BIM Building Information Modeling in Africa

The level of awareness regarding Digital Construction methods and general adoption of BIM (Building Information Modeling) practices across the African continent has been much slower than other continents and countries around the world. 

This slow uptake of BIM within the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Operation) industry in Africa is mainly attributed to industry culture, lack of country-specific BIM Mandates as well a general lack of appreciation of the benefits that BIM brings to the overall construction industry.

There has however been a renewed emphasis on digital transformation in private and public sectors within the construction industry, initiated by the global pandemic. Covid-19 has forced many companies to literally transform the ways they work overnight. 

BIM Africa with collaboration from BIM practitioners and researchers across Africa produced the first African-wide report on BIM last year. The report provided the status of BIM on the continent and presents projects that have successfully implemented BIM. 

The African BIM Report 2020 (ABR) had responses from 30 countries from all 5 regions on the continent. It is estimated that about 90% of the respondents are aware of BIM prior to participation in the survey. However, only 50% have implemented BIM at varying levels on their projects. In addition, BIM is becoming a buzzword among professionals, but the right knowledge and expertise of BIM are still lacking. Many have the wrong perception of what Building Information Modeling (BIM) really means and there is often a misrepresentation of BIM in the AECO industry which is not peculiar to Africa. 

The challenges on the African continent

The major challenges facing the adoption of BIM on the African continent are: 

  • Lack of experts and training: There are not enough trained professionals in the industry, although organizations and academic institutions offer short-term training and conferences in lieu of long-term solutions (i.e., BIM compliant graduates). 
  • Lack of Government support for BIM: There is largely a lack of government support for BIM in most African countries. However, a few Government institutions in Ethiopia, Morocco, and Egypt have been formulating policies and strategies. 
  • Cost: The relatively high cost of BIM implementation is still a major challenge in Africa where most firms are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 
  • Lack of contractual framework: Present contractual frameworks are not aligned with the pace of technological advancement which often makes the execution of BIM difficult. 
  • No client demands: Although there is an increase in BIM awareness, this does not equate to BIM implementation on the continent. In most countries, governments are the biggest client in the AEC industry and therefore a lack of government support has a debilitating effect on demand. 

Local universities have also not formally incorporated BIM Studies as part of their curricula as it has in other parts of the world, where courses about BIM and digitalization (including open buildingSMART standards) are included in most construction-related studies.

Exceptional BIM, the online education platform

The successful launch of Exceptional BIM, an online education platform, in May 2020 has however created a strong awareness through the diversity of their educational offerings to hundreds of individuals and companies. 

In particular, the essential free 'software skills' online training has been made available with its ecosystem partnership with various global technology vendors and experts. The exceptional BIM educational platform is a movement to provide learners across the globe with opportunities to develop to their fullest potential throughout life, regardless of their starting points. Through this movement, the skills, passion, and contributions of every individual will hopefully drive the next phase of digital built environment development in Africa and other developing countries towards an advanced global economy and inclusive society. 

There remains a slow undercurrent in the development of BIM-based standards and awareness within construction companies and supply chain companies. They want to be prepared and they are thinking of how to implement new digital ways about their products into 3D and other software, but are waiting for government sectors to provide a digital annex or building standard as a guideline. There is interest, albeit slow, around facility management and the usage of BIM, which has led to sedate development of new software tools and methodologies within the sector. 

Increase awareness through BIMCommUNITYAfrica

There have been other BIM awareness initiatives taking place through local BIM online seminars, workshops, and presentations led by a group of passionate BIM practitioners from across the African continent called BIMCommUNITYAfrica, striving to create a BIM community for Africa that is driven by the community itself. 

The aim of the community is to encourage BIM adoption across the continent. Their CommUNITY is open to anyone passionate about driving and promoting BIM adoption across the continent, across all sectors and industries, from the smallest practitioners to the largest Government departments.

The community is vendor-agnostic; it's about bringing all technologies and solutions to the table and allowing the Community to choose what suits them and their context best. They believe that together they have the wisdom, knowledge, insight, expertise, passion, and willingness to collectively raise the BIM tide throughout Africa. As such, there is no registration fee.

With all the efforts to "raise the BIM tide across Africa", uptake remains slow among many asset owners and developers, possibly due to not being able to fully understand the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of BIM.  

Jaco Barnard, Director at Agile, Bimsync reseller

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