BIM demands a new approach to procurement

With the spread of BIM skills, there is an opportunity to adapt procurement processes to better support information management, says Richard Shennan, group practice manager for buildings at Mott MacDonald.

It’s been two months since BIM Level 2 became mandatory on all public projects in the UK, leading to a step change in use of BIM within the UK construction industry.

The benefits of BIM are well known, bringing time and cost savings from design all the way through to maintenance. However, while the use of BIM accelerates, its true efficiency gains are being curtailed by procurement processes designed for a pre-BIM world. Challenging these embedded processes will help to truly unleash the efficiency savings made possible by openly-shared information models.

It is at the interfaces of information transfer that most inefficiencies take place, with effects on both outcome and cost. This can be due to limitations in the technology, but is usually due to the lack of a collaborative framework to bring all the necessary skills together when needed.

Many skills are required for comprehensive project information management, including innovative thinking, communication, management, design, and an understanding of asset operation, maintenance, and practical construction skills. These skills are typically widely distributed across the many stakeholders involved in a project.

However, crossover skillsets are increasingly being found in all parts of the construction industry. This is due to the natural movement of employees between companies, the prominence of BIM in construction-related training courses, and the result of leaders fostering skills in response to changes in the industry.

With the spread of BIM skills, there is the opportunity to adapt procurement processes to better support information management. This begins with a common data environment aligned with the principles of BS 1192 and its related PAS series to allow model-based information sharing to be effectively integrated into the procurement process.

Another obstacle to proficient project information management is the tendency among some companies to revert to pre-BIM modes of information management. Model-based design information is often reduced to conventional deliverables at the contractual interface, leading to repeat modelling and risk of misunderstanding or misalignment.

Participants need to be aware of the needs of all those contributing to the common data environment, and all opportunities for cutting waste need to be considered early, even if contractors or engineers are not usually brought into the project at its initial stages. They can all bring savings in time, cost or carbon if allowed to contribute to project information models early on.

A critical role becomes one of the integrator, bringing parties together to work around a single thread that progresses through the levels of detail and of information.

Other practices will further increase the benefits of BIM. Allocating the role of information manager will create a central point of responsibility for ensuring the common data environment is well maintained, new process thinking will emerge, while sharing project risks and returns will spearhead innovation and ensure best practice, as stakeholders will be incentivised to add value to project information models.

In truth, we are unlikely to establish a single procurement process that suits everybody, as there is such diversity between projects, clients and markets. But ensuring the primacy of the information models is the common thread, however the various contributors are contracted.

The gains will be seen in better, cheaper assets produced through more efficient working methods. But optimum collaboration and establishing project information management as the new “business as usual” are crucial to realise the immense benefits offered by BIM.

Another obstacle to proficient project information management is the tendency among some companies to revert to pre-BIM modes of information management. – Richard Shennan, Mott MacDonald

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  1. There is much to agree with Richard here and yes, if the full benefits of BIM are to be realised, then changing our procurement processes must be considered.

    Before we reinvent the wheel, I want to draw attention to the government’s approach; in the 2011 Government Construction Strategy, the objective was to reduce construction costs, sustainably. The implementation plan included a number of recommendations, including mandating BIM. It was not envisaged that BIM alone would deliver the cost reductions. Procurement reform is central to implementation and includes improving client capability, incorporating the principles of soft landings and adopting different procurement models.
    The subsequent Lean Client and Procurement Report made numerous recommendations including trialling 3 collaborative forms of procurement, cost-led, two-stage open-book and integrated project insurance. More information is available here:

    Evidence of these trials is also available on the

    I agree with Richard that we need to challenge the current embedded processes of procurement; BIM can very much assist in raising awareness of this need to change. However, we also need to recognise that this is not about BIM or procurement, it’s about how the industry operates to deliver appropriate value to the client and end-users. Whilst there is much good work taking place, the challenge is to bring these threads together as an integrated solution and minimise the amount of development taking place in isolation.

  2. Indeed Rob – there is much good work (e.g. KCL, the Dudley IPI project etc) but this is being done in isolation I fear. I think we are in need of the procurement/contact/legal side catching up with the huge steps taken forward by the technology and also the L2 documentation. The CIC protocols are out there but appear to be rarely used correctly or appropriately. We need a roadmap to bring these things together before we sail off into L3. I was at an event recently and called for leadership in this area – to be advised that it was not the responsibility of the legal profession to offer any?

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