Explainers

BIM bytes: The client-side imperative

3 April 2014 | By Assad Maqbool, partner, Trowers & Hamlins

Government backing of BIM has given consultants and contractors the critical mass of throughput such that profit can be gained from investment in BIM skills and technology. Can the same be said on the client side?

For public sector clients, where the government’s demand for BIM Level 2 use by 2016 suggests a funding imperative, there is caution in spending public money when market norms and guidelines are still developing.

Private sector clients do not have the same government-driven timeline within which to change practices, but should still be convinced by the efficiencies that BIM-led projects have been shown to produce. However, the efficiencies during construction will in part be driven by the more competitive market and when the risks are sufficiently certain to avoid risk-pricing. In that light, it is understandable that some private sector clients are waiting for issues to be ironed out and for the volume of BIM projects to increase (thereby increasing economies of scale) before investing in BIM.

Perhaps the most convincing argument for BIM is the efficiency that can be realised during the maintenance period. Unfortunately, public sector clients suffer more than most from the division between capital and revenue financing and the tendency towards annual budgeting. Even a marginal percentage saving in the overall lifecycle cost can vastly outweigh the cost-cutting during the build. However, the dichotomy between project and maintenance budgets does not allow justification of investment in whole-life cost.

As the justification for investment must come before the upskilling, client skills may lag behind their more entrepreneurial private sector service providers, who are able to more easily specialise and invest in future areas of growth. This leads to a further natural caution that comes with heavy reliance on third-party consultants and contractors leading the requirements when BIM-led projects are being procured.

Such caution will likely continue until clients have experienced a project from inception into the maintenance period. Only then will it become apparent whether BIM has had a positive impact on the time and cost of the initial project and whether the information sought during the project is useful during the maintenance period.  

Until then, a cautious client will naturally review the risks that it is taking and look not only for a fair distribution of risk, but also a distribution that will encourage the client to make the leap.

As the justification for investment must come before the upskilling, client skills may lag behind their more entrepreneurial private sector service providers, who are able to more easily specialise and invest in future areas of growth.– Assad Maqbool