Building information modelling: the benefits for employers

Out-Law Analysis | 18 Aug 2017 | 10:01 am | 5 min. read

ANALYSIS: Slow take-up of building information modelling (BIM) in the private sector means that employers are missing out on the many benefits use of the technology can bring.

Even though BIM is now mandated on all government projects, the take-up in the private sector has been slow. Not all projects will benefit from BIM in the same way, but employers who are experienced BIM users tell us that there are advantages across the life of the project – and no project is too small to benefit from the use of BIM.

With the latest issues of the standard form contracts, such as JCT 2016, making explicit provision for BIM, now is a good time to find out more about BIM and the benefits it can bring to your projects. Whether you have used BIM previously and do not feel that you gained sufficient benefit, or are already using it on a regular basis, here are some of the ways that you can maximise the benefits of your use of the technology.

What can BIM do for you?

  • BIM is an immersive technology. It allows visualisation and 'fly-throughs', and allows you to play with the design in order to achieve the optimal possible design for your purposes.
  • Unlike CAD, BIM uses 'objects', such as doors and windows, that have properties such as size, weight, thermal efficiency and quantities attached to them. BIM software enables these objects, and related drawings, to be automatically updated when the design is updated.
  • Use of auxiliary software such as 4D programming and 5D costing tools allows analysis to improve the project scheduling and financial estimating.
  • Increased efficiency. Whether your primary motivation is to reduce costs or meet the programme, BIM allows 'clash analysis' to be carried out in the digital space, saving time on site and minimising the need for rebuild.
  • If you will be operating the asset, BIM allows you to model energy plans to forecast the operational costs and allows you to procure a model to be used for the asset management phase which includes lifecycle data embedded in the models.
  • BIM also allows for cross-project data analysis, using data it is difficult to obtain from other sources.
  • While BIM is a digital tool, it also challenges the basic norms of setting up a project. For employers, the maximum benefits from the use of BIM generally result from the design team becoming engaged earlier than may be the case on non-BIM projects.

Optimising the benefits of BIM

Early employer involvement

Employers experienced in the use of BIM tell us that an employer obtains the most benefit if it is involved in the early stages, knows what its requirements are and sets them out as clearly as possible. If you have not used BIM on a project before, or have minimal experience, this may feel like a chicken and egg situation.

If you do not have experienced in-house resource, you should engage a competent, experienced, BIM consultant (BIM manager) to talk you through the possibilities and draw up the BIM brief and information requirements. The architect or lead designer often takes on the role of BIM manager in the early stages. If this is the case, note that the role is an important one and should have a separate scope.

An advantage of the architect undertaking the role is that the contractor's BIM brief is likely to be clearly set out. In addition, consider consulting/engaging the contractor earlier in the process than you might otherwise do as it is an advantage to have the contractor on board in the early stages of design. An added advantage of doing so is that if the contractor has BIM experience, he too may be able to assist you in ascertaining your BIM requirements.

The role of the BIM coordinator

The lead designer is usually the BIM coordinator, and drives the use of BIM during the project. It may help you to think of this role as being analogous to the conductor of an orchestra. A good BIM coordinator will optimise the scheduling and content of cross-party data input as too much, or the wrong type, of design information in the early stages can hold up the process and increase the costs. This may be particularly important if you are obtaining planning consent at stage 2.

Operational phase

To ensure that you derive the maximum benefit from BIM during the operational phase, consider the operational requirements at the outset so the models are in the correct form and contain the appropriate content for operational use. It is difficult, inefficient and costly to amend the models or, if BIM is introduced retrospectively, to capture the as-built information and recreate it at practical completion.

In addition, ensure the COBie data drops contain the relevant facilities management information. Even if you are not retaining the asset, this information may be of value to a purchaser/tenant.

Third party capabilities

Consider how the BIM capability of project participants is to be assessed during the tender of the project. This will be of particular concern to main contractors, who will want you to appoint BIM-literate consultants if the consultants are to be retained and novated to them later in the project delivery.

Procurement

Consider what procurement strategy will be most suitable for BIM. As already mentioned, the potential of BIM is best tapped when design teams and the main contractor are involved in the early stages of the project; from feasibility and concept design onwards.

Contractual provision

It is important that there are good, clear BIM provisions in any relevant contracts. Your preferred form of contract can be easily adapted to take account of your BIM requirements, so there is no need to 'adapt your mindset' and make sweeping amendments to your contracts in order to use BIM.

Risk allocation

BIM provisions do not affect the risk allocation for design – so, for example, in a design and build scenario, the contractor will retain single-point design responsibility. This is because BIM is not design, but rather a representation of design intent. BIM provisions and design provisions should therefore be kept separate in the contracts.

BIM protocol

Develop or adopt a BIM protocol for use in your project. The protocol developed by the Construction Industry Council (CIC) is often used as a base. The protocol can be easily incorporated into the industry standard forms, or your bespoke template schedules of amendment and/or appointments. It should be appended to each construction contract where the contractor/consultant has BIM responsibilities. This is to ensure that the provision of models is coordinated and so that each party knows the extent of the copyright licence being granted by the other parties for the use of their domain models.

Given that this is a digital environment and there is no industry-standard software, there are important risks associated with the use of BIM that must be apportioned. These include:

  • interoperability issues;
  • data transmission and corruption;
  • software redundancy.

Your BIM protocol should deal with who bears each of these risks.

You will also need to consider whether you require 2D deliverables in addition to the models and, if so, whether the 2D or 3D data takes precedence. There is security against software redundancy when using 2D, but this needs to be offset against any potential associated costs.

Regular meetings

Experienced employers advocate holding fortnightly BIM meetings in order to facilitate communication and encourage collaboration in order to keep all of the relevant parties engaged in providing the data for the models.

Professional advisers

There is opinion in the industry that the current suite of documents commonly used for level 2 BIM are out of date and do not align well with the RIBA plan of works. For example, the current version of the CIC's BIM Protocol; which is soon to be updated.

Don't be put off by this. Seek good legal and technical advice from the outset. There are design consultants and contractors who have been using BIM for years who will be able to help you to decide what is useful and what can be discarded.

Richard Dartnell, David Greenwood and Marion Hitchcock are BIM experts at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.