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Analysis

The BIM journey in Northern Ireland

3 August 2015 | By Mark McKane, Northern Ireland BIM Hub

Mark McKane, chair of the Northern Ireland BIM Hub steering group, describes the progress being made towards achieving BIM Level 2 in Northern Ireland.

The UK’s BIM mandate has been credited as one of the main drivers accelerating the implementation of BIM Level 2, placing the UK in a world-leading position. More clients in UK are aware of the advantages of using BIM and asking it from their supply chains (or getting prepared to do so) than anywhere else in the world.

Supply chains in the UK are also adopting BIM working processes and upskilling to meet these demands. However, as different devolved regional authorities adopt BIM into their procurement requirements at different rates, will the supply chains throughout the UK achieve these goals uniformly by 2016? 

Currently the Cabinet Office mandate only affects centrally-procured projects within England, meaning that local authorities do not necessarily need to follow suit. Local authority training budgets have been impacted by austerity cuts, which makes developing the skills more difficult than would normally be the case.

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Likewise, because of the devolved nature of the other countries within the UK, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can also develop their own initiatives and policies. Scotland has recently established its own BIM Task Group to prepare and train the public sector procurement authorities in drafting their project-specific BIM requirements. The current target for Level 2 BIM implementation in Scotland is April 2017. The policy in Wales is less clear, although a similar approach to Scotland is being suggested as likely.

Northern Ireland’s Approach

The Cabinet Office’s BIM mandate, published within the UK Construction Strategy of May 2011, instigated the Northern Ireland BIM policy, which was agreed with the Construction Industry Forum for NI in March 2013. This has been disseminated at various industry training events ever since – however, there remained doubt in practitioners’ minds that it would ever happen.

Perhaps the most significant measure of the progress and commitment to BIM implementation in Northern Ireland is the government’s publication in January 2015 of a formal reminder to industry of commitment to BIM Level 2 for all appropriate construction projects which are procured by a department above the EU threshold value (£4.3m) from 1 April 2016.

This statement of intent suggests what main contractors, subcontractors and construction consultants intending to tender for publicly-procured construction contracts need to do now if they are interested in bidding for future government construction contracts.

This includes:

  • Adopting BIM Level 2 work practices within their organisations;
  • Developing training for their staff in the use of BIM authoring software;
  • Implementing the methodology for delivery of projects to BIM Level 2 maturity in accordance with the PAS 1192 series;
  • Promoting collaborative working practices within their design and supply teams.

As part of the process of implementing BIM in Northern Ireland, the Department of Finance and Personnel’s Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) established the BIM Task and Finish group.  Chaired by CPD personnel, it was established in September 2014 to develop the process of implementing the NI BIM policy by:

  • Consulting with NI government departments, their Centres of Procurement Excellence (CoPEs) including local authorities represented by BIM for Local Government (BIM4LG NI), and industry on best practice guidance for adoption of BIM Level 2 by 2016;
  • Preparing and publishing a Procurement Guidance Note (PGN) for departments and their CoPEs for the adoption of BIM Level 2 by 2016. 

The NI BIM Hub was invited to each of the meetings and consulted throughout this process.

The publication of the PGN will be another significant milestone in terms of BIM implementation in NI. It has now been drafted and is awaiting formal approval prior to wider circulation to industry representatives, including the Procurement Practitioner’s Group (PPG), Construction Industry Group for Northern Ireland (CIGNI), BIM for Local Government (BIM4LG NI) and the Procurement Board, with publication expected later in 2015.

Further stakeholder engagement events with these bodies are to be held over the summer and autumn in conjunction with the NI BIM Hub.

While much of the country’s policy mirrors the UK Cabinet Office’s BIM mandate, there are a couple of small but important differences:

  • A project value threshold has been included (which was in the Cabinet Office’s initial draft strategy, but was subsequently removed);
  • A value test has been developed. Departments are obliged to deliver all over-threshold projects to BIM Level 2 unless the “value test” demonstrates that BIM may not deliver efficiency savings. The contracting authority’s “value test” decisions are to be recorded and may be audited.

Sceptics may cling to these points in hope that the policy will not affect them, however, they are likely misleading themselves.

There have been numerous case studies on civil infrastructure projects demonstrating huge savings in time and budget by implementing BIM processes. Many construction companies, consultants and contractors in Northern Ireland compete successfully for work in Great Britain, so many working on public sector projects are already investing in the training and infrastructure required to deliver Level 2 BIM projects, of any value.

Furthermore, while BIM is expected on all projects above threshold by default (unless the value test fails) there is nothing to stop a project manager who has had a positive experience on a BIM-enabled project implementing it on below-threshold projects. As more project managers become familiar with the work processes, more below-threshold projects will seek to use BIM.

Conclusion

Will the whole supply chain in Northern Ireland be BIM Level 2 ready by 1 April 2016? Well it may not, but recent surveys have suggested that this is just as true of the supply chains in England, Scotland and Wales. There are pockets of excellence within the supply chains targeting the public sector market, that have been preparing and will continue to reap the rewards of maintaining their positions at the forefront of procurement and construction excellence.

The process of BIM implementation – especially now with release of the BIM Level 3 Digital Built Britain strategy – will run long beyond 1 April 2016, but it is clear that the process is well underway in Northern Ireland.

The integrated, consultative and coordinated approach adopted by the BIM Task and Finish Group, with cooperation from BIM4LG, departments/CoPEs and Regional BIM Hub, places the country in an enviable position where all of the supply chain is working together with common goals. 

Early adopter projects from the CPD and local authorities are already in the pipeline and while for the next few years, experience of BIM Level 2 projects is unlikely to become a pass or fail selection criteria in clients’ pre-qualification questionnaires, it is anticipated that this could change in the future.

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