The government is spearheading a drive towards the new generation of building information modelling. What impact will BIM Level 3 have on the way construction works?
There has been speculation for some time about what BIM Level 3 might look like. Now we have a better idea, at least at a relatively high level. At the end of February the government launched its strategic plan for BIM Level 3, known as Digital Built Britain, or DBB. You can read more at digital-built-britain.com.
Given that a very substantial proportion of the industry has yet to reach BIM Level 2, you could argue that the launch of DBB is a little premature. On the other hand, there is no harm in setting out the shape of things to come even if a time-specific commitment similar to that made by the government for Level 2 for 2016 is conspicuously absent from the strategic plan.
Importantly, the plan confirms that the significant progress made to date by BIM will be supported going forward by a new round of investment, which will be used to fund a series of key measures including:
- The creation of a set of new, international “Open Data” standards to facilitate sharing of data across the market
- The establishment of a new contractual framework for projects procured using BIM to ensure consistency and encourage collaborative working
- The creation of a cultural environment which is cooperative and based upon learning and sharing
- Training the public sector client in the use of BIM techniques
- Driving domestic and international growth and jobs in technology and construction.
With the upturn in the economy giving grounds for cautious optimism, now would seem to be a good time to set out the Level 3 stall even though there is still concern, particularly at SME level, at the cost involved in gearing up to Level 2.
Level 3 is based on the Level 2 “data exchange” process but enhanced by more extensive data definitions and processes including Model Views, which will allow interoperable sharing of information at key stages. One of the practical issues that this vision raises is whether the majority of firms will actually have the capacity to deal with this amount of information, which in turn raises the likelihood that much of it will be stored in the cloud, emphasising the security issues which lie behind the increased use of BIM.
Some fairly radical rethinking of contractual structures and obligations is going to be necessary as we move to BIM Level 3, but this will be driven by the requirement to review insurance arrangements
In addition, the sort of digitally-based procurement process that the plan envisages may well not be achievable at this point in time in terms of the sheer computing power that will be required across the sector. I have no doubt, however, that if Moore’s Law holds true, within a very short period of time the technology to accommodate this level of data storage will be achievable and affordable: bear in mind that the processing capacity of the PlayStation 3 is equivalent to that of the most powerful supercomputer in the world in 2000.
Inevitably, perhaps, I found myself searching through the plan to see how it might impinge upon my activities. In the “commercial” section there is a reference to developing collaborative models of working, contracts which will focus on the capture of performance intelligence and project feedback, and the employment of the data-based briefing processes.
It is no surprise that some fairly radical rethinking of contractual structures and obligations is going to be necessary as we move to Level 3 but this will be driven by the requirement to review insurance arrangements so that ring-fencing of liability, still a feature at Level 2, is removed and replaced by a project insurance approach. Intriguingly, the DBB also mentions the development of paperless contract models and international contract models for Level 3 working (also paperless?). That would, at least, make my office more tidy.
The report recognises that we will not go from Level 2 to Level 3 in one leap. There are four stages of development identified from Level 2 to Level 3, starting with improvements in the level 2 model and moving on through new technologies and systems and the development of new business models. What happens after Level 3? Level 4 of course. It is anticipated that Level 4 will have a focus on social outcomes and wellbeing as more data about people and social issues become available. Obviously, what this means in practice remains to be seen and, as I mention above, it is probably prudent that there is no actual timescale set to move to Level 3 since there is still a lot of catching up to be done in the industry, both culturally and technologically, as 2016 draws ever closer.
Simon Lewis is a partner in the construction and engineering team at Bond Dickinson