Helping clients use BIM


Clients should be the ones benefiting most from BIM. But they are mainly unaware of the potential. As the leading consultants and contractors change to using BIM as their default process for their own reasons so clients are having BIM done to them rather than getting what they need. This 'passive' stance can be fine for some but 'active' clients can get much more.

Clients typically ask why they should be using BIM, ask what it actually is, and then what it would mean for them to become users.  There are now regular surveys of client experience in the USA and UK which show that most clients are getting better worked-out projects with far less risk and error, that their stakeholders are better engaged and that their decisions are better made, that they see site productivity rise and more use of offsite construction and that some are seeing time and money saved. With UK BIM as required by the government there is also the boost to lifetime performance of the building through support to facility management.

In all other capital goods industries, building cars, aircraft, ships or any other machines, digital design, testing and manufacture have been in place for a generation, with large rises in productivity and quality achieved. Construction never followed those other industries as it lacked their dominant buyers. So the cost of building a parking space is now equal to the capital cost of a decent car, with the car space rising in cost year on year whilst the car for the same price get progressively cleverer as its underlying cost falls. The UK government took the bold step in 2011 of playing the role of dominant construction buyer and mandating the use of BIM by 2016, whilst also funding the development of the toolkit to make it possible. All clients can now use the kit to get the service.

The early adopter clients should be the ones that build regularly and retain and manage their estates: public sectors like education and health, justice and defence; private major developers and corporations; utilities and infrastructure providers. Those with standardised elements in their briefs will benefit particularly, such as retailers, health providers, educators and the MoJ with its standard court rooms. These clients should become 'active' BIM users, setting out their information requirements, appointing their team with full instructions and getting stage-end decision support and digital O&M outputs at handover. Imperial College London is a pioneer 'active' client outside the central government circle, trialling active BIM on its White City campus (fig 1)

Other types of client can still do well by being 'passive'. These clients either ask for BIM or have it offerred to them by their team but they leave the team to define its BIM use for itself. One example is the London Borough of Redbridge which appointed Bouygues to deliver a school extention. Bouygues now always uses BIM and they appointed an experience BIM architect, David Miller. The award-winning school was delivered in the short 17 months allowed, but was also redesigned to suit the educators better. Offsite fabrication speeded the job and Redbridge also got unasked-for O&M information. (fig 2)

Clients preparing to use BIM actively need to think about moving their business case and briefing focus from capital spend alone to 'Totex', the whole-life performance supported by BIM. They should look at aligning their internal decision-making process with the project decision points and asking for inputs which support internal process needs. They will need to invest in some internal equiping and upskilling and they will need to procure their design-build-operate teams differently. Appointing a ready-made team is better for BIM: one put together by the lead consultant or the lead contractor. Members must share processes and information management and scratch teams will perform less well.

The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 is now the basis of BIM work planning. Once a business case is established, Stage One of the Plan of Work is the intense client stage. Requirements must be defined, tasks allocated and team appointed, all in parallel. Advisers can be used to set up the project before the design-build team is selected, or the team leadership can be brought in to help the client define its needs and plan the task before having its appointment formalised. The NBS Toolkit is the new way to allocate tasks to all parties.

The new discipline for clients is to define its information requirements, at organisation level, asset management level and project level. This leads to a model BIM Execution Plan which can then be negotiated with the successful supply team to form its instructions. These instructions are then attached to normal appointments and contracts as a BIM Protocol.

Formal information exchanges at each design stage-end are the mark of the BIM process. The client will recieve the information they asked for and should be able to make a quicker, clearer decision that is less likely to slip or reverse than with traditional working methods.

The final information for handover needs to transfer into the client's facility and asset management systems seamlessly. This can be done with the COBie format, a data structure which follows that of interoperable BIM but sets it out in a speadsheet manner for transfer. COBie stands for 'Construction to Operation of Building: information exchange'. Data transferred in this way is endlessly useful to a client, reducing FM cost, increasing building performance and longevity and integrating with building management systems and enterprise resource planning. 

BIM should not now cost a client more than traditional methods. The learning curve is virtually over for leading designers and contractors. BIM saves them time and risk. The costs are in front-end loading of activity and in additional services which are now possible. Construction costs should fall compared to benchmarks, as they have for monitored government early-adopter projects.

My new book, BIM for Construction Clients, presents these arguments and guides procedures, together with providing case studies of early adopter clients. Published by the NBS, it is available in print and e-book formats from RIBA Bookshops.

Richard Saxon www.saxoncbe.com 


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