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Are clients getting the most from BIM?

Richard Saxon

Those who actively engage with BIM will feel the benefit

Allies and Morrison's White City campus for Imperial College London is based on a full ‘active’ client brief in its use of BIM.
Allies and Morrison's White City campus for Imperial College London is based on a full ‘active’ client brief in its use of BIM.

With the BIM mandate now in force, a group of central government clients are taking an active role in requiring their teams to meet their information requirements, for project decision support, asset information and BIM technical standards. They have been coached for four years to be able to do this. Most other clients are in no position to follow suit. Some are asking for BIM but with no idea what that means for their role; some are having BIM used on their jobs without knowledge, or with knowledge but no client involvement. These ‘passive’ users will get some benefits, such as reduced risk of information errors between team members. But they will miss out on the major benefits of BIM for clients.

This is a great opportunity for architects, either as client advisers or lead consultants, to help clients play an active role and to get far more from the design-build process than they have before. BIM streamlines conventional consultant services but it also opens up potential for new services. Architects who can offer these wider services will be more attractive to those clients who come to want them. 

Key client types to benefit from BIM-enabled service are those who own and occupy their facilities. These could be public sector, or clients of many types including private finance, private corporations or third sector occupiers. Developers who retain and manage multi-occupancy buildings, offices, retail or residential, can also benefit –  the main service extension enabled by BIM is from capital to whole-life project. BIM, coupled with RICS NRM3 processes, can provide asset information to allow predictable in-use costing. Capital spend can be shaped to optimise ‘Totex’, the combination of Capex and Opex, to deliver the desired outcomes. BIM not only steers the creation of the building, but provides operation and maintenance support information. Two buildings are provided, one real and one virtual, with the latter a constant resource to manage the former. Incorporation of the Soft Landings concept into briefing and design allows Stage 7 of the Plan of Work to be supported properly, with greater client satisfaction. 

BIM streamlines conventional consultant services but it also opens up potential for new services. Architects who can offer these wider services will be more attractive to those clients who come to want them

The second major service extension is in support for client decisions. Instead of presuming that all the architect has to do at stage-end reports is to show the progress of design, the BIM process highlights the needs of the client for deeper information to support decisions. Briefmaking needs to uncover how the client works internally, their process for coming to decisions, and the inputs they need to satisfy internal processes. A review of these, to align them with project decision points, is recommended by experienced BIM clients. Delay in making stage-end decisions and the risk of reversal or scope-creep come from client stakeholders not being internally lined up when decisions are needed.

The process in PAS 1192-2 and 3 calls for a cascade of briefmaking to uncover the information needs of the client. First, what are the organisation’s needs? The conventional brief centres on what the building need is. The BIM brief adds what the client organisation needs at each information exchange to process decisions correctly and promptly. These are the OIRs: Organisational Information Requirements. Then comes the information needed about the completed building to support asset management and O&M (operation and maintenance), the AIRs or Asset Information Requirements. These will probably be supplied to the client in COBie format, which translates data between design and facility management softwares. Progress on the creation of this data can be checked automatically at each information exchange. Add to these two the technical standards to be applied to the project information management and you have the full EIRs – Employer’s Information Requirements.

BIM-active clients need support through Stages 0 and 1 to set up the project to get the outcomes available. Architects are ideally placed to provide this once they themselves are over the hump of learning BIM. It’s a client-focused service that is needed however. Clients can see the advantages to designer and contractor of 3D co-ordination in BIM. They don’t see why they should pay more for it when it lowers costs, and they probably won’t for long. The value added services to them are in helping to digitise the client’s own process and data management related to the project and facility.  The game is lifted well above its former level by the idea that as-built design data can be connected to operational data, increasingly intelligent building management systems and enterprise resource planning to give full asset knowledge and management. Asset use can be more readily optimised and lifetime costs held down, spreading the value space between benefits and costs.

As Mr Spock would have put it: ‘It’s architecture Jim, but not as we know it’.

Richard Saxon is the author of ‘BIM for Construction Clients’ published by NBS. He is also an associate director of Deploi: BIM Strategies.


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