BREAKING THE ICE: BIM in the African Construction Industry

The herald of the New Year brought along various forecasts and projections on technological trends and innovations to expect in the Construction Industry.

By Moses Itanola on
18th February 2021

Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Exoskeletons, 3D Printing, Drones, Virtual Reality (incl. Augmented, Mixed, & Extended Realities), and Cloud Collaborations are amongst the many innovations expected to progress globally in the construction industry.

In the midst of the hubbub, we begin to question if the construction industry in Africa should be expecting such disruptions. Suffice to say that the Construction Industry is still traditional and paper-based. Thus, deploying Technology and Building Information Modelling (BIM) in construction projects requires fundamental alterations in all its processes right from the conceptualization stages through execution and to the management of the built assets.

Undoubtedly, the deployment of Technology and BIM in construction comes with many benefits. It reduces rework and its associated costs, improves productivity, reduces conflicts and changes during construction, improves collaboration and documentation, allows pre-construction visualization, improves coordination and clash detection, and improves efficiency, quantification, and estimation amongst many others.

The transition from the drawing board to Computer Aided Design (CAD) globally, and in Africa, was influenced by the benefits that CAD projected – increased productivity and improved design quality. Yet, despite the numerous benefits that Technology and BIM deliver in construction projects, the slow-witted deployment in Africa can be attributed to a plethora of causative factors: resistance to dynamism and comfort in routine, lack of required Infrastructure, Governmental insouciance, misconception of definition (Process, or Software), and the high cost of implementation, amongst others.

The Dark Clouds

The greatest barrier to the BIM adoption drive across Africa is the unconscious resistance to change by professionals and organizations. As noted in numerous academic researches, the advice for individuals and organizations to up-skill themselves and their workforce attracts a question on the need to improve considering the success of their existing workflow. Jaykishan Patel, from Malawi, noted that Africa is reluctant to change and needs to embrace new technologies and be open to learning to progress.

In general, most African countries lack the required infrastructure. Maria Mogoaneng, a participant of the BIM Africa SAP 2019, expressed her concerns on the lacking infrastructure in Africa to support Cloud-based storage and communications after experiencing difficulties in connecting to a stable internet to attend a virtual training session. Her concerns reflect the pain-point that many organizations refer to when presented with a BIM adoption strategy.

Both in education and policy, Governments across various African countries have shown unenthusiasm to BIM. Vaughan Harris, a notable African BIM leader, expressed that Government bodies and institutions in South Africa, for example, have distanced themselves from the new age digital tools and thus continue to prepare students and professionals for failure. Whereas, BIM implementation successes in countries across the world have been influenced by their Government.

A Tool or Blueprint?

Majority of the professionals in the industry refer to BIM as a software. This can be attached to the numerous software producers who evangelize BIM as a Software. Eric Wing, a BIM Industry Expert, explains that exhaustive explanations on BIM by resellers and vendors is that BIM is about more software programs. Meanwhile, understanding BIM as simply a process provides more clarity for the strategy required towards its implementation.

While it is very true that BIM is not a software program, some tools are required to facilitate the process. Coupled with other barriers, the gigantic costs of acquiring the necessary tools have been daunting for individuals and organizations. Many also are inquisitive on the immediate Return on Investment that BIM offers neglecting the long-term potentials that it promises.

The Silver Lining

These highlighted barriers, and some others, have for long hindered the widespread adoption of BIM and Technology in Construction project across Africa. Should any improvement then be expected as the year progresses? Will Technological innovations be embraced in the construction industry during the year? 

Richard Acquah, Ghana Country Representative for BIM Africa, opined that while these barriers exist, Africa is capable and has all it takes to adopt and implement BIM. He believes that education remains a critical tool to enable progress in the industry.

Vaughan also noted that though there are some isolated actions in place to advance the adoption of BIM, it is up to the industry to work in a cohesive, coordinated way to retain and up-skill existing workers using the very technology and building standards set within various African countries while making the industry more appealing to a larger pool of potential investors and stakeholders.

More attention is being drawn to the construction industry as individuals and corporate bodies begin to request for efficient and effective project delivery methods. There is a growing demand for professionals and organizations to stay abreast of new, innovative and non-adversarial approaches to infrastructure development. Are you improving your workforce and skill set?

Like the evolution of CAD, BIM is rapidly becoming a basic requirement. Anticipate the next article on actions steps, projections, and possibilities!. Enquires, learning, and upskilling requests? Beep me.

This article has been written by Moses Itanola and was originally published on Linkedin.  ConstructAfrica re-published the article with the author’s permission.  To read the original article, please click here.


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