It’s BIM, but not as the BIM pundits would know it

Stuart Thwaites, Wright Hassell

David Emery, Virtechs

The government’s requirement that all government-initiated construction projects should use Level 2 BIM by 2016 means we are likely to see a rapid increase in the speed of BIM adoption by the industry.

At Wright Hassall we have been receiving an increasing number of instructions to advise on Level 2 BIM projects but it is fair to say that we are only at the beginning of this revolution.

The current law is able to deal with Level 2 BIM because both the central model and the individual models specific to each contributor are maintained, ensuring a degree of transparency and traceability. The real challenge will start when the industry graduates to using Level 3 BIM and the distinct inputs from different contributors are absorbed into the one model.

Having spoken to hundreds of companies in the construction industry, we perceive numerous hurdles – even fears – to overcome for the practical and successful implementation of BIM.

First, there’s procurement in our industry, which is frequently competitive to the point of being adversarial. Many of the companies we have spoken to would welcome longer-term relationships with others to help amortise the perceived costs of implementing BIM in their businesses across several projects. The government’s 2011 Construction Strategy addresses this issue, but the perception is that the private sector is rather slower to forge such relationships.

Second, the various protocol documents are perceived as complex and unwieldy, which, far from bringing clarity to a project – after all their raison d’être – will only bring complexity and, bluntly, tedium, into the workplace.

After most presentations on the subject, someone in the audience asks about a “standard protocol document”, which is, of course, something of an oxymoron. The confusion over protocol documents will lessen as, for example, people become more familiar with the PAS 1192:2 and CIC BIM Protocol documents, which provide a framework around which additional project-specific rules can, and must, be devised and implemented.

Third, construction company clients have told us about contracts with somewhat rudimentary BIM-specific addenda: frequently a single addendum requiring the delivery of a “Revit” file. More than anything, examples of this sort strongly suggest that there remain massive misconceptions about BIM in both conceptual and practical terms.

And what about the practicalities of implementing BIM at ground level? At present, we are finding that the adoption of Level 2 does not generally throw up any major problems and that most issues can be absorbed within the framework of existing contracts.

We are beginning to see wider use of the CIC BIM Protocol and the adoption of PAS 1192:2 among other industry standards and these, in addition to the CIOB’s Contract for Complex Projects (CPC 2013), which enables the different parties to choose which aspects of the project are included in the BIM model, will pave the way for use of BIM Level 3. Because of the collaborative nature of a BIM project, a partnering procurement model could form the basis of a new contractual approach for BIM.

It is at Level 3 that we anticipate seeing widespread contractual changes being implemented. Major issues identified to date include: risk transfer and liability (who is responsible for what); insurance; whether or not existing standard form contracts can be altered to reflect BIM requirements; copyright and intellectual property, in particular software licensing issues; handling of commercially sensitive data; impact on procurement rules; standards of care; and non-contractual risks associated with losses arising from a BIM model. 

But whether today or tomorrow, BIM is first and foremost a business process based around collaborative working. Combined with new technologies we now have the opportunity to benefit from much more information – the ‘i’ in BIM! – about our buildings than ever before. The types of data outputs are almost infinite, but clients and project managers will need much greater understanding of BIM benefits than they are currently demonstrating.

Stuart Thwaites is a senior associate at Wright Hassall LLP and David Emery is a director of Virtechs, which provides design and consultancy services to the construction industry. It has particular expertise in BIM and is a member of the Open BIM Network and has delivered presentations on BIM to Wright Hassall’s clients and contacts in the construction and engineering industries.

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