The UK BIM Alliance’s change of name to nima and its focus on whole life information management should also encourage wider thinking about long-term easy access to and use of information.
It is now just over a month since the UK BIM Alliance publicly launched its new identity, becoming ‘nima’ (see the official announcement). The official launch coincided with the UK Construction Week trade show in Birmingham. This also helpfully reinforced one of the ambitions of the revamped organisation. It aims to be less London-centric and more visible across the UK and Ireland (recognising that nima incorporates the UK and Ireland chapter of buildingSMART International). As a volunteer member of nima’s facilitation team, I helped with nima’s rebranding process, was interviewed by BIM Plus (see 3 October 2022: “Nima: UK BIM Alliance puts information management first with new name, new approach“), and continue to support the organisation.*
The nima change
The name, also the Greek word for ‘thread’, is not an abbreviation. It has been selected to help give the volunteer-led organisation an identity, sense of purpose and a set of behaviours that are better aligned with current and anticipated future UK thinking about digital working in the built and managed environment.
Unfortunately, nima chair Anne Kemp was unable to be in Birmingham to officially announce the change, so it fell to Varun Soni (a partner at UK consultancy Calford Seadon) and I to deliver the launch presentation on 4 October 2022. After more than a decade of BIM progress, we highlighted that government and industry discussion is no longer just about BIM – often seen as a purely technological change – but about wider information management challenges, including building safety and climate change, and about delivering better, more valuable outcomes across the life cycle of our built and managed assets
The Alliance had been debating its identity and purpose since the publication of the international ISO 19650 standards in January 2019, mindful that industry discussions were also embracing emerging concepts such as digital twins. While BIM is becoming ‘business as usual’ for significant parts of the construction sector, it is often misconstrued as a 3D design technology rather than a process. The new name reflects an evolution. Nima is an organisation supporting purposeful use of information across the whole landscape of the built environment, from the inception stages of projects, through construction, and – most importantly – then to support efficient operation, maintenance and use of assets through to their end of life.
Nima: new look, new actions
As part of the rebranding process, the nima name is supported by a new logo, and the organisation’s website (wearenima.im) and social media channels are being updated. A nima podcast has also been launched; I am a co-host along with Soni and Andrew Gamblen (who, incidentally, recently joined Denmark-based SaaS construction technology and CDE provider Dalux).
Previous Alliance content (including the UK BIM Framework guidance – endorsed in the government’s 2021 information management mandate), local and sectoral group resources, and relationships with industry organisations (including UK government, professional and trade association affiliates, technology providers (see below), and buildingSMART International) will be maintained and expanded.
Nima will have a presence at a wider range of events. After UK Construction Week, it had stands at an Education Estates event in Manchester and at Highways UK, again in Birmingham. And I will be involved in two nima-led sessions at LondonBuild on 16 November 2022.
Nima will also continue to support clients and industry practitioners with case studies, plain language guides, national and local events, and exemplar information management implementation projects.
An Extranet Evolution perspective
Plainly, I am biased. Alongside involvements with other bodies including the Institution of Civil Engineers’ information systems panel, Constructing Excellence, and Leeds-based ThinkBIM, I became the independent chair of the Alliance’s Technology Group in 2019. This renewed connections with many contacts from technology providers including Asite, Autodesk, Bentley, Dalux, Glider, Graphisoft, Procore, Solibri, Think Project, Trimble, Vectorworks and Zutec, to name a few (see full list). And among these vendors, there was, perhaps inevitably, some concern about the rebranding process – businesses which had benefitted from the BIM buzzword (or the related ‘CDE’ abbreviation), or which felt that BIM still needed a prominent focus, were uneasy about the shift towards information management.
However, if anecdotal experience in Birmingham is any measure, the rebrand could potentially mean other technology vendors – particularly those outside the BIM paradigm – looking to get involved with nima. Just as BIM is sometimes wrong used as a synonym for 3D design technology, it is also often mainly associated with the design and construction phases of projects. One of my ambitions as chair of the Technology Group has been to include a wider range of technologies, particularly those used by clients and supply chains for post-construction operation, maintenance, repair and improvement across the whole life of buildings and infrastructure. I had some interesting conversations in Birmingham with people from a diverse array of technology suppliers who now potentially see nima as a convenient way to engage with other providers and with the wider built environment industry.
Industry shifts towards being information-centric, however, also need to be supported by vendors. In Birmingham, I also had conversations with people frustrated by technologies. To be more precise, they were frustrated by poor interoperability: the inability of some widely used technologies to create and manage information in forms that could be easily shared with users of other technologies.
In the nima launch presentation, Varun and I touched on interoperability and the need for information to have longevity, for information to be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR). The ongoing work of the Government & Industry Interoperability Group (of which I am a member) was also the subject of a session in Birmingham, and I facilitated a panel session there for nima Technology Group members which also discussed poor interoperability (it’s worth remembering that nima partner buildingSMART International was originally established as the International Alliance for Interoperability).
Sadly, poor interoperability is something I have been writing about for too long. In my 2005 book, extrapolating data from a US study, I estimated that poor integration of data and systems was costing the UK construction sector somewhere between £800 million and £1.6 billion per annum. I wrote about interoperability in one of my earliest EE posts 17 years ago (New ROI: Return on Interoperability). Two years later, I highlighted another US survey which suggested “interoperability costs add 3.1% to a typical project budget” (Software incompatibility bar to interoperability). It is a theme I have returned to over 70 times since then, and which I will undoubtedly be returning to in future posts. And while in Birmingham, I noted the ‘Autodesk Open Letter’ conversations from 2021 (see Design firms demand change at Autodesk, and More designer unrest about Autodesk) were recently rekindled by AEC Magazine (see The Open Letter: two years on and related September 2022 articles).
[* Disclosure: I also chair the nima Technology Group, and am a nima ambassador. Nima paid my expenses to attend the Birmingham event.]