Clients: the hidden partner in BIM

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We cannot allow inequalities in the understanding of BIM to hamper progress, or impede the industry and its clients alike from enjoying the benefits of BIM, writes Michael McCullen, Chairman, Sitedesk

Those working within the design and construction space are becoming increasingly comfortable with Building Information Modelling (BIM). Having worked for some years towards the inevitability of mandated BIM on their public projects they are in quite good shape now that we are on the final approach to 2016.

It is easy to forget that within the client base there are many for whom BIM is less clear. They face challenges: not only in initiating BIM-based projects, but in managing them throughout the process. For the local government officer, for example, the prospect of organising tenders for a BIM-enabled project can seem daunting.

BIM is only mandatory for centrally-funded public building projects and local government adoption has been less universal and slower than in some other areas. When initiating a school, council homes or landscaping development the use of BIM requires a concrete decision — but to move it forward effectively can be challenging.

Many council designers, architects and project managers will be somewhat familiar with the concept of BIM, but it is not always the case across the organisation — and sometimes the familiarity may be more in theory than in practice.

For a department head whose main role is in the day-to-day administration of a local service, the deeper processes, nuances and lexicon of BIM can seem complex.

It may not be until they have to push forward procurement for a BIM project, co-ordinate it, wrangle collaboration from unwilling parties, or assure someone that using BIM will generate useful asset information that this problem arises. Assessing and making decisions between tenders may be difficult if the tendering suppliers take a level of BIM knowledge for granted — or, worse, take advantage of a client’s lack of knowledge.

The onus is on the construction industry as to how it interfaces with clients who are either unfamiliar with BIM or have unrealistic expectations about what it can deliver.


Unfortunately it is inevitable that some will rely on, or even seek to leverage, the poor knowledge of a client to dictate what BIM is or how it will be used for the project. Both a sense of responsibility and some smart thinking about how to work effectively together are required; this starts by establishing a shared understanding for each project about the practical benefits that BIM will deliver.

Contractors should be mindful that BIM experience may vary, especially when responding to tender notices for projects that are not centrally-funded. As projects move forward it is critical to embrace the client fully into the collaborative process. They will, after all, be the only constant through the full building lifecycle: not just during the design and build stages but post-handover when all other parties have moved on. Clients should take a more active interest in ensuring best BIM outcomes by being involved in decisions about technology and process, rather than simply delegating these decisions to suppliers.

Construction partners can encourage and support this process. One way is to ensure that platforms are in place to deliver transparency and visibility to the client throughout the process — and that is more than simply assuring a client that a 3D viewer is available for their project. Today the choice of collaboration platforms is wider than simply offering viewers and mark-up tools. Ideally the client will find it easy and intuitive to communicate across the team and respond to design changes which can then, just as easily, be shared with contractors and site-workers.

The BIM information flow must be multi-way and visible to all in order to reap the benefits of collaboration. Suppliers can help make clients more aware of available tools, while clients can arm themselves with more information about the types of systems available and what these can do in practical terms to help assure success.

The rich asset information that starts with 3D design and builds throughout the construction process is one of the key outputs of BIM — but the ease of managing that information growth depends on the choice of an appropriate system for capturing and storing data.

BIM was conceived for greater industry cost-efficiency and sustainability in the longer term, not only for the construction phase of projects. BIM aims to generate not just an integrated 3D-enabled design and build process but a long-term database of information to support the full building lifecycle.

It provides access to a huge volume of data about installed equipment, engineered systems for every aspect of the building’s operation, records about asset location and maintenance requirements and much, much more. It must be organised and accessible from day one of operations.

When handing a completed project over to its future owner this data must be transferred electronically — either by a direct exchange between systems or using an industry standard schema like COBie — thus emphasising the importance of ensuring that a system is place to capture the right information from the start.

Clients are concerned not only about BIM compliance but ensuring that all relevant asset data is captured and auditable with full accountability for all parties involved. This is vital in a public sector that is under intense scrutiny; it is also a desire shared by an industry that is notoriously prone to dispute. Construction suppliers can help the client, and themselves, by capturing deep information as they go along — including design changes, clash resolution activities and records of compliance.

Clients need the as-built asset information model to hand over to the FM team and future occupants, as well as O&M information, in as neat and organised a format as possible — not hurriedly gathered up at the last minute.

BIM is ultimately about delivering benefits to the client, to ensure the best design and construction outcomes, at the right cost and quality, in the desired timeframe. A good BIM project will do much more. It will provide an asset information model to ensure cost-effective maintenance regimes can be developed, securing far greater cost efficiencies during the lifetime operation of an asset than those achieved during its construction.

Doing so will require increasing transparency and smarter information management from the very start of every project until it is in the hands of its eventual owner and user. We cannot allow inequalities in the understanding of BIM to hamper progress, or impede the industry and its clients alike from enjoying the benefits of BIM.

About the author

Michael McCullen, Chairman, Sitedesk An accomplished CEO and software entrepreneur with over 30 years’ industry experience, 24 of these involved in international business. Previously a director and divisional CEO of AIM-listed Eleco plc with strategic, operational and P&L responsibility for its international group of software businesses.

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