Level 3 is finally on its way, although the fact remains that for many organisations, and in many parts of the construction industry, Level 2 – or even anywhere close – has not yet been achieved. Still, there is no harm in setting out where we should be going and, at least in broad detail, how it is intended that we get there.
In February 2015 the government launched Digital Built Britain (DBB) , the strategic plan for Level 3 BIM. Endorsed by Dr Vince Cable who is – at the time of writing – Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the DBB strategy is intended to build on the significant contribution that BIM has made to driving down construction costs. Use of BIM has been identified as delivering savings of £804m in 2013/14 alone.
The plan confirms a new round of investment in the technologies and skills that support the UK construction sector, by way of a series of key measures aimed at delivering Level 3. The key measures, outlined in the plan, include:
- The creation of a set of new, international ‘Open Data’ standards which will pave the way for easy sharing of data across the entire market
- The establishment of a new contractual framework for projects which have been procured with BIM to ensure consistency, avoid confusion and encourage open, collaborative working
- The creation of a cultural environment which is cooperative and seeks to learn and share
- Training the public sector client in the use of BIM techniques such as data requirements, operational methods and contractual processes
- Driving domestic and international growth and jobs in technology and construction.1
Perhaps inevitably, at this stage some of these bullet points are rather vague and others sound like things that the construction sector has been trying to do for years. There is, of course, no harm in pushing these again at this stage, and certainly there is no doubt that the industry would be better off if, for example, it was cooperative and sought to learn and share across the board.
Quite rightly, the report identifies a number of ways in which the current design and procurement of infrastructure and assets adds significantly to transaction and delivery costs, creates artificial scarcities of key services, resources and components, and duplicates activity. For example, in the design of projects professional services (which can be hard to come by) are often used to do detailed design work that is often repeated by suppliers and should more properly be done by those suppliers in the first place.
Secondly, the common practice of dividing projects up in to trade packages for procurement creates scarcity by excluding many companies that could bid to supply components but do not have the skills to supply all of the other services defined in this specific package. Greater use of component-design and manufacture enabled by standard product libraries with embedded performance, cost and carbon data has the potential to address this limitation in the supply chain.
Thirdly, as noted in the report:2“Traditional methods follow a linear process of clients identifying needs and formulating a brief, passing through the stages of design, procurement, delivery and operations. There is no feedback loop to optimise performance or evaluate changes of use. With the potential of the ‘Internet of Things’ to capture and use performance data, we anticipate that these processes will change.”
Again, this is perhaps not a new aim; the capturing of project related information has been a goal for many years that is rarely achieved, and the tools now exist in the digital world to capture this information more easily and efficiently than in the past. The issue remains one of cultural change: fostering a culture that looks to both capture and share this information. The strategy aims to deliver an appropriate forum for this.
The strategy aims to adjust the existing procurement process by:
- Providing a platform through which a wide range of suppliers and other stakeholders can be engaged in finding best informed lifecycle solutions to infrastructure problems, and then being in a position to bid to supply solutions
- Improving technical solutions and reducing costs by challenging the existing roles of consultants, contractors and suppliers (and lawyers?)
- Developing new business models for infrastructure and asset design, delivery, operation and adaptation based on a wider use of service performance data
- Protecting national security by ensuring that in increasing the availability of data security, measures and protocols are embedded into any BIM project and its ongoing management such that threats may be deterred, detected or the consequences of an attack minimised.3
From my perspective, and as I have anticipated in the past, the contractual framework which would support Level 3 will be far more collaborative and will see the sharing of risk across the parties to the project. As a result, it will be more open and transparent than the existing “ring fenced” liability arrangements currently in place for any contracts up to and including Level 2. The DBB anticipates the development of paperless contract models and I believe many will see the benefits of these.
What happens after Level 3? Level 4, of course. Level 4 will incorporate more data about people and social issues and integrate these into the BIM concept. Thus Level 4 will have a focus on social outcomes and wellbeing. Again, not surprisingly, we will not leap from Level 3 to Level 4 in one go – in the same way that I very much doubt we will leap from Level 2 to Level 3 in a single bound. The DBB anticipates the development of Level 3 over four stages, broadly as follows:
- Level 3 A – enabling improvements in the Level 2 model
- Level 3 B – enabling new technologies and systems
- Level 3 C – enabling the development of new business models
- Level 3 D – capitalising on work leadership.
Some may object that we have a considerable way to go to get to Level 2 before we can consider Level 3, but it seems to me that looking ahead in this way is no bad thing, and setting our sights on a measurable goal is the right approach to generate enthusiasm and interest towards reaching Level 2 and then beyond. There is much to think about and ponder in the DBB strategy but it seems to me that whilst it is very much the first step, it is, nevertheless, a step in the right direction.
Visit the Digital Built Britain website
Find out more about the launch of Digital Built Britain on the BIM Task Group website