Arto Kiviniemi led the implementation of BIM in Finland starting in 1997

UK leads world on modern digital construction techniques, Finnish expert says

8 October 2015 | By Rod Sweet 1 Comment

Finland was an early adopter of building information modelling (BIM), but the man who led the charge there starting back in 1997 says the UK is now the clear world leader in the approach, thanks to its government’s willingness to demand it.

Prof. Arto Kiviniemi (pictured) said the warning from government five years ago that it would require BIM sparked a broad industry response that has propelled the UK ahead of early adopters around the world, including Finland and the US.

He said the UK approach is more mature because it encompasses legal and commercial issues, not just the technology.
But he adds that universities still lag behind in incorporating BIM in undergraduate programmes.

The warning

Now a professor of digital architectural design at the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture, Kiviniemi was asked in 1997 to lead Finland’s national BIM R&D programme by the Finnish funding agency for technology and innovation, Tekes.

“When you people that they should change their work processes, there is still quite a lot of resistance. They still see BIM as tool for more efficient drawing production”– Prof. Arto Kiviniemi

When he moved to the UK in May 2010 to take up a post at the University of Salford, Finland was still very far ahead, but he said that changed dramatically just a few months later.

“When I came to UK in May 2010 at that point there wasn’t much interest in BIM,” he told GCR, “but then in October when Paul Morrell (then the government’s chief construction advisor) said government would start demanding BIM at some point, there was a huge rise in interest, and now I think UK is the most active country in the world in developing the BIM adoption.”

Morrell’s warning crystallised the following year, in May 2011, with the publication of the “Government Construction Strategy”, which said that all central government projects would require collaborative 3D BIM on its projects by 2016.

Kiviniemi, who took up his post at Liverpool in 2013, said government backing made all the difference: “In Finland it was one owner of public buildings, Senate Properties, who began requiring BIM, and although they are a big owner, other public owners did not have to follow, although the number of organisations requiring BIM has grown slowly.”

The situation in the US was similar to Finland, he added. There, the General Services Administration (GSA), an agency that manages some government property, started requiring BIM in 2007.

Its example was followed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the UK is the only place where the BIM mandate came directly from the government. Now other countries in Europe, including France, Germany and Finland, are considering following the UK’s lead, he said.

Not just the tech

Another big difference, he said, was that Finland focussed on the technology, because the technology was new and its implementation was demanding.

“We are educating people who are going to be in the industry five to 10 years from now. If we educate them only as we were educated it creates a drag on the industry’s development”– Prof. Arto Kiviniemi

It meant the other key aspects of BIM, the legal and commercial implications, were put to one side.

“When it started here in the UK five years ago the technology was no longer that important because the tools were there by then,” he said. “Working groups formed looking at the legal framework and how to define the processes and deliverables in much more detail than in Finland or other countries. It was more about getting people interested, getting them to understand what BIM means, and what it means from the business perspective.”

Now the big challenge is change management, he said. “People have a relatively positive attitude about BIM as a technology. But when you tell them that they should change their work processes, there is still quite a lot of resistance. They still see BIM as tool for more efficient drawing production. If you say you have to start much more collaborative working, sharing the data with others, that is a challenge.”

Lagging behind

And the last bastion of resistance may be universities themselves, where BIM is not yet widely integrated into undergraduate built environment programmes.

At Liverpool’s School of Architecture, Kiviniemi will begin teaching a BIM module for undergrads this year.

“So far BIM has been present mainly for Masters level specialisation,” he said. “In industry there is rapid change in approaches to construction but the universities are often lagging behind, which is strange because we are educating people who are going to be in the industry five to 10 years from now. If we educate them only as we were educated it creates a drag on the industry’s development.”

Perhaps in this regard the UK is not so different from Finland. “In Finland professors were actively hostile to BIM in early 2000,” he said. “They saw it as a threat to their core competencies. It took more than 10 years before BIM was integrated into education. Universities should be driving the change but, while there are of course many exceptions, some are tending to slow it down.”

  • Prof. Arto Kiviniemi will speak at the CIOB’s International Inspiring Construction conference on 24 November in London. Click here to learn more.