Russia has its sights set on a new major export, and the construction industry is taking notice. While not yet a fait accompli, as part of a new initiative by the Russian Ministry of Construction, Russia is angling to become the authority on building information modeling (BIM) technology and plans to export that expertise to the rest of the world, similar to Japan's authority in exporting automobiles.
The proposal makes sense considering the findings of a recent Research and Markets study that found the international BIM market will reach $11.7 billion by 2022, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 21.6% between 2016 and 2022.
How will this goal to establish BIM expertise grow from within Russia to a global scale?
Starting inside the country
The Russian construction industry has seen varying degrees of participation in the country's BIM revolution thus far, with the largest companies benefiting the most while, as in many other countries, the smaller general contractors and subcontractors having little or no exposure. But this is all part of the technology's progression, according to Andrey Belyuchenko, Director of the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities of the Russian Federation.
"At the moment, many of the construction market participants in Russia are at different stages of BIM implementation," Belyuchenko said. "Some of them are at the initial stage, some are currently implementing it, others have already implemented it on some scale, and now they are using it and thinking about its further improvement and greater involvement in the construction process."
However, Russian construction industry experts quickly reached the conclusion that if the country was to fully take advantage of BIM's benefits, they urgently needed an open Russian BIM standard, much like the BIM standard in the United States. Enter the Russian arm of U.S. construction industry design software company Autodesk, which provided an open BIM standard template that Russia is currently in the process of fine-tuning for its own industry needs.
Autodesk sells construction and BIM solutions, but Anastasia Morozova, head of architectural and construction trends for Autodesk Russia, said companies in Russia wouldn't be very satisfied with their products if they didn't offer additional assistance in helping them make the transition from "processes we used to use to new BIM processes. We help them understand how they can move from their current setup to a more efficient one."
A company example of BIM success
One of the more successful — and BIM-efficient — construction companies in Russia is St. Petersburg-based WERFAU, which specializes in medical and wellness facilities, as well as turnkey cleanroom services. The company is so advanced in its level of BIM implementation, as well as its promotion of the technology, that the Ministry of Construction is using three of its completed hospitals as pilot projects for the country's BIM standard.
"We decided building information modeling would be one of the key benefits of our company on the market," said Petr Manin, head of the BIM department at WERFAU and a Ministry of Construction BIM consultant. Manin said the BIM department at WERFAU is a critical part of the company's collaborative efforts because the department is not only "drawing models," but it can extract information from those models that assist everyone from engineers to project managers in their decision-making through the course of a project.
Manin said BIM is also a primary driver of WERFAU's business processes. In fact, the firm creates many of its processes around the technology. For example, the majority of the cash outlay for many of its projects goes toward the construction operations phase, so it's important to be able to pinpoint savings and efficiencies that BIM processes identify, he said.
And for those construction companies that don't adopt BIM because they believe they're not part of the design process, "BIM is not only (for) design but also a model for the full lifecycle of the building," Manin said. WERFAU passes this insight on to project stakeholders as often as possible in the hopes that all involved will at least investigate the possibility of BIM adoption, he added.
Expanding to a global stage
While many Russian industry professionals like WERFAU have been tapped for contributions to the developing BIM standard, the country has solicited the global BIM community for input as well, and it is giving special consideration to the UK's BIM standards, Belyuchenko said, because Russia also intends to adopt a similar BIM mandate.
The UK made Level 2 BIM mandatory this year for any contractor engaged in public works projects, but contrary to the images that mandate inspires — such as companies exchanging detailed 3-D building models — the UK currently only requires the same type of files systems be used to exchange data. The modeling requirement could, perhaps, come in future expansions of the mandate.
"The state sees a lot of positive (aspects) in this technology implementation, such as cost reduction, transparency and efficiency of the construction process, both in the construction and property management phases," Belyuchenko said. "The state sees this as its own advantages and implements plans for construction projects funded by the budget of the Russian Federation to introduce them to BIM on a mandatory basis."
Nevertheless, Belyuchenko also sees the UK mandate as the basis for more than just a domestic boon for BIM. "From the very beginning, (the UK) had a target for construction developers to enter the international market," he said. "I think adopting the successful experience of the UK will also help Russian companies to expand their presence in international markets and increase the (opportunity for) export of their services."
'Time will tell' what's next
Providing BIM for the masses requires a robust, well-trained workforce of technicians and designers. The Ministry has its own training initiatives, Belyuchenko said, and as soon as the industry agrees on a final standard, it will be implemented at major universities — although some already have their own BIM educational programs.
And, of course, companies like WERFAU have on-the-job training for employees in their design departments. "We have no people who knew about BIM before they came to the company, and that's why we think that it's very necessary to promote BIM to university students," he said. It's important to help students understand the opportunities in the construction industry for those proficient in BIM, he added.
After all, the export of BIM services to other countries is government-supported but not government-run, so private companies will play an integral role in service delivery. Both government and private industry will better define their roles in the BIM standard and export initiative as time goes on, Belyuchenko said.
However, Russian BIM experts aren’t waiting for an official Ministry mandate or official standard to emerge before they start competing in the international BIM market. "A number of Russian construction developers are already working in the foreign markets in the European Union and America, performing design and construction work, and they are already using the services of Russian contractors for BIM," Belyuchenko said.
"We expect that (Russian companies) will occupy a niche in the provision of these services outside of the country," he added. "From the state, we will provide maximum support to this market and its participants and, in particular, help to market their services. Time will tell what will be their market size and what niche they will occupy."