Commercial Property and BIM: Why No Traction?

Adrian Malone
Across the supply chain, designers, contractors and consultants have made significant capital and time investments in the adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM).

Suppliers are increasingly defining BIM as their preferred method of delivery because of the benefits which are realised through its use. Benefits include better co-ordination of design and project information which produces reduced risk and greater efficiency, although this requires teams to work more collaboratively. Studies suggest that the industry is reaching a tipping point, but that means many suppliers are not yet convinced [1, 2]

Commercial property is one sector where the benefits of BIM have yet to gain broad recognition, and while some commercial developers are championing BIM, many remain to be convinced. BIM is used increasingly by suppliers in this sector, but is rarely driven by the client. Why is this? What stops the business case stacking up for the commercial property sector?

Commercial property is one sector where the benefits of BIM have yet to gain broad recognition...

National governments are often among the first client groups to favour BIM. Governments not only identify direct benefits to public capital programmes, but also seek to enhance construction sector efficiency and international competitiveness. The 2014 RICS International BIM Implementation Guide identifies countries such as the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore where targets have been set for BIM adoption. And all UK government construction projects must be delivered using BIM by 2016, with expected capital cost savings of 20 per cent as well as programme and quality benefits.

Private sector clients have also recognised the benefits. The UK university sector is one example where there are clear advantages from an estate-wide digital view established during design and construction. Crucially, this approach can then be used to operate and maintain the estate over its lifetime.

Facilities Management (FM) is often cited as the stage in the asset lifecycle where BIM’s greatest return on investment is realised. For commercial developers, the realisation of benefits during the operational life of assets is of little value if those assets are sold upon completion. Developers should perhaps look at ways to transfer the benefits of BIM to their tenants and/or future freeholders.

In sectors such as retail, the benefits of BIM are focused on planning, design and construction. For large retailers, BIM can support complex planning applications, particularly where engagement with local stakeholders is required to overcome potential objections. Retail clients often seek standardised store design, and here BIM provides efficiency in applying pre-defined standard design elements and in supporting modular construction techniques and offsite fabrication. This is especially relevant on schemes where space and logistics are challenging, as in most major cities.

The business case for BIM in commercial property is therefore mixed, and this is reflected in the limited appetite of clients to mandate the use of BIM by their suppliers. Using BIM during design allows configuration of gross-to-net space to be optimised, and use during construction takes risk out of site works, which should be reflected in a reduction in contingency built into contractors’ pricing.

A recent BCO report [3] identified that BIM can reduce cost, risk and construction time and deliver more efficient buildings. BIM can also be expected to assist clients in delivering the vast quantities of information about the building which must be transferred to the owner/operator upon completion. Yet developers generally seem content to allow market forces to drive BIM adoption within the supply chain – if BIM enables a supplier to submit a better bid, the client need not worry about the detail if they are confident the proposal is realistic.

...a stronger connection is needed between the benefits brought to the operator and their tenants, and the value realised by the developer and their investors.

For commercial property clients to more directly engage with BIM, a stronger connection is needed between the benefits brought to the operator and their tenants, and the value realised by the developer and their investors. Influencing factors include recognition of BIM’s value by agents engaged in valuing and letting property, but the strongest appeal will be created when the Facilities Management (FM) industry wakes up to BIM’s potential. As FM software providers begin to integrate BIM into their solutions and the use of BIM within FM matures, commercial property developers may see a stronger pull towards BIM.

There will be challenges – for example, the digital model must be updated as tenants customise office space during their lease, but these issues are not insurmountable. With suppliers’ increasing uptake of BIM, it should not prove too difficult for developers to respond to this need as it emerges.

BIM is already in use in the commercial property supply chain, but largely for schemes facing significant technical or logistical challenges. If clients are to engage more closely, a value proposition bridging the gap between the end user / operator and developer will certainly be required.


[1] McGraw Hill. The Business Value of BIM for Construction in Major Global Markets. 2014.

[2] NBS National BIM Report 2014.

[3] Building Information Modelling for Commercial Office Buildings. May 2013.