Q: Can BIM really change the industry? A: It already has!

BIM is often regarded as a “new” technology for the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry. “New” can be defined in a couple of ways, either:

  • of recent origin or arrival - as in BIM is the latest development in technology,
  • or, already in existence, but only recently experienced - as in, BIM has been around for some time, but still yet to be implemented.

Perhaps the semantics could be argued either way in some minor sectors of the industry. The truth is, that BIM is no longer a new term in the industry.

This then raises the questions, why is the industry slow to adopt BIM? And is BIM such the game changer as has been proposed, is the prophesied impact on the industry real?

A Sustaining Innovation or a Disruptive Innovation?

Sustaining innovations are typical evolutions in technology, and simply improve on existing and established technologies. For example a bigger, faster usb drive, doesn’t disrupt the market, it instead sustains and pushes it along, leading the way till the next evolution. Businesses likes sustaining innovations because they are predicable, easy to spot and easy to adapt to. For example, company X could purchase a new ‘sustaining’ technology predicting the outcomes, and ideally benefitting from some short-term gains. A sustaining technology only evolves an existing one by offering better value.

A disruptive innovation or technology on the other hand, is an innovation that improves a product or service in ways that the market doesn’t expect or never anticipated. A disruptive innovation doesn’t aim to just provide better value, it instead provides a whole new set of values that the previous technology never imagined.

A disruptive innovation looks to solve a problem that isn’t necessarily felt or identified by an existing market. It was Henry Ford who said that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. BIM too is forging ahead and arguably satisfying a need that wasn’t previously felt or anticipated. If the AEC industry was asked what it wanted, it perhaps would ask for faster drawings. BIM provides solutions beyond the conventional 2D drawings - databases, information rich models, analytics, facilities Management, 5D, 4D, Clash Detection etc etc. In some ways, it provides answers to questions we haven’t even asked yet.


Some liken the shift from CAD to BIM to the days when we shifted from Manual Drafting to CAD Drafting. The invention of CAD Drafting was a sustaining innovation that provided the same end product (a piece of paper with lines on it). It didn’t create a new market, it didn’t disrupt or displace any existing solutions. Industry saw the potential, got on board and the rapid adoption of CAD ensued.

BIM is vastly different to CAD and it provides far greater value, but its disruptive nature has seen slower levels of adoption.

Why the hold up?

Why doesn’t BIM represent a sweeping change for the industry? Why isn’t it the new miracle drug that solves our problems?


The AEC Industry (market) can see what BIM represents and a big of googling will quickly reveal BIM’s benefits. However this same industry is in a well-established market that doesn’t have the problems BIM provides solutions to. They are also surrounded by their competitors who also don’t have these problems. This established market then, doesn’t have the need for anything different. Selling BIM to them is hard work.


It is only the early adopters who are searching outside the box that actually see the real opportunities, and who eventually become the new market the innovation is seeking. This new ‘disruptive’ market initially has to provide the same solutions to the existing market in order to survive. In the AEC industry, they need to continue to provide drawings, plans, sections, elevations, schedules etc. - they have too in order to keep their clients happy. Initially, the two markets co-exist. And though the new market is small, and it’s growth slow, over time their performance improves, and the new market is able to compete on a level playing field.


Initially this new disruptive market looks a lot like the existing market, except they are now able to provide additional value far beyond that of the existing market. As well as plans, sections, and elevations, early BIM adopter X provides 3D geometry, object data, graphical programming, energy modelling, clash detection, augmented reality, cost analysis, fabrication, pre-fabrication… and the list goes on, all at effectively little-to-no extra cost. This fuels expectations, competition and market growth. Eventually this new technology actually disrupts the existing market and completely displaces the earlier technology.

The disruptive innovation can catch the established firms by surprise because they never saw the market need or value proposition BIM represented in the first place.

BIM is a disruptive innovation and when fully realised will completely transform the industry. Change isn’t coming, it’s already well on its way.

What now?

Some time ago the discussions between the early adopters of BIM revolved around the technical details of developing a BIM (model), todays discussions points have shifted, and are now focused on the bigger impacts of process, BIM management, change management, supply chain management, cultural issues, integrated projects etc. This only further demonstrates that BIM is having a profound effect on industry that we haven’t seen by any other recent innovations.

Furthermore, as the adoption of BIM has increased, it has become increasingly difficult to fully define what BIM is and ultimately comprehend its potential… partly because its value and uses (the ripple effects) are expanding so quickly. BIM demonstrates a unique value set for all stakeholders in any given project, and, since this value is still yet to be fully realised on even the most advanced projects around the world, the immediate challenge the industry now faces is defining, understanding and delivering on a BIM project (hence, the proliferation of global BIM standards).

A mandate isn’t required, change is already here. If we recognise the pervasive power that BIM presents, that BIM is a disruptive innovation that will upset the status quo, then we can make the logical decision to adapt. If we don’t, we might be left in BIM’s wake, unable to deliver on the new markets needs or the new clients ever-increasing expectations. Soon enough, it will become clear to clients that a new car is available over the old horse.