BIM is famously the magic formula that will get the industry working together in peace and harmony. But it looks awfully like a way of shifting risk onto subcontractors …
Has BIM bombed? No. But it is pretty damn close. Let’s you and I have a quiet chat. It is beyond doubt that building contract putter-uppering folk are hellish distracted from building the job by risk-shift. The suspicion is that BIM is yet another device in the blame game: a device to label a design and integration cock-up as a contractor risk. And there does come a point when risk-shift is an abuse of dominant position contractually dressed up as freedom to contract. You can talk big until you are blue in the face about working together and spirit of mutual co-operation; it’s a sham label.
Tucked away in the blurb about what BIM is, sneak those nudge, nudge, wink, wink words “collaboration”, “co-operation”, “relationships, “dependencies” and yes, that whip to beat a dead horse, “partnering”. And the contractors smile and mutter, “Here we go again”. BIM is risk-shifting and we all know it and it will bomb … unless.
You can talk big until you are blue in the face about working together and spirit of mutual co-operation; it’s a sham label
What does the propaganda tell us BIM is? The Right Honourable Francis Maude MP, minister for the Cabinet Office, says, “This government’s four-year strategy for BIM implementation will change the dynamics and behaviour of the construction supply chain, unlocking new, more efficient and collaborative ways of working. This whole sector adoption of BIM will put us in the vanguard of a new digital construction era and position the UK to become the world leaders in BIM”.
Yes, I know, cringe-making isn’t it? It gets worse because the bull tells us that stuff like BIM is going to cut costs of construction by 33% and, wait for it, create a 50% saving in time on your contract … by 2025. Giggle, go on. The Construction Industry Council has produced a BIM protocol, full of buzzword bumf (and unusually unhelpful for CIC). BIM supports the “production of deliverables for data drops at defined project stages”; “BIM is to be expressly incorporated into all direct contracts”; “appended to the appointments of the design team on Design-Build projects there will be allocation of design delivery of modules”; “there will be a Model Enabling Amendment and Exemplar Amendments for common contracts”.
None the wiser, I got a hint of what BIM is from the US: “A BIM is shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable bases for decisions during life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition”.
Stop the nonsense of not trusting or not paying architects and engineers to decide what’s to be done. The BIM model stays very firmly in that camp
So it looks to boil down to this: the architect and civil, structural and building services engineers collaborate and produce a virtual information model. This is handed to the main contractor and all the subcontractors and uncle Tom Cobley so that each outfit adds “discipline-specific data” to the shared model. And in the end the model goes beyond planning and design into the building work itself and lifecycle forecasting and cost management and construction management and project management and facility management …
As for working together, you might see that the actual builder folk will be asked to give collaboration input and contractually put their neck on the block for the inter-relationship of each bit of the building, clash detection, installation workability. I suppose the model turns up on the plasterer’s laptop and he BIMS his bit into it. When I talk about risk-shift and glum faces, do you get it?
So, it will bomb, believe me … unless. Stop the nonsense of not trusting or not paying architects and engineers to decide what’s to be done. The BIM model stays very firmly in that camp. Notice the need to pay more fees. The idea of getting contractors to give input to the design, the specification, the solution to how the M&E links into the ceilings, the partitions, the raised floors, is a simple cheat to get freebie input. Pay the architect to interrogate the proper use of products and damn well draw it up in the model. For goodness sake, write the script for the play before you go on stage.
BIM is nothing more than a posh set of drawings on the desktop or iPad. It will bomb if you try to get some sort of committee to decide what’s what. You can’t bully people into collaborative working especially when they have long since realised that it’s in truth all about risk shift and blame.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple