The collaborative sharing of information across projects through Level 2 BIM certainly sounds good on paper. In reality, it relies on a level of trust that the industry has never been comfortable with

Rudi Klein

On 31 May 2011 the Cabinet Office published its Construction Strategy, mapping out the way forward for central government construction procurement. The strategy announced that the “government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016.

BIM has its provenance in the manufacturing process and production control. It has been used extensively in aircraft manufacture and shipbuilding. At Level 2, BIM is about managing production through collaboratively sharing information digitally. But when applied to the construction industry as a process tool it is akin to using a Phillips screwdriver on a slotted screw.

The traditional configuration of procurement and contractual structures in the industry and embedded attitudes to risk are a major barrier to full Level 2 implementation.

Collaborative information sharing immediately cuts across contractual boundaries. Furthermore it challenges traditional procurement approaches. Efficient and effective production management requires that information critical to delivery should be available to be shared from the outset of the planning and design processes.  

The traditional configuration of procurement and contractual structures in the industry and embedded attitudes to risk are a major barrier to full Level 2 implementation

The BIM Protocol was published by the Construction Industry Council (CIC) in February 2013. The Protocol claims that it “supports BIM working at Level 2” but this claim is questionable.  The protocol fails to address the overriding essence of Level 2 BIM, which is collaborative information sharing. In BIM jargon this is termed a common data environment (CDE).

PAS 1192-2: 2013 (specification for information management of the capital phase of construction projects) states the CDE is “a means of allowing information to be shared efficiently and accurately between all members of the project team - whether that information is in 2D or 3D, or indeed textual or numeric”.

Sharing and accessing information exercises production control and avoids waste from the duplication and collection of data in different and non-compatible formats. PAS 1192-2: 2013 adds: “The fundamental requirement for producing information through a collaborative activity is to share information early, and to trust the information that is being shared as well as the originator of that information.”

Is this happening? The contract clause below is not untypical.

“This Model is made available to the user for information purposes only […] The user is advised to make their own investigations and assessments as required to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy or otherwise of the Model, and the user assumes full responsibility for any loss resulting from use or inability to use the Model. 

This clause is extraordinary since it, in effect, requires the user to double-check some or all of the elements included within the relevant model (or even to re-model those elements) to reduce the risk of being liable for any loss flowing from use of the model. Moreover, it is unlikely that the user’s PI cover will extend to the unlimited and potentially far-reaching losses that could arise. So much for operating within a common data environment.

Law firm Pinsent Masons carried out a survey of experts from 70 industry bodies earlier this year. Of the respondents, 94% said that BIM required a more collaborative approach between the client and construction team; 26% cited the absence of collaboration as the most significant barrier to achieving Level 2 BIM capability; 66% were of the view that existing forms of contract were not fit for purpose in a BIM-enabled world.

To achieve the level of collaboration envisaged by Level 2, two key issues have to be addressed:

  • early supply chain involvement to facilitate information sharing from the outset of the procurement process
  • an insurance solution that facilitates information sharing without the parties having to resort to protectionist mechanisms such as disclaimers and indemnities.

BIM has the potential to transform all aspects of construction procurement and delivery by eliminating costly and wasteful activity. We should understand, however, that even at Level 2 BIM, a significant level of collaborative effort is required to achieve this.

Rudi Klein is chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors Group. He was assisted on this article by Marion Rich, director of legal and contractual affairs at the BCSA, and Dr David Moore, director of engineering at the BCSA