UK BIM Alliance goes back to basics with new guide

Consultant Richard Saxon provides a sneak preview of a new guide from the UK BIM Alliance that helps those on the start of their BIM journey. 

Why this guide is necessary?

Digital methods offer a step-change in value and productivity for clients. But they are not yet being adopted by mainstream private and public clients because they don’t perceive that value. They are also put off by the effort that seems to be required from them and by demands for extra costs from suppliers asked to work this way.

The UK BIM Alliance was formed to help the industry and its clients to make the use of digital methods “business as usual” by 2020. This guide focuses on the message to clients and to their advisers. It sets out a path for clients into the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and its related techniques.

It uses plain language rather than the jargon which has sprung up among suppliers. It demonstrates the return on investment available and the nature of the investment required from clients. It offers eight steps into BIM usage which can be taken in selected order and not all of which will seem relevant to all clients. A start is possible after the first four steps.

Value to clients

BIM, as practised in the UK, has become the world’s leading approach to digital built environment. The standards devised for the government’s so-called Level 2 BIM are now being translated into European and world (ISO) standards. They are powerful tools for designing better buildings and infrastructure, delivering them faster and to higher quality, and operating them far more efficiently and effectively than before.

The client’s role is central to realising the full value of this approach. Some clients now “free ride”, allowing their teams to use BIM for their own reasons but not pitching in to define what they need from it.

These “passive” clients get some value as the team saves time, improves coordination and avoids defects. But “active” clients can get far more benefit and avoid new risks created by inadequate clarity. This guide shows how.

Crossing the Chasm

The challenge for the construction industry in engaging the majority of clients is well described in the book Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. The reason that pioneers and early adopters buy into an innovation is that they are enthusiasts, intrigued by the promise of the technology even before there is a proven business case.

The early majority market is not interested in the technology itself, nor in unproven promises. It needs to see a business case, based on demonstrated return on investment. Technology innovations regularly fail to cross the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority by not changing their message to suit,

That is where we are with BIM for clients, and with the related potential of the Internet of Things, big data and artificial intelligence to make built assets more productive. This guide aims to help bridge the chasm.

Plain language

When the government’s then chief construction adviser, Paul Morrell, recommended in 2011 that public policy should be based on the use of Level 2 BIM by April 2016, he warned the industry to keep the complexities of BIM to themselves and not to burden clients with it.

That did not happen. The Task Group formed to develop the toolkit of standards and guidance created a special language for users, to enable precision.

This language named new features but also renamed familiar ones, making the whole subject arcane and opaque to industry outsiders, which most clients are. This guide sticks to the familiar language used by clients, consultants and constructors for decades.

Just the information needed

The government had a clear view of what it wanted from BIM. As the owner and operator of the facilities that it buys, it was concerned to take a long-term, whole-life view of asset performance.

Reducing facility operating costs and enabling increased occupier effectiveness are part of their goals, along with reducing capital costs, time to completion, carbon emissions and reliance on imports.

The package called Level 2 BIM includes whole-life features which may not apply to all clients, or which they are not ready to consider.

Government BIM also asks for regular information supplies from the team to support decision-making processes in client and stakeholder organisations: not only should design, cost and time information be available but also anything else that meets defined stakeholder needs at decision points, to smooth progress. This too may be more than many other clients need.

Step by step

The approach of this guide is to be incremental. Clients can go as far as seems sensible for themselves, holding back from steps not relevant to them, or not currently worth taking. It won’t necessarily be full Level 2 BIM, but it can still deliver far more than passive clientship.

The approach taken here is set out in eight steps:

  • To become aware: just knowing what BIM really is and what it can do for similar clients opens up discussion;
  • To make a strategy: Top client management needs to decide what is worth doing and how to progress, as part of a project or to make a context for future projects;
  • To equip the client office to work digitally: depending on the strategy chosen, clients will need to invest in their capability to instruct their team and to work with digital data;
  • To formalise the use of digital: Client instructions need to be given to appointed consultants and constructors, to avoid new risks and to define requirements contractually;
  • To reconsider team formation: BIM works best when compatible teams are formed and stay together, often through framework agreements;
  • To define decision-support needs: brief-making in a digital environment adds information requirements to the matrix of design, cost and time factors, in order to support stakeholder decisions at each stage;
  • To define operation and maintenance needs: Where the asset will be retained and managed by the client, BIM can transform facility performance if the required O&M data is requested up front;
  • To create useful standards: Digital models can be made of elements required repeatedly by clients, such as standard rooms or preferred products, for time-saving re-use.

Each module of this guide looks at one of these steps in more detail. The guide will be published at Digital Construction Week in October.

Image: Innovation Adoption Curve. After Everett Rogers 1962, 2003, as used in Crossing the Chasm.

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