BIM: Why should clients be bothered?

This blog post was an opinion piece for Constructing Excellence‘s December 2013 e-newsletter. Its author is Benedict Wallbank of SmartBIM Solutions (part of Graphisoft), who has contributed to recent CE and ThinkBIM events (the piece doesn’t seem to be more widely available, but I felt it should be).

Ben Wallbank chairs ThinkBIM session in Leeds, December 2013

It is still a commonly held opinion that Building Information Modelling (BIM) affects only design and construction teams and is not something about which the construction industry client need be concerned. If BIM were just about increasing efficiency, reducing waste, reducing carbon consumption, better quality of information, collaboration and promoting truly integrated design and delivery solutions solely during a building’s design and construction (and it is indeed all of these!) that might be the case.

The UK Government has taken measures to ensure that the adoption of BIM process by the construction industry as a whole takes place . It could be argued, therefore, that the private sector client should just sit back and reap the benefits of more competitive tender returns from the supply chain. However, only 20% of the cost of a facility relates to its design and construction. The remaining 80% of a building’s cost resides in its operation .

Achieving savings after a facility has been completed, therefore, has a disproportionate effect on its lifetime cost (a 5% saving in operation equating to a 20% saving on the cost of construction).

The key to being able to drill into these operational costs lies in the delivery of consistent and structured digital asset information, this is then usable by the owner-operator for post-occupancy decision-making. This deliverable needs to be clearly defined by the client in requests for proposals (RFPs) and appointment contracts. Some clients, particularly those that retain a long-term interest in their facilities, have understood this. In the UK the government has taken a leading role in ensuring that they will be provided with consistent asset information on publicly procured projects. The government client specifies the information set to the supply chain using an established international model: COBie. COBie was created to provide a means by which the faculties industry can communicate information about facilities, enabling clients to take full and responsible ownership immediately on building handover.

Although those delivering government procured projects are more obviously and immediately affected by the new strategy, astute players within private client groups have realised that as the wider industry adopts these new technologies, they too will benefit from reduced cost and risk. Private sector clients who retain responsibility for their assets (those investing in PFI/PPP type projects for example) are actively redefining their deliverables to include asset information. This information can only be produced efficiently by generating most of the data from a Building Information Model.

Of course, not all construction clients have long-term interests in their assets; developer clients commission many projects. Ultimately, all the developer clients need worry about is selling or letting a new development. Why should a developer client bother asking for BIM deliverables? Just as potential tenants have, in the last few years, understood that better sustainability ratings have a beneficial effect upon running costs and have factored this into their purchase decisions so it also seems likely that they will also quickly realise that good quality structured data for the management of assets will do likewise. Those clients employing teams capable of delivering this structured data will therefore have secured a sales advantage over those who are not.

There are also other advantages to be gained by the client through BIM process and consistent project data. Models can be analysed from feasibility stage and tested more accurately than under 2D processes to approve the outline business case. BIM can also provide increased programme (4D) and cost (5D) certainty at an earlier stage than under traditional process providing a degree of comfort to the developer not currently available. Importantly, consistent digital data across a portfolio will also allow the client to compare project outcome data from project to project in a far more detailed and accurate way than previously possible.

In the longer term BIM may also enable a wider variety of project procurement models to be considered for example facilitating true “open book” information providing greater trust and certainty to Construction Management contracts.

Given these factors the question might be better rephrased: Can a client afford to ignore BIM?

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