The NBS Digital Toolkit: defining responsibilities at Level 2 BIM

The NBS Live event on 4 November included a 45-minute session for round tables, with 15 groups each discussing a different topic. Dr Stephen Hamil, director of design and innovation at NBS, shares the notes from the session he hosted on the NBS Digital BIM Toolkit.

Earlier in the day the BIM Toolkit team had presented to a room full of construction professionals interested to hear what benefits this project would present to the industry. So following great presentations from the BIM Task Group, Laing O’Rourke, BDP, NBS and BIM Academy, it was no surprise that the table was full up.

As with any round table it started with introductions and it was very interesting to see that at an event with delegates mainly consisting of architects, the majority of delegates around this particular table were contractors.

Prior to the more detailed discussions, it was interesting to understand what people thought the BIM Toolkit was. Some of the comments included:

  • Finishing Level 2 BIM;
  • Guidance for level of detail;
  • A free tool that introduces users to their first BIM project. Must be for BIM beginners and not just the leading edge;
  • A tool that will reinforce a standard process for professionals coming together to work on a job;
  • A tool that will allow main contractors to manage their consultants’ work;
  • Guidance that defines what information is required. A process that ensures the information you need is provided but at the same time stops over-design.

On reflection, it was very pleasing to see these descriptions. If I was asked to describe what the BIM Toolkit is in as few words as possible I think I’d go for: “A free-to-use online tool that allows information requirements in terms of ‘who’ is responsible, ‘what’ they are required to provide and ‘when’ they are required to provide it to be defined.”

Current practices

The round table then discussed how this process is currently managed on construction projects. It was fascinating to see what everyone around the table had in common and also the differences:

  • Everybody said that they used some sort of Microsoft Excel worksheet to define design responsibilities;
  • All contractors had different format worksheets – so at the start of every new job, the consultants had to adjust to a different way of working;
  • Where projects were consultant-led, then the architect had their own Microsoft Excel template they used;
  • These plans of work/information delivery plans covered (a) documentation that was required at a particular stage, (b) objects that needed designed/built and also (c) objects that were temporary as part of the construction process. 

There was a real feeling around the table that although everyone’s current processes allowed projects to get built, there were many holes in these existing methods of working.

Current challenges

There was a real feeling around the table that although everyone’s current processes allowed projects to get built, there were many holes in these existing methods of working. These challenges included:

  • Nobody had a satisfying way of defining ‘level of definition’. The American LODForum guidance document was considered “the best out there”, but not satisfactory for UK construction and with ambiguities meaning it often did not provide enough clarity. The BSRIA BG-6 document received praise as did the generic guidance notes in the PAS 1192 documentation. But there was an overall sense that the industry needed much more support.
  • Gaps were found in responsibilities as projects progressed. For example, “Who is responsible for the internal drainage?” Quite often, the answer in this situation was “nobody”.
  • At conferences everyone discusses Level 2 and Level 3 BIM, but in real life the organisations we collaborate with are not even using the file naming conventions in BS1192:2007.
  • Where responsibilities change as a project progresses, the organisations do not share the digital information. It gets remodelled. From digital data to paper/physical and then back to digital data through manual effort.
  • The lack of a unified classification system. Private clients have their own systems so it is different for designers/contractors from job to job – and there is not a quality search engine to find the information you need quickly

The digital information a client wants

The next discussion looked at what digital information a client requires. As with previous discussions, there was a broad consensus of opinion here – and this was that many clients do not know what digital information they require. To summarise some of the comments:

  • It is very rare to work for a client who has clear digital information requirements;
  • The industry could do with a template form that consultants could use to guide a client through to determine what digital information they require;
  • Quite often the information handed to the client is boxes and boxes of paper documentation that is almost unusable;
  • The operation of the building is not usually considered through the design and build stages;
  • The first thing a client does once a building is handed over is agree an FM contract, which involves the FM contractor starting from the beginning in terms of documenting the asset. A few years later, once that FM contract is up for renewal, the next FM contractor starts the same process from the beginning again.

How the BIM Toolkit should work

A number of delegates were asking “but how will the BIM Toolkit actually work?” Running a round table session, the golden rule is to listen much more than you talk, so asking the same question in return the opinions from round the table were:

  • It must be an online tool – no more Microsoft Excel please;
  • There must be a clear owner of the digital plan of work – a single project lead that can modify this important dataset;
  • Everyone on the project must have online access to this information;
  • The team should be able to use this information in the context of the task they are completing;
  • The team should be able to add notes to this online dataset;
  • Where a main contractor has an existing extranet system, it should be possible to export this information into the extranet system;
  • Where level of definition is specified, the user must be able to click to access this guidance immediately in context (and not have to flick to a page in a PDF document).

It’s fantastic to work on a project where there is such a clear industry need. Having such interest in both the presentations and the round table discussions at NBS Live demonstrates this. In addition, it’s very satisfying to work on a process tool so fundamentally positioned around collaboration between all of the construction disciplines working on a project.

With BIM, as an industry, we often get seduced by the latest software technology. It is of course true to say that software technology is an important part of the BIM jigsaw. But more fundamentally, this project is about two key objectives: standardised information structures; and a standardised collaborative process.

If these two items can be provided in an easy-to-understand user experience, then we’ll be well on our way to a successful outcome.

For more information on the BIM Toolkit see www.theNBS.com/BIMToolkit

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