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Two’s good, three is better

Mark Bew

BIM has the potential to revolutionise our future, boosting efficiencies, productivity and social wellbeing

With more than three million people engaged in the construction industry, delivering change was always going to be a challenge. But with declining productivity, it was clear that something needed to happen. The 2011 Government Construction Strategy looked to BIM and digital engineering to effect a fundamental shift.

BIM Level 2 and the potential to drive efficiencies

Efficiencies in the design, build and operate areas of construction is what BIM Level 2 – mandated on government contracts from April 2016 – is all about. Around 80% of the costs of an asset are tied up in the operations/ facilities management phase. If we can design and build more efficient buildings, that are cheaper to run, then the industry can deliver more of them, and productivity is improved. So far the BIM Level 2 programme has cut costs by about 20%.

Functional performance is key to unlocking efficiencies and improved social impact. An efficiently designed and built hospital can treat more patient and hopefully achieve better outcomes, improving social impacts in the wider community. Budgets squeezed in the design and build stage will produce sub-optimal assets – like an inefficient hospital – that can create problems down the line and so the ‘social bill’ increases. That bill is already high, which is why politicians were so interested in what digital construction could offer. Consider what we spend on the NHS, and in particular mental health, and then what Mind and Shelter tell us is a key concern – poor quality accommodation. Investing more up front and making better decisions can reap magnitudes of savings in operational and social performance, not just better buildings of themselves.

In the early stages of design there is no need for an extremely detailed model – you just need to be able to access key elements of information. More than this is inefficient

What was the BIM Level 2 programme?

Inefficient clients make others inefficient. By considering the decisions a client needs to make across the life of a project, efficiencies can be made.

In the early stages of design there is no need for an extremely detailed model – you just need to be able to access key elements of information. More than this is inefficient. That was the thinking behind tools like the free-to-use NBS BIM Toolkit, which allows you to capture data requirements at a number of operational stages, driving quality and productivity.

Public sector clients have been used as a driver and the UK BIM Task Group has worked with key government agencies to help them ‘get better at being a client’. It has also considered how to pass information between project participants (thus the free-to-use BIM Level 2 documents). Quality data about products allows others to make quality decisions, so Level 2 produces a product data definition for this. And, with the Construction Products Association, the BIM Task Group has helped develop a lexicon to map data requirements between manufacturers and end users.

With BIM Level 2 now broadly defined, it is down to the industry to apply and drive it home. More guidance is due in the next few months and we can also expect the UK Accreditation Service to start bringing commonality to BIM training and services.

As you might expect, given that about 45% of construction spend comes from the public sector, the latest NBS National BIM Survey reports that BIM Level 2 is adopted by around half of the UK market. There’s evidence of use spreading into the private sector as well. It’s a fantastic start.


What’s next?

BIM Level 3 will see a quantum leap. So what is Level 3? Integrated BIM. Objects instead of files. The use of feedback. A shared BIM. An online service rather than fiefdoms of data.

Level 3 will see functional improvements driven by customer demands. BIM will expand from 3D modelling to genuine collaboration; from design and construction into operations; from individual buildings to cities and their systems

In our working lifetimes technologies have developed rapidly. It is a reminder that when thinking about Level 3 we shouldn’t be limited by what we can imagine from today’s technology. Data storage, once confined to floppy disks, is now almost infinitely scalable at negligible cost. Processing power, according to Moore's Law, should mean that by 2023 we can match the human brain, and by 2040 every brain in the world. Connected devices and sensors will allow us to measure and feed back this data. Level 3 and level 4 BIM have to be designed to make the most of this kind of technology.

Level 3 will, therefore, see functional improvements driven by customer demands. BIM will expand from 3D modelling to genuine collaboration; from design and construction into operations; from individual buildings to cities and their systems; and on to wherever digitising the built environment may take us. It will see lessons learnt on one project applied on the next: the introduction of a true digital brief.

To get there we need to take the PAS 1192 documents and sensor technology HyperCat, along with other relevant PAS documents, and bolt them together to create a standardisation method by 2018.

Operational activity and performance management are already generating and sharing data. Level 3 will expand this to create a feedback loop – putting what’s being measured upfront to allow better decisions to be made. New industries will spring up to make use of this data and provide undreamt of services to customers. Information from the wider world, not just our buildings but transport, water, power and people, will all be available to use. Consider the growth area of health diagnostics – in a world of Fitbits and their ilk will we need huge hospital diagnostics areas? What can smart meters start to tell us about the existing housing stock, and what needs to be done to meet carbon targets?

One thing is clear: digital will continue to drive change in the construction industry.

Mark Bew is chairman of the BIM Task Group. As reported by Richard McPartland, editor of



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