BIM Level 3: Sorting fact from fantasy

The trend towards embellished reports of BIM overachievement has re-emerged, says David Shepherd, BIM manager at Lend Lease.

For the implementation of BIM to deliver measurable success, managerial innovation must develop in conjunction with technology to facilitate beneficial change. In the UK, we’ve taken a tiered approach to implementing BIM, which provides time for such innovation to keep up with the pace of technology adoption.

This approach is typified by the familiar “Bew-Richards BIM Maturity diagram” (pictured above), which presents the adoption of the technology in terms of four stepped maturity levels.

Almost immediately after the government BIM Strategy was published in May 2011, several firms announced that they were already BIM Level 2-compliant. However, on closer inspection of their claims, it became apparent that they were only realising the benefits of cross-referenced production drawings and early design coordination in 3D. These benefits are largely outcomes of BIM Level 1 and, while they are useful, the ultimate goal of BIM Level 2 is information management. 

The BIM Maturity diagram represents a gradual trajectory of industry adoption, but it would be more honest for a delivery process that achieves coordinated project information in 3D to be categorised as BIM Level 1, rather than a genuine example of BIM Level 2.

2016 is now only a few months away and the ethos of fictitious BIM overachievement has re-emerged, spurring on bold claims of some having already achieved BIM Level 3.

In support of these assertions, the project participants, once again, point to a measure of design coordination, this time using an on-line server-based model environment that integrates the work of all major disciplines in 3D. For conclusive proof of BIM Level 3 compliance, they also highlight the project-wide mandate of Industry Foundation Classes (IFC).

IFC is the non-proprietary standard for data exchange at Level 3 but, while necessary, it is still not sufficient for what is required at BIM Level 3.

The erroneous statements are best addressed by contrasting BIM Level 3 with Level 2. It’s only partly true to say that, instead of just exchanging files, Level 3 uses the very different process of all participants continuously updating a single on-line integrated building model.

The official definition describes Level 3 as: “A fully integrated and collaborative process enabled by ‘web services’ and compliant with emerging Industry Foundation Class (IFC) standards. This level of BIM will utilise 4D construction sequencing, 5D cost information and 6D project lifecycle management information.” 

I’d agree that BIM Level 3 project delivery does provide the important ability to bypass file size limitations through the IFC data structure that can extend the single model across a limitless number of storage devices. However, the key benefit to information management that is missed by many is the ability to interrogate BIM data remotely through web services.

You access web services every time you search for a location in Google Maps. In terms of BIM, web services allow you to use a browser to query and extract reports on the IFC model from across the internet. At the very least, a Level 3-compliant project would involve the use of similar browser-based tools for deriving information from the shared integrated model. 

The fact is that while several protocols have been developed for remote browser-based model review, the BIM Level 3 applications, which could leverage them, are in their software infancy.

So, absent remote information management tools, I’d take those BIM Level 3 claims with a pinch of salt.

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]


  1. David,
    Absolutely agree!
    It is for the industry to inform the client on a “real” achievement level.
    Over zealous claims do nothing but undermine the real progress being made
    In an industry where the facts and the story are sometimes unlikely bedfellows let us all be honest with each other
    Level 2, as it is defined, is still not here and level 3 remains somewhat further distant.
    Do not be discouraged as a challenge is merely a success in waiting
    BIM and Soft Landings are positive steps forward and should be progressed for the benefit of all

  2. BIM Level 3 will never exist in this realm, Nick.

  3. How about as a first step we just get people in the field using the model in real time to make sure we’re building to the model? Seems like a “too many cooks” problem if we attempt “all participants continuously updating a single on-line integrated building model”, unless by ‘update’ we mean “post a confirmation or exception report on status”.

  4. Dear Mr Shepherd,

    I am currently doing my MSc thesis on the use of BIM as a tool for sustainable design and construction. I believe that the expert input of a man of your status, the author of BIM Management Handbook, would be most valuable to the success of my study. I would like to request a 15 minute interview with you via medium of skype at your convenience.

    Please consider taking 5 minutes for a student who is hungry to learn more about BIM and to conduct a successful research study.


    Nomazulu Sammüller
    [email protected]

  5. Hi,

    Regarding level3 and its evolution: I do believe that you have touched upon a few of the outcomes that can be speculated upon with a knowledge of level2 and a working proficiency in it. I applaud you for that. However, in my opinion this industry and the way that it somehow is deemed to function is a joke. All of the processes and mandates on BIM will be met by resistance over the coming years as the capacity of web service based technologies takes over.

    Level 3 (still undefined to my mind) is set to disrupt the industry. Level 3 will not be defined by the Bew-Richards diagram and will not be defined by a centralised Government/task group. I think that a platform that allows for BIM to become like a living software development project will be a first step but It will continue to evolve into the fabric of our built environment, repurposing consultants that work with BIM as we know it today into a craft exercise.

    It is hugely exciting but heres a tip – don’t bother with the industry as you know it today, look to computer science, social science, the networked knowledge approach and other industries that are being disrupted. There is room for one unicorn and everybody wants to be in charge of it.

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