it’s driven internally in the individual countries. Having said this, we are seeing that more countries within Europe are starting to adopt a policy for BIM, and looking to other countries for lessons learnt.

The Nordic Approach

There’s a drive within Europe regarding BIM for not only buildings but within the Infrastructure spend where the figures far exceed building development. Many groups exist across the world that are driving a digital agenda for infrastructure, some of whom are looking to the UK for support in that space including the Swedish Transport Administration who are pushing a consistent methodology that aligns to the international framework set up by EU BIM Task Group. Some of the groups in Sweden, France, and even Spain are referring to the British Standards based in addressing the global approach. I believe this push will continue as this consistent language can make easy trade between countries of the EU, furthering the economic gains that a digital construction sector can offer. This coupled with the developing International Standard (ISO 19650) will continue to drive a consolidation of terms and processes across the region.

The Nordic regions have long been advanced regarding their BIM policies and driving openBIM standards across government portfolios as a mandate. The Nordic regions are profoundly advanced in the way they have mandated the use of IFC and other openBIM technologies to support a translation of information not just for buildings but infrastructure too. They are also quite open to utilising standards such as PAS 1192-2 and PAS 1192-3 to implement consistency.

There has been an acknowledgement from buildingSMART International concerning inconsistencies in the approach to BIM implementation across their Chapters, but again in the Nordic regions, they have been very active in the builidingSMART International framework for common data terminologies, the openBIM initiative and data dictionaries. They’ve addressed the need for openBIM standards but they also still look to the UK’s BIM Maturity levels (see the famous wedge diagram developed by Mark Bew and Mervyn Richards) that has been used and understood across groups like the more advanced ones such as buildingSMART Finland to drive consistency.

I would certainly recommend that attending the buildingSMART international conferences is an excellent place to learn more about the delivery of providing openBIM solutions, standards, and the ongoing aims of the group. And, if you can make it to Tokyo in October for the International Standards Summit, you can hear more about the development of open digital standards for improving the design, build and management of assets in the built environment.

Skills and education

There are still massive skills shortages within the BIM and digital space throughout Europe, and to that end, I’ve connected with buildingSMART International regarding the approach toward education and skills. We see that some courses and educational content created in the UK are delivered across the EU, but to achieve the need for a consistent methodology against skills and course content, the organisation is now developing a certification scheme; the buildingSMART Professional Certification Program.

This certification scheme aligns broadly with ISO 19650 and is being pushed within Europe. BuildingSMART Chapters will be encouraged to utilise the certification scheme to allow for a consistency in the development of education content for tertiary and professional training. It’s exciting, and although the learning outcomes are generic, we are hopefully aiming to see a universal language that can be driven across Europe and then adopted internationally.

Mark Baldwin, Head of BIM Management at Man and Machine in Switzerland and leader of the buildingSMART International Professional Certification program, commented on why he feels this initiative is so important: “Despite the accelerated adoption of BIM around the world in the past five years or so, there is still a lot of confusion and a lack of consistency in defining processes and agreeing on basic terms and concepts. There is also a great disparity in the competence of industry professionals who manage and deliver BIM projects. buildingSMART is a recognised leader in the development of openBIM standards and we aim to bring clarity and consensus in the definition and application of openBIM principles.

“The new buildingSMART Professional Certification Program will provide a global benchmark for openBIM training and certification. We believe it will have a widespread impact across the global industry, providing a stable reference point for all those who are operating in the field of BIM.”

The buildingSMART Professional Certification Program is a positive move that incorporates a consolidated language, but challenges such as actual language barriers will remain. I believe that until the ISO 19650 is released, the language issue will continue to be a problem. Having said that, as buildingSMART International recognises that a common language, protocols and standards are vital, they will hopefully push this out across regions. My view is that with driving consistent education we will see the uptake of the use of ISO 19650 in Europe, and then it can be pushed further afield in regions like Asia and Australia.

I regularly deliver courses through the BSI (British Standards Institute) globally and there seems to be a good amount of training courses focusing on British Standards and BIM. However, the critical element for success in this area will be the alignment of the aims of buildingSMART and the ISO 19650 in providing a stronger push for education providers to be consistent moving forward. Many training organisations have used the UK Learning Outcomes Framework as a consistent approach to education and skills globally, and encouragingly, these are now being used to formulate training content around the world.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned with working in the UK for so long and now examining different global policies, it is that the UK is in a fortunate position. The UK BIM standards are widely used and adopted by other countries to allow for a consistent approach toward a process. Many nations may reference PAS 1192-2, but have little or no understanding of it, whereas in the UK and Europe there’s now a more comprehensive understanding of the UK message which is driving skills development within Europe based purely on geography.

The many groups existing throughout Europe must be delivering a consistent message and tackle the skills shortages. The funding of these groups can be a challenge, however. For instance, the EU BIM Task Group is funded, as is Digital Built Britain (although only partially, through the University of Cambridge), but there is a need for more funding across the groups that exist to support the industry, for instance the not-for-profit UK BIM Alliance. buildingSMART International can fund portions of their work through their membership to help an international framework for education, and although it’s uncertain how far this can be pushed, I hope that the skills challenge is taken seriously throughout Europe.

A bright future beckons for Europe regarding the push for BIM implementation combining consistent methodologies, language and skills if we all work together. Only by recognising and addressing the many challenges ahead can Europe hope to compete and win on the global stage.

Read Rebecca’s other articles in this series:

‘BIM – born in the USA’
In the second instalment of a series of articles examining the level of BIM adoption globall, Rebecca turns her attention to the USA.

‘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

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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