In less than a week, BIM level 2 will become mandatory on all public projects in the UK. The new requirement has already led to a step change in uptake of BIM in the UK construction industry, and BIM will increasingly be seen as an essential part of the design, construction and asset performance optimisation process.
The benefits of proficient information management are well understood, and leading exponents among designers, constructors and asset owners are already achieving considerable gains.
However, while the uptake of BIM accelerates, its true efficiency gains are being limited by procurement processes that are rooted in a pre-BIM world. Challenging and modifying these established processes will help to truly unleash the efficiency savings made possible by openly- shared project information models.
At the most basic level, procurement systems allocate work to suppliers to ensure the right skills and resources are deployed within a contractual arrangement that establishes clear responsibilities and manages risks.
But it is often at the interfaces of information transfer that inefficiencies occur, affecting both outcomes and value. This has been partly due to the limitations of technology, but also as a result of the lack of a collaborative framework which can bring together all the skills required to deliver a high-performance built asset. These skills include ingenuity and innovative thinking, design and integration, communication, management, practical understanding of construction, product development, and asset operation and maintenance, all of which are distributed across a wide range of organisations.
Now these typical skillsets are increasingly being found in all parts of the construction industry, as leaders shape their businesses to take advantage of the changing landscape that BIM is creating. This is giving rise to opportunities for new approaches to procurement viewed through the prism of information modelling and management.
Model-based information sharing can be integrated into typical procurement systems through a managed common data environment aligned with the principles of BS 1192 and the subsequent PAS series. Many firms, however, are reluctant to develop models at appropriate levels of detail that can be relied on across the whole value chain, and instead revert to old fashioned, pre-BIM modes of information management. This is an obstacle to realising the full benefits of BIM, and suppliers must develop the confidence and the habit of a BIM-first approach to design and construction. Ultimately this will lead to reduced overall risk and reduced costs of disputes and insurance.
This also means that different contributors to the project information model must show increasing awareness of the needs of other project participants, from specialist designers and contractors right through to the installation and maintenance teams. Opportunities for efficient and low-waste construction such as DfMA need to be considered early, even if the procurement method does not provide early contractor involvement. While consulting engineers may not be able to provide information for fabrication or installation, they can steer the project information model through different technologies and enable additional inputs to be built on top of earlier models. Alternatively, prime contractors might take on the role of information manager and lead the model through increasing levels of detail with inputs from all parties. Those parties need to keep in mind the expertise and experience of operators by following the principles of Soft Landings as an integral part of the process.
We are unlikely to settle on one new industry procurement method that suits everyone, as owners and developers have different risk strategies, project gateways and personal preferences.
However, a few common threads may emerge, such as the realisation that holding back key elements of decision making in order to wait for lower package prices often leads to programme and quality risks that outweigh any cost savings in supplier pricing. Risk/reward sharing may also gain traction, to incentivise firms to develop and share great ideas that deliver efficiencies in a way that many procurement systems currently do not.
There is, however, a common yardstick that can be applied when considering any procurement system: how well does it map onto the Information Delivery Cycle as presented in PAS 1192 Part 2? This key concept does not specify ‘who does what’ or what the specific employer decision-making gates are, but it clearly sets out how things should happen in the overall interests of higher performance assets and enhanced outcomes.
If we bring in the other benefits of BIM, such as the potential to reduce risk and optimise safety, time, carbon, adaptability and value at all stages of the life-cycle, the prize for innovation in procurement is considerable. Leading infrastructure projects in the UK are already leading the way, but one size will not fit all. Collaboration and sharing of ideas is essential if the industry is to match the need and potential presented by BIM.