Sarah Davidson, Director – Head of R&D for Gleeds examines the varying facets involved in a successful BIM delivery and the challenges that remain.

In 2011, the UK Government partnered with the construction industry setting up the BIM Task Group. Their goal is for all centrally-funded public procurement to be delivered using Level 2 BIM by 2016.

The Task Group sees BIM as a game changer – a way of working that disrupts current procurement, revolutionising collaboration, unlocking new business models, reducing cost, cutting waste and improving delivery programmes. BIM should help the industry to deliver predictable ‘right first time’ assets that are cost and carbon efficient.

Level 2 is not just about representation of design/construction in object oriented digital models (what we tend to refer to as BIMs). It’s also about:

  • Sharing data using common information management standards;
  • Holding data and information in a single environment;
  • Having clearly defined information requirements with a corresponding supplier developed execution plan;
  • Comprehensive evaluation of supply chain approach, capability and capacity to deliver the information;
  • Having a clear information exchange standard (i.e. COBie).

Two and a half years down, 2 to go

It’s 2 and half years since the publication of the Construction Strategy setting out government requirements for BIM.

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Since then, public sector early adopter projects have been released. We’ve seen the publication of PAS 1192-2:2013 setting out requirements for ‘capital delivery BIM’, plus publication of guidance around the Employer’s Information Requirements, BIM protocol and the scope of works for Information Management.

The CIC has launched the regional hubs and we’ve seen the release of the RIBA Plan of Work 2013 which is aligned with BIM and PAS 91: 2013 was published capturing BIM in construction prequalification questionnaires. PAS 1192-3 setting out requirements for ‘operational BIM’ will be published in 2014 and the Task Group is now progressing with plans to support tool development.

So, is the BIM message getting across?

I would say both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Yes, in that there are signs that the industry is becoming more BIM aware. BIM seminars and events are well attended and organisations such as the CIC are working hard to ensure that a BIM focus is retained. More and more tender enquiries make reference to BIM, and there is a wealth of freely available published guidance (such as the PAS documents) to help develop industry awareness.

Software manufacturers also have ongoing development programmes, making their software more flexible, functional and user friendly, helping firms develop their capability.

Is the message being clearly delivered and received? Maybe not.

The principles of Level 2 BIM are defined but only (as far as I can tell, I may be wrong) on page ix of PAS 1192-2:2013. The focus to date seems to be on the generation of BIMs (as in the object oriented digital models) and software but this is only one aspect of BIM; there is still a lot of work to be done in getting the message across about data use and information management. BIM is about effectively managing all of the information (not just the 3D stuff) about a project/asset according to these principles.

But this is probably not a problem just yet. The important thing is that awareness and capability continues to grow, and the industry’s enthusiasm for it is retained with the ongoing support of the Task Group. The Government’s BIM programme allows for change that is progressive. It also allows for the generation of evidence through the early adopter projects. These projects should demonstrate the benefits to industry so that BIM is not just a theoretical ‘good idea’ – it’s a proven methodology.

BIM obstacles and benefits

The construction industry is steeped in tradition and we tend to do things the way we’ve always done them. This works doesn’t it? The blunt answer is ‘sometimes, but mostly no’ and the telling evidence is in the many projects that go through post-contract design/construction changes, in order to achieve what is really required. The result is often an increase in construction duration, a change to the agreed contract sum, and sometimes, lengthy claims and disputes.

Changes in requirements are to an extent inevitable, but BIM creates the potential to better communicate what is required, in a timely manner and in a collaborative environment. This means that informed decisions about changes can be made whilst a project is in design instead of when it is on site, significantly reducing the impact of the change (and associated inefficiency).

We also tend to approach a project as a series of tasks (submitting a planning application; achieving budget approval, entering into contract, completion and handover etc.). This restricts information flow, limiting its transition and re-use. Every time we recreate or duplicate information we are inefficient and generate information risk. BIM requires that these tasks (decision points) are considered at the outset of a project with information ‘dropped’ in stages. This optimises information flow and keeps attention on the project and its information.

Dropping information in stages also means that the information model develops progressively until it reflects the project as constructed. This better supports operation and maintenance of the finished asset.

A further barrier to BIM is our reluctance to share information in a format that allows other members of the project team to extract and use it. Aligned with this is the training and investment required in the software that creates, extracts and analyses design information. We can’t be flippant about this but we all know that ‘time is money’. If we can optimize software use, we can start to automate some of the processes we undertake, generating greater efficiency (noting that we still need to instigate checks and balances around the software outputs). We can also look at using information generated by others more effectively. Instead of reproducing it we can refer back to it, or extract and extend it for our specific purpose.

Which takes me back to communicating information. BIMs (the digital models) are another means of communication information. A Level 2 project will still have documents, drawings, schedules etc. supporting it. The originators of the BIMs retain control of the information held in the BIMs. Level 2 should therefore not generate any greater information risk for the originator than they would ordinarily have. Is there really a valid reason then, not to share information?

What does BIM mean for the construction sector professions?

Level 2 BIM means a change for the better. It gives the professions a means of delivering services more effectively. Not by doing less for less, but by using time and resources better; optimising software to automate some processes so that the right amount of time and expertise can be spent on activities which add value and can’t be automated. Level 2 BIM also has the potential to change the project team dynamic. It can’t force collaboration but it can provide a stable base from which collaboration can develop.

It’s reasonable to assume that we all want to be part of a successful project – one that is ‘right first time’. A successful project is also one that is predictable, where obligations and requirements are clear and where expertise is recognised with execution of works/activities and risk placed in the right hands.

We’ve always known this but Level 2 BIM gives us a structured basis to achieve the successful project.

There is however a word of warning. A Level 2 project needs to be led with a framework around it in the form of the Employer’s Information Requirements, the corresponding BIM execution plan and the BIM protocol creating the contractual obligations for BIM. Without this basic framework the potential for BIM may be limited, with BIMs just forming another source of information.

Sarah Davidson BSc (Hons) MSc FRICS

Director – Head of R&D

Gleeds Corporate Services Ltd

Tel: 0115 977 8000

sarah.davidson@gleeds.co.uk

www.gleeds.com

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