We need to welcome clients into BIM

Very little of the material put out about BIM is aimed at clients, says Richard Saxon, author of BIM for Construction Clients and former chairman of architectural practice, BDP.

While BIM use accelerates among designers and constructors, it is clear that clients are mostly disengaged. Surveys suggest that 75% of clients that are using BIM on their projects are “passive”.

I use this term to indicate clients that are willing to let BIM be used on their job but are not interested, or able to play, the client role in their BIM use. They are not appointing team members with a BIM protocol to define roles and responsibilities, and they are not defining their information requirements.

They may still be benefitting from reduced coordination risk and better project outcomes, but they are not getting the major benefits available, nor operating without exposure to some of BIM’s risks.

When I researched for my book, BIM for Construction Clients, I realised that very little of the material put out about BIM is aimed at clients. It is mostly targeted at suppliers and written at an appropriately technical level for them – it’s Double Dutch to many clients.

It also creates a perception that clients have to know all about BIM to play an active role. This is just not true. Clients do have to make some effort, but nothing like that required by designers, constructors and product makers. They don’t need to be able to author anything and they can be supported by their advisers to define and get all the outputs they need.

The clients we should most look to helping are those that build regularly and/or retain and manage their estates. This means everyone from retailers to property developers, from housing associations to universities. BIM can support them through the decision-making process and provide asset information to enable more effective use and maintenance of their buildings. It can also make it simple for them to create and deploy standard elements they need, from shelving layouts to laboratories.

Two kinds of new elements need to go into the briefing process for clients: what is your internal client decision-making process and what information is needed to support each decision point; and what information do you need about the completed building to enable you to run it easily?

The former answers provide what is termed the so-called “Organisational Information Requirements”. Together with the conventional brief for the building’s function, form, economics and time factors, the decision support needs generate what has to come out of the model at each information exchange point. This helps the team to get better stakeholder engagement and to obtain sound and timely decisions, which keep the project moving without high risk of change.

The latter “Asset Information Requirements” cut down the cost of setting up facility management for the occupied building and also cut the cost of doing that work. Buildings run more effectively and systems last longer with the preventive care enabled by easily accessed asset data. Whole-life costs fall for a rise in investment that pays back in months.

With these two new elements comes the technical standards to be used across the team which the lead consultant will suggest but which the client needs to mandate: the Employer’s Information Requirements is the complete package.

To get these benefits the “active” BIM client needs to adapt the way they appoint their team and instruct them. There are three parallel client tasks during RIBA Stage 1: decision on the information requirements; planning of the work to be instructed; and the appointment of the team. Clients can combine these in different ways, either choosing the team first, to help define the brief and work, then formalising appointments, or selecting advisers to create the brief and plan the work so as to choose the team in competition.

Either way, the final appointments need to have attached to them a BIM Protocol to carry the BIM-related tasks agreed in the team’s BIM Execution Plan which responds to the client’s information requirements.

The Protocol can be based on the model CIC Protocol devised in 2013 to meet legal and insurance concerns when BIM Level 2 was defined. It gives the client the right to use the model for agreed purposes and for the team to make shared use of it.

My book covers all this, with case studies from diverse clients. It is a finalist in Building Magazine’s 2016 awards category BIM Initiative of the Year. Win or not, it is there to help welcome clients over the line into active BIM client-ship. Advisers are key players and I speak as much to them too. I hope you find it useful.

Richard Saxon CBE is an RIBA client adviser and a former chairman of BDP. He is also current chair of JCT. The book can be obtained from RIBA Bookshop, RICS, JCT and Amazon in print or e-format.

Main image: Viorel Dudau/

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  1. Yes, Richard is correct that more emphasis needs to be put on Clients. We at BRE Academy have also come to this realisation and have created a dedicated ‘BIM for Clients’ course, the first of which we ran earlier this week.

    The course looks specifically at Employer responsibilities where as part of the course delegates undertake practical exercises such as evaluating and comparing pre-contract BEPs. The next one is running on the 5th & 6th of December

    BIM (to me) is a process that empowers professionals. Richard is right that a client doesn’t need to understand the whole process, but if we as an industry can help educate them on where their attention should fall, we will begin to see a vast improvement in the quality of client documentation which will lead to better assets, and (more importantly) a happier client.

  2. Sorry but how does the “Asset Information Requirements” cut down the cost of setting up facility management for the occupied building and also cut the cost of doing that work? It doesn’t its it provides the specific information to answer the OIR.

    Buildings wont run more effectively and systems wont last longer its just providing people with information so they assess what they need.

    The client needs to educated just like the consultants and contractors have To help each and every client reap the benefits of going down the BIM route. Clients have been left out in dark.

    I am would be interested to read your book.

  3. Gareth, its all in the book. I hope you get a chance to read it.
    yours, Richard.

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