In 2011 the Government envisioned BIM as a mechanism to drive success in UK construction. It complemented the new Construction Strategy, and focused on securing savings from vast public sector development spending overseen by central government. It could see tantalising potential to reduce building costs and improve project delivery, plus long term gains through lower cost, more sustainable developments with greater lifetime value. It mandated that BIM should be in place for centrally-funded projects by 2016, at least to level 2 standards for collaborative working and information sharing via a common file format.
The December 2014 Government Construction Pipeline suggests that £1.4bn savings have been secured from BIM and other efficiency efforts; last year’s £840m savings exceeded targets by 13%. This is an impressive achievement with real-world impact: the Department of Health’s £60m savings could fund 67 new MRI scanners.
BIM has had relatively little impact on projects procured at local government level, however – despite the keen need for sustainability, supply chain efficiency and cost-reduction. Aggregate local government spending on construction exceeded £16 billion in 2013-14, the greatest proportion of its capital expenditure. Several years of cuts and efficiency measures together with continued pressure on budgets increases the likelihood that BIM will either be mandated or sought out by local authorities in pursuit of efficiencies.
Local government: Behind on BIM
It is a shame, therefore, that local government officers are not the best supported BIM community. The BIM exposure and experience of local authority architects, planners and project managers lags the private sector. There is a BIM Task Force BIM4LG portal, but overall support has been lacklustre compared to high-energy industry initiatives.
BIM can be daunting for local government officers tasked with development that either carries a mandatory BIM inclusion, or where it has been decided that BIM is essential. They certainly need the benefits including faster development, better asset utilisation, lower environmental impact, better building outcomes and sustainability, improved value/ROI of public funds and better whole life asset management. Maximising savings and gaining a better understanding of project outcomes, including whole life costs, is the first pillar of the Local Government Construction Strategy, while modernisation by working smarter and utilising BIM is another.
BIM pressure is building
BIM momentum is now established, and local authorities are likely to come under increasing pressure to extend the benefits seen in central government. Government is already keen to see BIM extended into the private sector and to see the economy leverage the strength of what the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills calls “Digital Built Britain.” It is likely that local government agencies which adopt best practice BIM will see their projects and funding requests looked upon increasingly favourably.
Navigating the BIM challenge
The practicalities of initiating BIM can seem confusing. Although local designers, architects, project managers or architects may be familiar with the theory, they may have little practical BIM experience. As department heads initiate BIM procurement processes they often lack deep understanding – and must solicit tenders and make selections between submissions from commercial suppliers who know far more. That can seem risky and daunting.
Demanding fuller visibility and information access helps assure transparency. The rich asset information that starts with 3D design and builds throughout the construction process is one of the key outputs of BIM – delivering the potential for seamless handover. Transparency, ease of managing data growth, and ensuring that the right information is captured, all depend on the choice of an appropriate system for capturing and storing data. In the collaborative spirit of BIM this is something that vendors should embrace – but it must encompass more than delivering a 3D viewer. The BIM information flow must be multi-way and universally visible. It is advisable for local government clients to arm themselves with more information about the types of systems available and what how these can assure success.
Clients, be they central government, local authorities or private owners, can be the biggest beneficiaries of BIM in terms of 2-way design communication with contractors, compliance, creation of as-built asset information and operational management. They should not delegate this to designers, project managers and contractors but play a key role in specifying desirable outcomes before, during and after completion.
Transform asset economics
BIM offers a world of potential to local authorities to reduce the costs of building and managing public estate assets and to enhance their sustainability and manageability in the longer term. Operation and maintenance costs will vastly outweigh the original capital construction cost. Integrating BIM processes with existing procedures, and supporting them by a carefully selected, collaborative asset information tool capable of capturing and storing as-built information from site, creates a valuable, viable asset database. Thereafter it will deliver savings every year and help avoid the wasted effort and cost of recreating mislaid documents.
BIM could transform local development economics for education, housing, infrastructure, street design and more – but local government officers must take action. It is time to invest in BIM knowledge and tools and to release the out-dated assumption that BIM is simply extended 3D modelling for the design team to worry about. The true value comes from the database that can be created during the design and build process, linked to a 3D model, to inform future operations and maintenance. BIM is changing the way that the UK public sector is specifying, creating, caring for and gaining value from its assets. The private building sector has recognised the commercial benefits of BIM and is voluntarily implementing its own BIM projects. Now, local government should embrace BIM too – before it is either mandated or becomes a necessity.