Are we there yet?

Almost a year after the UK government mandated Level 2 BIM for its projects, are the promised efficiencies being achieved? Liza Young reports on the BIM Edge debate

CIBSE Journal April 2017 BIM Edge debate

The ambition for Level 2 BIM was to progress from 3D spatial models to those that also offer all the information about a building – its components, assemblies, costs, operation and performance – throughout the life-cycle of a built asset.

The Level 2 model was intended to be built progressively, by many parties, into a holistic, up-to-date and digital representation of the building. It would be used to measure social, economic and environmental outcomes, and to evaluate performance against set targets. A more accurate definition of the acronym might even be building information management, focusing on the innovation of data management, rather than simply the use of geometric models.

That was the view of some audience members at the BIM Edge debate, run by Edge and CIBSE Home Counties North East Region at the Institute of Physics in February.

As part of its Construction Strategy, the government has mandated Level 2 BIM for centrally procured projects and looks committed to move to Level 3 by 2020. This has triggered a realisation within the industry that the BIM journey is going to be much tougher than expected, said Les Copeland, director at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and chair of the CIBSE BIM Steering Group. ‘We were living in nirvana with pink glasses on, not realising it was going to be tough. Everyone shared some pain, and now we all understand the common goal – some of the best relationships have formed out of bad jobs.’

Dwight Wilson, digital engineering manager at Imtech Engineering Services, said a positive to come from BIM is that clients have started asking questions about their asset data. At the end of last year, all the larger jobs came with some sort of asset-information requirements (AIR) – detailed pieces of information about the asset. ‘People are realising that we have to do this, it’s no longer an option, so they’re asking how we can collaborate and work better,’ he added.

Debate chair, Dr Anne Kemp – director at Atkins and chair of the UK BIM Alliance – said the process is encouraging collaboration and refocusing teams on the end product, rather than just on compliance reports. Implicit in this journey is a responsibility on client advisory teams to understand and advocate BIM, because not all clients are aware of what to do with asset information. ‘The client is after direction. Part of our job is to coach the client, inform them, and work together,’ said Copeland.

Not all the stakeholders understand the real value of data, however.‘There’s a party going on here called BIM, but facilities managers do not have a ticket to the show at the moment, and we are shouting into the dark as to what we think they need,’ added Copeland.

Kemp said collaboration can be difficult if people have a commercial vested interest because, for some, efficiency gains mean less money. Another barrier is the ‘blame culture’ in the UK, said Copeland. ‘Contracts are drafted to stand up in court and address what happens when it goes wrong, rather than how to prevent it from going wrong. Until we have collaborative contracts, we won’t see any changes.’

BIM terminology is also stymieing buy-in from end users. Edge member Helen Taylor, practice director at Scott Brownrigg, said the language was off-putting for colleagues, while manufacturers’ naming conventions needed to be agreed and fixed, to avoid discrepancies.

CIBSE’s newly launched BIMHawk – a website and software plugin that enables the creation of standard parameters for use in BIM objects – aims to combat this. It allows clients to acquire structured data in a predictable format that is used from start to finish by the design and delivery teams, thereby dispensing with the need to create new models from scratch.

Presenting a client view, Karen Alford, from the Environment Agency, said a common language must be developed to make BIM work. ‘The definition of digital is two-way communication, whether between software or between organisations. We all have to work together to solve software or communication problems,’ she said. Investing money into ‘trial projects’ to explore these opportunities might be the best way forward, Alford added.

Getting the whole industry to adopt BIM could be problematic, however, because the government’s influence as a client is limited, especially with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that cannot afford the investment. But Copeland believes this will change. ‘The sooner we get Level 2 to become the day job and business as usual, the faster this gap will disappear.’