Analysis

Who will actually be implementing the mandate?

28 April 2016 | By Stephen Cousins

Five years after the BIM mandate was launched, the BIM+ white paper demonstrates that there is still uncertainty as to what constitutes a central government-funded project, and to what extent clients elsewhere in the public sector are expected to implement it.

For instance, as a quasi-public sector organisation, Transport for London is not strictly within the scope of the mandate, says John Downes, head of engineering governance and services.

TfL will be requiring BIM Level 2 compliance on all new construction activity within its renewals and investment programme, covering rail and London underground, but will stop short of mandating BIM for its surface transport projects, which includes the capitals’ road and cycleway networks.

“TfL spends a significant amount of government grant delivering renewals and new rail infrastructure, so we chose to chase the 20% added value possible by adopting the Level 2 approach,” says Downes. “In May 2015 we put in place BIM Level 1 and some of the basic BIM tools and technologies and capabilities, now we are delivering the final tweaks and changes to BIM Level 2 contractual and legal clauses ready for the end of March.”

Likewise, High Speed 2 (HS2) is centrally funded, but is not obligated to apply the mandate because it is a non-departmental government agency and therefore subject to a different compliance regime. Jon Kerbey, director of BIM at HS2, comments that Level 2 BIM will be heavily specified in its Employer’s Information Requirements for Tier 1s, and expects the requirements to flow down the supply chain.

“We see value in what the mandate is trying to achieve, so we made the decision to try to be Level 2 compliant,” says Kerbey. “April is more of a signpost or a line in the sand rather than a fait accompli, but as a client we believe we have done as much as is required to be compliant, including clearly specified Employer’s Information Requirements, the ability to receive BIM data and check it, and demonstrate to the supply chain everything they have to do.”

In the local government sector, with many councils being hit by government austerity measures and related staffing issues, some take the view that investing in BIM training and processes is not a key priority. Wokingham Borough Council is fairly ambitious on BIM, but Arnab Mukherjee, capital programme manager, says that others are holding back – and greater clarity on the mandate would help.

He says: “As a council, we still need a clear mandate from government, within a legal framework, for all projects above a certain threshold. That might be an extension of the current BIM Level 2 mandate, or something less ambitious.

“At present, as a local authority, we have to justify our expenditure, so if there is no direct financial benefit coming from an expense why are we doing it? Most local authorities have lost so many staff there is not enough expertise within client services. It’s a vicious circle and hard to justify using BIM when you don’t have the staff to implement it.”

Nevertheless, Wokingham Borough Council has an “aspiration” to meet the mandate and is currently working towards a “Wokingham BIM standard”, broadly in line with Level 2 requirements, for new-build projects above £2.5m to £3m. Mukherjee adds: “Wokingham is trying to make the best of a very unclear situation by moving forward with Level 2.”

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, an early adopter of BIM, plans to implement mandatory BIM, as it will access Homes & Communities Agency funding for a programme of around 2,000 new homes over the next three years, plus leisure centres, care homes, and other public buildings.

Steve Massey, supply chain development officer with the council, comments: “We will mandate BIM Level 2 for all of our contractors and consultants, and signpost them through our dedicated ‘BIM technologies suite’ if they need help to comply. From April, we will invite companies to quote for our projects through virtual public viewing models, in BIM format. To do that they will need to be able to access, interrogate and respond through the models.

“As one of the early adopters at the forefront of BIM, we want to leverage the mandate to show that we can spend government money wisely and demonstrate 33% savings on whole-life costs, which will give them reason to assign us more funding.”

Hampshire County Council operates the Southern Construction Framework on behalf of local authorities in London, the south east and south west. According to framework manager Nigel Midmer, one of its frameworks already incorporates Level 2 BIM requirements: “We have a strategy of requirements to join that starts with the EIR. That’s being progressed on a project-by-project scale and we are in the process of delivering live projects at the moment.”

There appears to be confusion in the university sector over complying with Level 2 – while capital projects may attract funding from the Higher Education Funding Council (part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), in practice many capital projects are partly or wholly self-funded.

Richard Draper, BIM process manager at Birmingham City University, says: “We’re not bound by the mandate because we are not a fully publicly-funded organisation. Now the split between fee-paying students and public funding is leaning towards fee payers, universities are starting to suggest that they don’t have to follow these rules.”

But the interviews show that the mandate is likely to have considerable knock-on impact in the private sector – over half the clients BIM+ surveyed said they were implementing BIM requirements on future projects. And, as Brian Churchyard of Asda puts it: “I’m hoping that as we follow our Level 2 aspiration we get benefits off the back of the mandate as our large main contractors and architects doing government work move to comply with it. The mandate forces the issue of changing the language everyone speaks, which is key.”

This extract was taken from BIM+’s recently published white paper “BIM: What do clients think”. Download the complete white paper here.