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BIM demands a new approach to procurement Richard Shennan

It’s been a month since BIM level 2 became mandatory on all public projects in the UK, leading to a step change in use of BIM within the UK construction industry.

The benefits of BIM are well known, bringing time and cost savings from design all the way through to maintenance. However, while the use of BIM accelerates, its true efficiency gains are being curtailed by procurement processes designed for a pre-BIM world. Challenging these embedded processes will help to truly unleash the efficiency savings made possible by openly-shared information models.

It is at the interfaces of information transfer that most inefficiencies take place, with effects on outcome and cost. This can be due to limitations in the technology, but is usually due to the lack of a collaborative framework to bring all the right skills together when needed. Many skills are needed for project information management, including innovative thinking, communication, management, design, and an understanding of asset operation, maintenance, and practical construction skills. These skills are typically widely distributed across the many stakeholders involved in a project.

However, cross-over skillsets are increasingly being found in all parts of the construction industry. This is due to the natural movement of employees between companies, the prominence of BIM in construction-related training courses, and the result of leaders fostering skills in response to changes in the industry.

With the spread of BIM skills, there is the opportunity to adapt procurement processes to better support information management. This begins with a common data environment aligned with principles of BS 1192 and its related PAS series to allow model-based information sharing to be effectively integrated into the procurement process.

Another obstacle to proficient project information management is the tendency among some companies to revert to pre-BIM modes of information management. Model-based design information is often reduced to conventional deliverables at the contractual interface, leading to repeat modelling and risk of misunderstanding or misalignment. Participants need to be aware of the needs of all those contributing to the common data environment, and all opportunities for cutting waste need to be considered early, even if contractors or engineers are not usually brought into the project initially. They can bring savings in time, cost or carbon if allowed to contribute to project information models early on. A critical role becomes one of the integrator, bringing parties together to work around a single thread that progresses through the levels of detail and of information.

Other practices will further increase the benefits of BIM. Allocating the role of information manager will create a central point of responsibility for ensuring the common data environment is well maintained, new process thinking will emerge, while sharing project risks and returns will spearhead innovation and ensure best practice, as stakeholders will be incentivised to add value to project information models.

In truth, we're unlikely to establish a single procurement process that suits everybody, as there is such diversity between projects, clients and markets. But ensuring the primacy of the information models is the common thread, however the various contributors are contracted. The gains will be seen in better, cheaper assets produced through more efficient working methods. But optimum collaboration and establishing project information management as the new ‘business as usual’ are crucial to realising the immense benefits offered by BIM.

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