Many Quantity Surveyors (QS) are feeling threatened by the rapid introduction of technology and automation in the construction industry. Because of the profession’s dependence on manual methodologies, the fear of job displacement in the near future is lurking in the heart of many QS. However, technology is actually disrupting almost every industry. The World Economic Forum reported that 1.4 million jobs in the United States would be disrupted before 2026 due to rapid technological advances.

It is perhaps in response to this career displacement threat that widespread resistance and slow-witted adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) amongst Quantity Surveyors is evident. Even beyond Quantity Surveyors, numerous research studies have revealed that resistance to change is one of the greatest barriers to the adoption of BIM in construction projects across the world, let alone Africa. Compounding the situation, the lack of technical know-how of the BIM process and its compliant tools is also predominant.

It is quite disappointing to discover that the foundational knowledge of BIM by many construction professionals in the African construction industry is dilatable. Many erroneous definitions by so-called BIM champions have created a widespread distorted concept of the fundamentals and capabilities of BIM. The marketing approach by many BIM-compliant software providers may also be contributing to this intellectual knowledge distortion. More importantly, the voluminous information available in the digital space from half-baked and unverified authors and thought leaders further compounds the already sophisticated process called BIM.

READ: BREAKING THE ICE: BIM in the African Construction Industry.

STARTING FROM THE FOUNDATION. WHAT EXACTLY IS BIM?

There are many definitions of BIM each with a differing perspective. For long, many have referred to BIM as a tool (a software). In fact, way back in 2007, the American Institute of Architects defined BIM as a tool and not a project delivery method. They claimed that it is a digital, three-dimensional model linked to a database of project information. This may sound outlandish today, but for a long time, BIM was “Building Information Model” which is a noun (product of software) and not a verb (process). Evidence of this can be seen in the original BIM Maturity Diagram by Bew and Richards, where they referred to the collective products of each speciality as “BIMs” – hence AIM (architectural information model); SIM (structural information model); and BSIM (building services information model). In contrast, many contemporary authors have argued and established that BIM is a process and not a tool. Finith Jernigan’s Big BIM, little bim emphasized that truly successful BIM is much more than just BIM software (little bim); rather, it is the assemblage of the tools, processes, and behaviours (BIG BIM) required to make BIM truly effective. Eastman, Teicholz, Sacks and Liston also concluded that BIM is not an object or a type of software.

The National Building Specification (NBS) defined BIM as a process of creating and managing information on a construction project across the project lifecycle. Brad Hardin agreed with Eastman and the others by expressing that “many believe that once they have purchased a license for a particular piece of BIM software, they can sit someone in front of the computer and they are now doing BIM. What many do not realize though is that BIM means not only using three-dimensional modelling software but also implementing a new way of thinking.” Supporting this notion, Zulfikar Adamu noted that the adoption of new technology in construction is first and foremost a mindset issue. From the experience of all these thought leaders, when a company integrates technology (BIM), it begins to see that other processes start to change.

WATCH the BIM Africa webinar on Innovation Diffusion and BIM adoption strategies hosted by Dr. Zulfikar Adamu

WHAT PROSPECTS DOES BIM OFFER FOR A QS?

With a critical review of these definitions – tool or process, it is crystal clear that information remains the core requirement of any successful BIM process. NBS clarified that If BIM is to truly work as a digital flow of information from building design through to operation, then the correct information of physical products must be represented within the model. Interestingly, the QS is an information-rich entity in every construction project.


In the design world ruled by the Architect and/or Engineer, the contributions of a QS during design helps to ensure the attainment of value for money. Facing reality, there are cost implications for every design decision. While working collaboratively in a common data environment (CDE) – think of a CDE as a kind of Dropbox or Google Drive for BIM – the decision to utilize a material as a building element might be cost-effective and quality-efficient when replaced with another. These insights by the QS and other project stakeholders helps to achieve efficient project design and delivery. It is not that such insights were lacking in the pre-BIM era, but the availability of design information in digital format (made possible by BIM) means the iterative process of evaluating alternatives, followed by selection and optimization of preferred solution would be more efficient.


Rework, information hoarding, communication gap and delays represent the largest cause for cost and time overrun of most construction projects. The real-time collaboration amongst project stakeholders (via CDE) offered by the BIM process helps to eliminate these occurrences. Deploying such intelligent document management systems (CDE is also known as the “single source of truth”) helps to facilitate seamless communication among all project stakeholders.

Uncertainties and errors during manual take-off and estimation is also another traditional deficiency in the Quantity Surveying practice. Included also is the inflexibility in responding to post-estimation design changes and alteration. Adopting digital takeoff and estimation tools would enhance accuracy and flexibility for the operations of a QS.

WATCH an exploratory review of Autodesk Navisworks, a BIM-compliant Quantity Surveying software.

SO, IS BIM GOING TO DISPLACE A QUANTITY SURVEYOR?

Before Computers, everyone used Typewriters. Before Computer Aided Design (CAD), everyone did Manual Drafting. In the 60s, 70s and even up until the 90s, these were the norm. However, with the evolution of digital technologies, jobs that specialized in these roles were displaced. With reference to these and many others, it is affirmed that absolutely any profession can be disrupted and displaced (or transformed) with the introduction of innovation. Think about how Uber has disrupted the traditional taxi business!


Undeniably, the evolution of BIM in the Construction Industry is rapid. However, since information is critical for the BIM process, the QS role would only become more requisite to the construction industry as BIM evolves. The addition of information during the development of the BIM model and the interactions in a CDE all require inputs by the QS and other project stakeholders. Remaining relevant only requires the understanding of BIM, the mastery of the relevant modern IT-driven tools as well as willingness to let go of old process (yes, starting with the scale rule) that is required to contribute to the digital collaboration process known as BIM.


Unfortunately, BIM is only just the beginning of the digital revolution of the construction industry. In the last decade, attempts have been made to introduce electronic tendering (e-tendering) into the procurement process. In addition, many contracting organizations have required their in-house QS teams to include Cashflow and Financial planning systems into their processes for better financial planning. All these are IT-driven systems, so BIM is a natural and logical evolution of some sort. Going forward, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are evolving and morphing quickly and seamlessly into data-driven processes across all industries. The future of AI in construction will arguably be more radical than BIM but the BIM-capable QS would be better prepared to face it than the one who is still proud of his scale rule. The onus is left on Quantity Surveyors who want to remain relevant to continuously up-skill to be able to function in the digital revolution that is engulfing the construction industry. If they do so, BIM would not take their jobs.

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Moses Itanola

Moses is a Quantity Surveyor and BIM (5D) Specialist with interests in sustainability and technology in the African Construction Industry. He is a Researcher, Advocate & Trainer exploring the use of AR, VR, UAVs, and BIM-compliant Construction Management software. He advocates Digital Construction at BIM Africa. Aside Construction and Technology, you'll find him playing the Theobald Boehm's Flute.

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