John Ford: Why it’s time for a BIM reboot

John Ford, technical development lead for Galliford Try, has carried out an in-depth analysis to see if the industry is getting closer to the 2016 aspiration to make BIM business as usual. The results show we could be heading backwards.

Our industry has embarked on a digital transformational journey, one which requires significant reliance on good information management. But last year I reported a worrying trend that our projects were not performing as well as we thought in terms of 1192/19650 adoption, and now I provide a further update.

Four years ago, this April, the government mandate came into effect whereby all centrally funded projects adhere to the information management processes defined in a UK centric, whole-life approach to built assets: PAS 1192-2/3. On the face of it, the “process” defined in PAS 1192-2/3 and reiterated in IS0 19650 is relatively simple:

This process, which relied on modelled information at an object level to support whole-life management of a built asset, was assigned a maturity framework name of “BIM Level 2” and differed from any other local and global frameworks.

Soon after BIM Level 2 officially went live, an ambitious goal was set by the UK BIM Alliance in an attempt to push the industry in the right direction to try to get BIM Level 2, defined most notably by its process illustrated above, to be business as usual in our industry by 2020. This means that each of the five steps above should have become commonplace on most of our projects.

But let’s be clear. Each step is vital, you can’t shortcut. For example, in my experience, the first and last step of the process is the most neglected. Many of the hundreds of Employer’s Information Requirements I have seen and even tried to input into, have not truly reflected the client’s needs. They have often edited templates from other clients and have been mostly compiled by consultants or individuals to become a bespoke template for every client-initiated project regardless of type or complexity.

Clients have also neglected step five, whereby they take receipt of the outputs but don’t check, use or need them. They have received COBie files but still paid their FM provider to resurvey the completed built asset and collect the data again unnecessarily. This is because they haven’t informed their people or updated their processes in preparation for COBie or whatever the specified asset data delivery mechanism was.

Then, in 2018, ISO 19650 replaced PAS 1192, but the process illustrated above remains the same. And because the PAS was superseded, the old maturity framework BIML2 underpinned by PAS 1192-2 was replaced by the “UK BIM Framework” now underpinned by ISO 19650.

There is no doubt that we have progressed and improved significantly in the last few years around digital delivery, but I wish to share some statistics to help answer the key questions: have we got to business as usual yet when it comes to the process above? And If not, what is there still to be done?

In 2014, I started to collect large amounts of data on all the projects that passed my desk as it was one of my objectives to understand how information requirements from clients on new tenders and live projects were changing and being approached. All those that went ahead were recorded in a tool illustrated below. I have been using the tool ever since and have recorded 303 tenders/projects up to the start of January this year.­

So, using this data, I found a way to identify how close we are to business as usual by comparing to the original process. The first two steps of the process defined in 1192 and 19650 fundamentally required the client to complete two vital steps:

1. Understand their own requirements

2. Pass those requirements on before any appointment is made.

So I looked at my data from my 303 projects and analysed those where clients were:

Wanting to follow the process above defined by the PAS and the ISO

Observing step 1 of the process by understanding their information needs

Observing step 2 by sharing their information exchange needs on, clearly.

The graph above illustrates those three points above from the 303 projects. The white line represents the number of projects to cross my desk over time. The blue line represents those projects where BIM in some form was being referenced at tender. This could be through the provision of an Exchange/Employer’s information Requirements (EIR) or perhaps it was simply an ill-informed “Give me BIM level 2”.

What this blue line represents is the growing popularity of BIM if nothing else. Clients may not understand the process and their obligations to provide an EIR, but they know that this thing called BIM should be referenced at the very least. Almost all projects crossing my desk from 2017 onwards had some reference. But whether BIM was being mentioned or not isn’t a clear indicator of business as usual as the process requires clients to understand their needs and share them on.

That’s where the orange line comes in. It represents those projects that followed the second part of the process at least and provided an EIR in some form. At first glance, you will notice that around a year ago, almost half of all projects that crossed my desk were following the second step of the process by providing an EIR. But it’s not good enough to just stamp something with EIR and hope it reflects the true needs mandated by the first step.

It is common practice, unfortunately, to simply take someone’s EIR template, change the name, a bit of the content and then call it a true EIR. Sharing an EIR without the first step of the process taking place organically, with no shortcuts, is essential.

This is what the yellow line portrays by representing only those projects where we received an EIR that was clear and truly reflected the client’s needs, tailored for the project and not just a generic for every project. As you can see, the yellow line is a poor reflection of our business as usual.

If my statistics are correct, then a tiny fraction of our projects are truly following the process defined in the PAS/ISO under whichever framework banner you want to use. We can deliver on every project to the contractual EIR all we like, but if it doesn’t truly reflect the needs of the client and their stakeholders, then the post-construction (opex) benefits through structured, timely and complete information will not be realised.

You might well be questioning my interpretation of a “Good EIR” at this point, and you would be right to do so. Four  years ago, I needed support with the task of reviewing EIRs in tenders as some EIRs can be 100 pages or more and require an understanding of how each requirement impacts procurement, design, construction and the process of information management, so I needed help! But I quickly found that those whom I assigned this task were struggling to understand the impact of the EIR.

For example, an EIR statement like “Provide me every component via COBie that makes up the building fabric, regardless of it being maintainable” or “Only provide design models in Revit” was a huge problem for us for various reasons. But those I assigned to pick this problem up didn’t highlight this and when we got to contract, we simply said yes to it in our tendering BIM plans and were now liable for its delivery. I had to develop an assessment tool and ensure those performing this task understood what I considered a risk so we spoke the same language.

So I developed a process and reporting tool, which required the mark-up of each line of text in the EIR using a simple four-colour coding system. I would provide many examples of each coding, and would also explain why they were a problem.

Those who reviewed these documents would mark up each sentence, using a guidance document that helped them to align to my thinking of risks vs opportunity and would then submit this to me to quickly review afterwards to confirm alignment in thinking. This helped immensely and allowed us to challenge EIRs during tenders early to obtain clarity or if none was provided, to make it clear we were not going to provide this if found unreasonable.

A small snippet example is provided below from an old 45-page EIR document. Now I knew when I saw this, that this was a rebadged and amended EIR by another client. Therefore, this EIR was deemed unclear because it had statements in red like “the supplier will actually define our requirements for us” and the fact we had seen this elsewhere.

Another quick trick was to check the EIR to see if it referenced O&Ms at all. I can confirm that more than 80% of the EIRs I received made no reference to wanting O&Ms in their usual traditional format of lever arch files. Yet when we quizzed this at tender, more than half would say “Yes, we want traditional lever arch files” and often advised to ignore what was stated in the EIR if counter to that requirement.

So, to conclude, we are certainly not at business as usual when it comes to delivering projects to the process explained above, defined within the old PAS/BIM L2 framework and the new ISO 19650/UK BIM framework, because we still have a great majority of projects that don’t get clear or actual client/project specific EIRs. Those that do obtain a clear EIR often don’t go on to use all the information provided to them as requested, especially the information requirements for FM purposes.

But I do ask whether the blame is on our industry. Step one, two and five of the process can only be supported by our industry, not owned by it and so we can’t measure our performance by the performance of those who consume our services. I believe that our public sector needs to re-energise the original 2011 objective as my data shows that performance has declined in the last year, with poorer quality EIRs or no EIRs at all from big public clients that once did at least try.

This would help improve steps one and two of the process in the public sector at least. But the final step would need reintroduction of the original and defunct October 2016 objective whereby government sectors must have a data/information quality checking process in place before accepting any outputs. This objective never materialised and was a great blow to the business as usual aspiration. As a result, the information in structured and unstructured formats go unchecked until it’s too late, resulting in huge waste at all stages of a project.

These results were first presented at 2020 BIM Show Live. If you want more information on this subject, check out the post-event recording.

Main image: Verticalarray/

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  1. John, thanks for sharing these very valuable observations! Although not with the same accuracy and underlying data as you explained here, these observations are commonly expressed among practitioners. As of today, clients are very often not aware of their share and responsibility to get BIM going. Is this lacking awareness of the gains they otherwise would benefit from?

  2. A good article, if disappointing findings. Many studies have found that construction industry clients are best placed to drive innovation, it is worrying that clients are losing interest in driving BIM.

    It would be interesting to look at why a standard EIR specification has not emerged. One would assume that there must be a high degree of similarity in information requirements for every building, certainly for similar building types.

    One also wonders about the role of tenants and investors that rent and buy existing buildings. Buildings are expected to have energy certificates and, often, sustainability certification – higher standards of certification attracting a premium. Since building information is of value to tenants and investors perhaps a certification scheme is needed for building information. If tenants and investors put a price on accurate and current building information then clients would have an incentive to pay attention to their EIR.

  3. Hi John, can you clarify how many of the 303 projects mentioned in your article were public sector client ones, and how many of those fell into the yellow and orange lines?

  4. A lot of the information requirements like the O&Ms in lever arch files are wrapped up in standard contracts and certain deliverables in RFP responses which the client won’t want to duplicate into another document.

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