For years, the benefits of BIM (building information modeling) have been touted across the construction industry, but still only a small percentage of SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises) have adopted technologies associated with BIM. The question remains: When will small construction businesses more readily begin using BIM on projects?

In the United Kingdom, that day might come sooner rather than later. The government mandated the use of BIM on all centrally funded projects, which is set to begin taking place in 2016. The expectation is the wider public sector will follow suit, according to the NFB (National Federation of Builders), www.builders.org.uk, Crawley, West Sussex., an association for SME builders.

The challenge is BIM is still mostly confined to larger projects, according to a recent NFB study. While 57% of SMEs believe BIM will bring benefits for business, nearly 75% indicate they have not worked on a project that uses 3D drawings, clash detection, or schedule-integration tools.

Conversely, 78% of large contractors believe BIM will bring benefits, and only 20% of large companies have no experience with BIM.

Julie Evans, chief executive, NFB, says, “The government’s mandating of BIM has set the industry a major challenge. This is a progressive challenge which can be met, but it is important for the industry as a whole that SME contractors do not get left behind.”

In the United States, the GSA (General Services Admin.), www.gsa.gov, Washington, D.C., already has a mandate that says new buildings designed through its Public Buildings Service need to use BIM. Some individual states—such as the Division of State Facilities in Wisconsin and the Facilities Design and Construction Division within the Texas Facilities Commission—have guidelines and standards for using BIM on state projects as well.

As mandates for BIM become more common across the globe, small construction companies might soon be forced into using BIM—at least on federally funded projects. The challenge, however, is many small businesses are unfamiliar with the tools and techniques for BIM.

In order to meet this need, the NFB is piloting a program to help SMEs adopt BIM and plans to work with partners to share knowledge and provide support to contractors. As Evans says, “The desire to embrace innovation and more efficient working practice is evident, but the lessons of the survey are clear: We need to bridge the gap between this appetite for change and the know-how to make that leap.”