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The Chilean BIM Journey

This article is written by Natalia Diaz, BIM Consultant. Director at AmbientePRO & WIB Regional Lead of Santiago, Chile.

In 2019, after working in the UK for five years in BIM level 2 projects, I moved back to Chile very excited about the development of BIM in this country. There was a governmental program dedicated to implementing BIM in the public sector and draft of a National BIM Standard to be launched in mid-2019. Chile has been on a fascinating BIM journey which I am happy to join and contribute with my experience in the sector. In this article, I will present a summary of BIM in Chile and some of the challenges that the industry has had to face in its approach toward BIM implementation.

Chile is the first Latin American country in developing a national BIM strategy driven by the government. It is also a pioneer with Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay in establishing the Latin-Americans’ government BIM group in 2018, an organisation that became official in 2019 with Chile as the first president. Currently, the group includes eight counties that work together for improving the productivity of the AEC industry through digital transformation. This group also supports the BIM implementation of different nations with a collaborative regional approach.

PlanBIM, 2019, Latin-Americans’ government BIM group meeting 2019, digital photograph, PlanBIM website, accessed 17 September 2020. <https://planbim.cl/chile-obtiene-la-presidencia-de-la-red-bim-de-gobiernos-latinoamericanos/>

In Chile, the BIM journey started in 2015 with the definition of the national BIM strategy and the creation of PlanBIM, as part of a governmental program created for improving the productivity of the construction industry. For many years productivity has been a big issue for the national AEC industry. In 2016, a study showed that Chilean productivity in the AEC sector was just 58% of the average figures reported by OECD countries. Whereas, the OECD countries average production was US$ 64.300 per worker/year; the Chilean AEC industry results was only US $37.000 per worker/year. Following this study and as a result of the poor productivity in this sector the  work of “Plan BIM”, the governmental program created to implement BIM in the public sector was established.

In 2016, the use of BIM wasn’t the norm in Chile. The second BIM national survey showed that only 22% of industry organizations stated that they were using BIM on their projects. At this time the implementation of BIM was primarily focused on the use of BIM software rather than using BIM as a process. Further analysis of the survey results indicated that the use of BIM was divided across the following sectors;  28% in architectural practices, 16% in engineering firms and just 10% for general contractors. The same study showed that the use of BIM was non-collaborative at all, with its focus on drawings production, 3D visualisation or 3D coordination by using clash detection. In 2016, the understanding of 3D models as a database was limited among users, and the collaborative approach between disciplines was not part of the discussion.

In the first years of PlanBIM, the actions focused on working with public institutions for understanding its processes and workflows to define the route of BIM implementation. Since then, it has been a significant work in promoting BIM across the whole industry stakeholders, including the public and private sectors. The number of conferences, seminars and workshops related to the topic has notoriously increased in recent years, as a result of PlanBIM’s actions. Another stream of work has been filling the gaps in BIM skills at different educational levels. For example, the inclusion of BIM in varying curriculum within universities and technical schools, and the development of training programmes for professionals funded by the government. All these initiatives were needed to prepare the industry for implementing BIM in line with the government’s ambitions.

A crucial task for PlanBIM was the definition of a common BIM standard, which was developed as a  collaborative process with different stakeholders involved in the AEC industry. The final published document takes from it key requirements outlined within international standards such as the ISO 19650 series. The national BIM standard was launched in June 2019 with much interest regarding future steps of the BIM implementation in Chile. In 2020, we are expecting that public projects will begin to see an inclusion of this BIM standard as part of its core requirements. It was also announced that a pilot project would be used to assess the use of the BIM Standard, this project would be a social housing scheme located in Santiago de Chile. Also, It is expected that there will be interest from the private sector in regard to BIM and the further adoption of BIM and use of the National BIM Standard will start to become more common.

PlanBIM, 2019, National BIM Standard launching event, digital photograph, PlanBIM website, accessed 17 September 2020, <https://planbim.cl/mas-de-900-personas-asistieron-al-seminario-y-demo-lanzamiento-estandar-bim-para-proyectos-publicos-organizado-por-planbim-del-comite-de-transformacion-digital-de-corfo/>

After many years of work delivered by PlanBIM, we could assume that Chile is ready to implement this methodology on a large scale. The country has a National BIM Standard, and public projects will gradually require its use. Also, the number of professionals with BIM awareness has increased significantly in recent times as a result of these initiatives. However, all this hard work is just the beginning. The next challenge is now expanding the number of companies undertaking successful BIM implementation for completing the transformation of the whole industry. Although the Chilean market is experiencing a gradual increment in the number of companies working with this methodology, many firms are still concerned about costs and use of new technology. This is proving to be a barrier to the adoption of BIM in line with the BIM Standard.

In 2019, the Chilean National BIM survey showed that 70% of the users identified the high price of BIM software as the main limitation for working in BIM. Nevertheless, we already know that implementing BIM is by far more complicated than just purchasing software packages. In June 2018, British architect David Miller (DMA Architects) travelled to Chile as an invited speaker to present his experience adopting BIM in his architectural practice. David revealed that DMA invested £12.000 (15.000 USD) per workstation for transforming its way of working into a BIM collaborative environment. This figure includes the purchase of hardware, software and most importantly, continuous training for the staff. Reviewing the breakdown of this investment, it has revealed that 50% of the annual BIM spend was on developing BIM skills of David’s team. For many companies in Chile, these figures are a barrier to the adoption of BIM and provide great challenges. As well as the barrier surrounding the cost of implementation, decision-makers at AEC firms are  also discouraged when discovering that a BIM implementation is a continual process which usually takes time to show its first results.

The current context of COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to move forward in ways they did not expect. Every company in the AEC industry has had to change its logistics in some way to keep projects running. On a positive note, the pandemic disruptions have been an excellent opportunity for teams to start using tools and technologies that weren’t usual for the Chilean AEC sector. For instance, there has been a revolution of communications having video conferences as the prefered method of communication for organisations. Regarding BIM tools, CDE platforms and cloud services have become valuable mechanisms that are enabling access to the project’s information even when teams are working remotely. All of these examples relating to remote working seem the natural response to the way BIM can be implemented; however, it is something quite advanced for an industry that relies on traditional  methods. This unexpected context has forced the industry to adopt technology and realising that its adoption can be accessible and straightforward.

It is no doubt that the Chilean AEC industry is experiencing an exciting time in its BIM journey. There is a reliable governmental BIM program with a National BIM Standard that will be applied officially in public projects in the following years. Additionally, more companies are increasing the use of technology motivated by the latest contingency and its showing positive results quickly. I believe the next step toward full BIM implementation in this region will be the approach toward collaborative working in order to  successfully implement BIM. This is a fascinating topic that will ultimately impact on current processes and workflows, current company roles, changes in methods for developing projects and the interaction of all industry stakeholders.

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