Explainers

BIM bytes: Early contractor involvement

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

There is nothing new about the arguments to promote the early involvement of contractors in projects, but BIM gives a new perspective that makes those arguments crystal clear.

Early contractor involvement (ECI) has for a number of years been supported by both the industry and successive governments as a way of avoiding and managing risk, encouraging innovation and added value, increasing price- and time predictability, and improving outcomes and satisfaction. The premise is simple: that the contractor is the expert in construction and it would be counter intuitive to exclude such expertise from the pre-construction phase.

BIM polarises this view. If the intention is to “build it twice”, once virtually and once physically, then the contractor’s construction expertise should be available for the virtual build. Moreover, much of the innovation and added value that can be gained from a contractor’s involvement at an early stage will be derived from second- and third-tier supply chain: with BIM-designed projects, will second- and third-tier supply chains be incentivised to invest in BIM expertise and put forward their value proposals for the project?

One might argue that an accessible BIM model at tender stage provides a means for bidding Tier 1 contractors to systematically sub-divide a project for pricing, pass on designs and briefs for particular elements of the project for costing by their prospective Tier 2/3 subcontractors and suppliers, and then reassemble an overall cost proposal. 

However, this does not create the means and requirements for contractors to assess and influence design, risk, and programming and thereby to help the client establish the most cost-effective means of delivering that project in line with its brief and budget. Instead, as with any single-stage tendering, it encourages bidders to gamble on a low price to win the project and then recover additional monies during the construction phase of the project by relying on errors, omissions or ambiguities in the tendered model.

With BIM’s focus on detailed information, the level of detail that ought to be included in a model is such that the late involvement of a contractor may either lead to unnecessary constraint of the contractor or, if it is to be allowed the freedom to make value-added proposals, an unpicking of the model.

If proper advantage is to be gained from the “I” in BIM, it would be best encouraged by orderly early contractor involvement.

If the intention is to “build it twice”, once virtually and once physically, then the contractor’s construction expertise should be available for the virtual build– Assad Maqbool