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It’s more than just software

As part of its vision for the industry and the country, the Government will require construction projects to be 33% cheaper and delivered 50% faster using 50% fewer materials and emitting 50% less carbon by 2025.

That is quite a list of demands and there is strong political will in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to see this strategy through. However, delivering that scale of reform will need a pretty dramatic transformation of the current supply chain.

The “silver bullet”, at least in the minds of government officials, is building information modelling (BIM).

BIM is not a new concept but the pace of development and adoption has noticeably quickened since the government made it the preferred method for delivering all centrally procured contracts from 2016. Not surprisingly this has prompted a flood of companies claiming they ‘do BIM’. However, what do they actually mean?

A survey of clients carried out by the National Federation of Builders revealed that “neither contractors nor clients are prepared or ready enough for the advent of BIM”. There is high awareness of the potential benefits of BIM but very slow take up.

Research would suggest facilities managers remain largely in the dark. Yet they arguably have the most to gain from BIM because of the support a data-rich model can give them in the ongoing operation of their building. Most do believe BIM will make their lives easier, but only a few understand how. Another survey, this one carried out by the BIM4FM group, an industry group set up to drive BIM adoption by the FM industry, found that 65% of respondents had heard of BIM, but only 23.5% said they would definitely use it.

So what is BIM and, equally importantly, what isn’t it? Well, it is not software – or at least it isn’t all about software. There is a widely held perception that BIM is little more than 3D CAD. BIM is more like a philosophy. It is a new way of working encapsulated in the way a project supply chain manages and exchanges information. This makes it a possible catalyst for creating the properly integrated project teams we have all been pleading for.

It can do this by improving the specification process; streamlining the delivery of technical information at all stages; and reducing clashes. This adds up to shorter project times and, therefore, lowers costs. It is a platform that also lends itself to greater use of off-site fabrication of building services modules. It is most certainly not an invitation to bombard project teams with vast amounts of information.

Project team members need a project brief in plain language and in terms they understand. So, at the early stages, the BIM model will be expected to provide basic information about sizes, weights and dimensions of services equipment.

At the moment, the government is only insisting on Level 2 BIM by 2016. This means we should be focusing on adapting existing information and design practices so they work on a digital platform. We have to get Level 2 right or there will be no later versions. Level 2 is relatively basic and depends on templates containing product performance information in a simple format that is useful to consultants and contractors. It is, largely, about gathering and exchanging information we already use in a more sensible way.

Once we have that right, we can look at the really exciting possibilities in Level 3 BIM and beyond., when we will move into the real digital age and look towards the 2025 deadline.

Jeff House is regulatory development manager at Baxi Commercial

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