We need to talk about BIM Level 3…

It appears we have a title, an aspirational document in Digital Built Britain, and a heap of funding for L3, but there isn’t a firm answer to what happens next. With the Government Construction Strategy 2016-20 making no mention of the BIM Task Group it’s fair to even ask who we’re expecting the answer to come from.– John Adams, BIM Strategy

In the third of three articles on the industry’s BIM journey, John Adams, head of BIM services at BIM Strategy, says we need address Level 3 quickly.

You don’t want to, I get that, but bear with me. 

Talking about BIM Level 3 before BIM Level 2 is embedded is a lot like taking a break to do the dishes when you’re in Netflix binge-watch mode with a cold drink and a tube of Pringles. You’ll be glad you did it in the morning, but you’d still rather not.

Level 2 has already been a success, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Let’s face it, despite the announcement in 2011, apathy, denial and confusion kept progress in first gear for the most part of three years. Even the advent of the BIM Task Group didn’t impact the mindset that quickly, it was seen by too many as a bandwagon to nowhere.

It took the writing of the standards and the government to not blink on the mandate to force us to the tipping point with the #UKBIMcrew furiously leaping up and down on the bleeding edge to keep up the momentum. We made it, but it was a battle that could have been lost at any point. In hindsight there are lessons to learn from the experience, more communication and reducing the time that progress “goes dark” are high on the list. 

This is why we need to talk about BIM Level 3 now. Not later. We fought harder than should have been required to make Level 2 a reality, but this will seem a molehill by comparison to the mountain that is Level 3 if we don’t get the conversations going early enough.

Level 3 is not the same challenge repeated. It’s bigger, riskier, almost totally undefined, and will use technology which hasn’t been invented yet. We’re attempting to move the construction industry from followers to innovative leaders very quickly. We won’t be able to point to the automotive industry and say “we should be more like them” anymore when it comes to smart cities because it is up to us to lead. Level 2 is us catching up; Level 3 is us taking the lead. 

Therein is a big issue. If we could put all of CEOs of the UK’s top AEC firms in a room for a week to discuss BIM Level 3, would it achieve anything? Maybe… maybe not. Even if we strengthened the BIM-specific knowledge in the room by adding the BIM Task Group and the entire #UKBIMcrew, we wouldn’t be able to define the currently undefinable.

Read John Adams’ previous articles

Don’t get trapped in the BIM chasm

It’s not too late to adopt BIM… but it nearly is

It appears we have a title, an aspirational document in Digital Built Britain, and a heap of funding for L3, but there isn’t a firm answer to what happens next. With the Government Construction Strategy 2016-20 making no mention of the BIM Task Group it’s fair to even ask who we’re expecting the answer to come from. Are the same people who worked on Level 2 the right people for Level 3? 

The gap between Paul Morrell telling us all about COBie and the publication of BS 1192:4 has left COBie with an image problem when in reality it is our current best solution to structured handover data and a clear improvement on an activity we’ve been burning resources on for years. We may have already repeated the same mistake by announcing funding for Level 3 so early there may be a loss of momentum through similar confusion and apathy. 

Somebody needs to pick up the bagpipes and get the noise level up, the reluctance to even mention Level 3 needs to be addressed quickly.

A proactive approach to combat the confusion this time around is needed. We need a plan to divide and conquer the task and we need to shout it from the rooftops. The concept of how to reform our industry into a something capable of defining digitally enabled smart cities needs to be broken down into specialisms, teams and specific academic endeavours.

Maybe we need more hashtag movements to set about finding Rumsfeld’s famous “unknown unknowns”… at this point in the Level 3 journey the scope is limited only by our imagination.

Any negativity in this article isn’t intended, we are doing a brilliant, world-leading job, but reflective learning is always valuable. This is simply the reality of trying to create a rapid digitisation of the vastly complex and unique industry we call home.

So let’s take stock quickly of what we have, get organised, and make sure we start the right conversations with the right people using the aspirational Digital Built Britain document as our frame of reference. Let’s make the Level 3 journey a noisy digital carnival of UK construction showing the world what we can do.

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  1. The industry generally needs to go through a digital transformation before it starts to implement process like L2 & L3 which are low down in the transformation food chain. The idea of getting CEO, CTO and CIO in a room is a great one, but these subject matter needs to be the digital transformation not L3.

  2. Whilst the excitement around Level 3 is understandable, it’s rather like the new kid on the block, and there’s a very real danger of us being distracted from the job in hand. Achieving Level 2 business as usual. Whilst the “success” of Level 2 is out there, and achieving recognition around the world, just spend some time examining supply chain and SME BIM capabilities and you get quite a different picture!

    There is much work to be done in getting the word out across our industry. Unfortunately repetition doesn’t make good headlines does it? But repetition is just what we need right now until it hurts! We need to tell, and retell, and tell again the story of Level 2 until everyone gets it. We also need to get beyond the hothouse of the UK BIM Community where everyone does get it to a lesser or greater extent anyway. We have to get both broader and deeper in our reach and impact.

    Meanwhile the cutting edge will be pushing Level 3 and that’s fine – we need them. But let’s be under no illusion, the battleground for the next few years will be Level 2 for the supply chain and SMEs, and some education for Clients on providing collaborative BIM leadership.

    Yes we’ve come a long way, lots of good stuff happening – digital transformation is in sight – but we still have a long way to go. So let’s get cracking!

  3. Or we can just ask Skanska to show us how it is done, since they are selling it today as a developed option to their future client.

  4. Thanks for the comments folks.

    Raj – Without the frame of reference of the L2 and then L3, the digital transformation would lack focus. It’s not about ticking a box, but having these prescribed ideas of what good and better look like to give clarity to digitisation, hopefully promoting wise investments in our industry… rather than wild marketing under the banner of compliance to a ‘Level’.

    John E – I work with a wide cross-section of the industry and totally agree that even the 2020 business-as-usual target for L2 seems like an incredible challenge. We all need to really roll up our sleeves to stop people from falling behind; reading my two previous article I hope you will see I’m a pragmatist and not a L3 fantasist.

    However, I genuinely believe now the funding is announced and there are initiatives starting, those capable of joining the discussion need to get over the reluctance to discuss what comes after 2020.

    John * – LOL I’m not sure that’s going to work.

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