Ilka May discusses BIM in Germany


Ilka May was the lead author of the strategic BIM Road Map for Germany in 2015 and was appointed as Co-Chair of the EU BIM Task Group in Brussels. Irish building magazine speaks to Ilka about BIM adoption in Germany as part of our BIM Around The World Series.

Ilka May is CEO of LocLab Consulting, a German company specialising in BIM and 3D data modelling, and is also an independent consultant for digitalisation in the built environment. Ilka was previously Associate Director at Arup, working in London and Germany. She worked on a number of high-profile UK projects including the London Olympics 2012, Crossrail, High Speed 2 and Network Rail, and Deutsche Bahn in Germany. Ilka co-led Arup’s Global BIM Implementation Task Force and developed and implemented global enterprise BIM and GIS strategies. In 2015 Ilka was a keynote speaker at CitA BIM Gathering and will be a keynote speaker at this year’s BIM Gathering in Croke Park.

How has BIM been adopted in the German Construction Industry?

Over the last two years, we saw a rapidly increasing and developing awareness and uptake of BIM in Germany. The first milestone was reached in February 2015 when 14 leading associations and chambers of the construction value chain started and funded a joint initiative, planen-bauen 4.0, for digitalisation of the construction sector. The next big wave of adoption was triggered by policy makers and the public sector client representatives. The first public sector mandate was published as a “Road Map for Digital Design and Construction” by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in December 2015, followed by initiatives from the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety together with the Federal Ministry for Economics and Technology.

Can you tell us about the development of the German Government’s BIM Road Map?

The Road Map for Digital Design and Construction, published by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in 2015, is a high-level concept for infrastructure projects with a clearly defined first target level and a 5-year programme for mobilisation and capacity building. It was developed within 5 months in a joint initiative between public sector and industry. Three workshops were carried out with over 40 participants representing a broad range of public and private stakeholders. There is a thin line between too much and too little market intervention. We believe that our extensive communication and engagement strategy has paid off.

Please tell us about your involvement in developing the Road Map?

In February 2015, I was appointed as interim Co-Chair of the newly formed industry initiative planen-bauen 4.0. Together with my fellow Chairman, Helmut Bramann, we started and delivered the Road Map on behalf of and in cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure.

Can you give examples of where the German Government used BIM on large projects?

The number of public sector BIM projects is growing. There are many examples in roads, rail and waterways by now. Government have an agreement and collaboration with German Rail whereby the Government are co-funding 13 pilot projects in BIM with €20m from the Government and €10m from German Rail.

Who are the BIM Leaders in German Construction?

We see great work “in BIM” delivered by contractors, who probably lead the field of technology. Some German software companies, consultants, designers, architects, etc. are also doing fantastic things. German Rail as the biggest single client organisation is running a very ambitious BIM implementation programme. However, what we are lacking are the thought leaders and visionaries, who think beyond their own benefits and see a bigger picture than delivering construction projects to time and budget.

How has the construction industry influenced the German Government in BIM adoption?

The industry-led initiative planen-bauen 4.0 is a unique organisation as far as I can tell. Architects, engineers, contractors, software vendors, real estate, buildingSMART and many other stakeholders have aligned their interests to speak with one voice to the Government and policy makers. Their message to the German Government and the policy makers was to provide the required strategic framework and guidance, at least for public sector construction projects.

Are there any long-term goals and objectives for BIM in Germany?

The mentioned Road Map for Digital Design and Construction defines a first target performance or maturity level for BIM in Germany and qualitative objectives, such as better control over time and cost, better quality of design, etc. Currently, we do not have defined objectives like attracting young talents to the construction sector, better performing assets, increase in productivity in the construction sector etc.

What countries have influenced Germany’s BIM adoption?

Certainly, the UK has influenced Germany. We have adopted many aspects from the UK BIM strategy, such as a push-pull-strategy, a phased approach, etc. There is also the international network of buildingSMART and the practical experience from working in other and more “BIM advanced” countries, for example in the Middle East or Scandinavia, mostly from contractors, that have influenced the German approach.

Is Germany influencing other European countries?

We are working closely with many European countries and I think we are mutually influencing each other. Examples are the work at our standardisation body DIN, which is closely aligned with the standardisation activities at CEN (the European) level and the buildingSMART activities on the international data dictionary or the recently signed MoU relating to railway infrastructure.

Can you tell us about your role on the EU BIM Task Group?

The EU BIM Task Group gathers the collective experience of public policy makers, public estate owners and infrastructure operators from over twenty European countries, and has developed a handbook for the introduction of BIM by the European public sector, co-funded by the European Union. I am the Deputy Chair of the Task Group, a member of the Steering Committee and I was part of the core team writing and developing the handbook.

What were the main drivers and causes of BIM adoption in Germany? 

The disperse BIM activities in Germany gained traction and awareness in 2014 when the report from the “Major Projects Reform Commission” was published. The commission was set up after a series of spectacular failures in delivering projects within time and budget in Germany. The report concluded in a 10-point action plan, one of which was to increase the use of digital processes and technologies in design and construction.

What is the level of interest in BIM among large private sector clients?

The interest is increasing. Germany has a very strong manufacturing industry on the journey towards digitalisation (Industrie 4.0). These companies build and maintain offices, factories and plants and they understand the value of BIM beyond design and construction.

What are contractors and consultants views on BIM adoption?

It varies. Some are adopting it and the benefits are materialising. Many see opportunities through BIM and they are improving their BIM capabilities. But there is still a lot of work to be done to give them confidence that there is value in it for them, not only for the clients.

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What are the problems for contractors and consultants when adopting BIM?

The German construction sector is very fragmented with a large proportion of small and medium-sized companies. Many of them feel threatened by the change. Badly written data requests (EIRs), the lack of suitable templates and best practice examples, uncertainty in legal matters such as intellectual property law or liability on a collaborative design are only a few examples of barriers to adoption. There is still a lot of work to do on the legal and technical frameworks in Germany and in gaining practical experience.

Are the German public and private sector contracts suitable for BIM projects?

For the first level that the digital Road Map introduced, yes, the contracts are fine. This was one of the things we adopted from the UK approach – do not make changes to the procurement systems or contracts a prerequisite, or you will still be talking for years. However, I believe that changes in contracts and the way we procure and deliver projects are unavoidable. Some of our legal and financial frameworks are over a hundred years old. They need to be transferred into the digital age. 

How will the German Construction Industry be changed by BIM in the next decade?

Early contractor involvement, design & build contracts or other procurement strategies are not very popular in German procurement. I hope that SMEs will no longer see these instruments as a threat, but opportunities. It will require a culture change. I hope we will see a change in how clients procure projects and interact with the supply chain. I hope we will see a change in processes to be more efficient, in technology to be more outcomes focused and not “because we can” and in behaviours to be less adversarial and more collaborative.

What services are provided by LocLab Consulting?

LocLab specialise in 3D modelling, visualisation, virtual reality and gamification in the fields of modelling the built environment, design, operational processes, asset management and maintenance. We deliver digital data efficiently, software independent, to clients requirements. Our 3D models of infrastructure or building assets are software independent, object-based, semantic, interactive and can be edited in most CAD and GIS applications – and they look stunning! We own a digital object library with a hundred thousand objects of the built environment and a software-independent tool chain for data processing. 

What do you think of the Irish BIM projects?

There are a number of very interesting projects that I remember from my time with Arup. I would like to know more about Irish BIM projects and of course we would love to produce some 3D models of your ports or rail infrastructure!

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