‘It’s time to help clients use BIM’

Whenever surveys are done of the barriers to the uptake of BIM, one of the key obstructions reported by designers and contractors is lack of interest from clients. They don’t understand the point, won’t pay more for it, or can’t see themselves doing any of the arcane things that the literature says they should.

So apart from central government clients who have to use it from this April, and who have been coached for five years on how to be a BIM client, there are few active BIM-seeking customers out there. Many architects, engineers and contractors are using parts of Level 2 BIM for their own reasons, but most of the clients who have BIM on their projects are “passive” users, aware or unaware of its being used, but certainly not participating actively.

This needs to change if the full benefits of BIM are to be realised by clients and their teams. We need to explain and demonstrate the way BIM helps clients and do so in far simpler language than that used in the industry to guide users of BIM.

Almost everything written about BIM is too geeky for clients. Paul Morrell, when he launched the government mandate concept in 2011 said that he wanted “to leave the complexity in the supply chain”. That phrasing meant that he saw it as necessary for clients to be shielded from the technicalities and talked to in “plain language”. The design and construction world would wrestle with implementing BIM but they should not expect the client to get too deeply into it themselves.

I have attempted to fill that need by writing the book BIM for Construction Clients, published by NBS, part of RIBA Enterprises, in February 2016. The book starts with client-oriented answers to the basic questions: what is BIM anyway; why should I be interested in using it; how would it change the way we work as clients? Then there are four case studies of early-adopter clients and their projects, a local authority, a university, a developer and a contractor acting as surrogate client.

Constructing Excellence’s client group acted as a source of cases and wisdom and they co-badge the book.

It then proceeds to go through the Plan of Work stages, detailing the actions which the client would need to undertake to get full benefit from BIM.

Stage 0 discusses the making of the project business case, including the case for using BIM, and the choice of procurement path to get it appropriately.

Stage 1 is where most of the client effort is needed: to determine needs for both the facility and the information about it to be produced at each stage and at handover; to plan the work in sufficient detail to be able to instruct the team; and to appoint the team on a BIM basis, using a BIM Protocol to attach the client’s requirements to their appointments and contracts.

Stage 2 and 3 cover the use of BIM in the concept and design stages, involving stakeholders better, studying more options and gaining confidence in the quality, cost and timing of the project. The front-loading of effort to avoid later changes is explained.

The technical design and construction stages are, in properly used BIM, expected to be focused on the supply chain, with the client concentrating on being ready to occupy, let or sell the building at handover. The new Stage 6, handover and closeout, covers the need to receive two buildings, not one. The real facility must be snagged but so too must its digital doppelganger, the virtual building which carries all the data needed to operate and maintain the real one.

The point of COBie, the transfer mechanism for that data into Computer-Aided Facility Management Systems, is clarified. After all, it stands for ‘from Construction into Operation of Building, information exchange’. The real value of integrated BIM data to the functionality and efficiency of the occupied building is demonstrated at Stage 7.

Finally, the book looks ahead to where BIM is going next. Buildings take years to create but technology rolls forward rapidly. By the time projects started in 2016 are complete, the technical potential will be much expanded and BIM will be both simpler to use and far more capable. I hope that BIM for Construction Clients will help clients, but also their advisers and suppliers, to move confidently into active use of BIM and to reap the benefits.

Richard Saxon CBE is a client and business adviser at BIM for Construction Clients can be ordered from RIBA Bookshops

Many architects, engineers and contractors are using parts of Level 2 BIM for their own reasons, but most of the clients who have BIM on their projects are “passive” users, aware or unaware of its being used, but certainly not participating actively.– Richard Saxon, author, BIM for Construction Clients

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  1. What is the preferred software to use, to allow BIM to be used on small to medium projects.

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