Now just months away from being mandated on all central government projects, building information modelling (BIM) has moved up to Level 3. What is Level 3, and what does it mean for FM? Geoff Prudence explains.
23 April 2015 | By Geoff Prudence
Back in 2011, the Government Construction Strategy mandated the use of Level 2 Building Information Modelling, (BIM) on all public sector projects by 2016.
This led to the government and the construction industry working together to develop the industry and the use of BIM was soon identified as a significant contributor to the £804 million in construction cost savings for 2013/14 that were announced at the Government Construction Summit last July.
So with Level 3 now published, what does it mean for BIM in general - and FM in particular?
BIM is a broad term describing the process of creating a digital model of a complete building, but it can also be used for the design and construction of any asset or infrastructure project.
David Philp, head of BIM (UK BIM Task Group) believes that Level 2 BIM has become a metaphor for sector modernisation.
"As we head towards 2016, the UK has created a substantial pipeline of Level 2 with more than £10 billion of public sector projects. In addition, we are seeing growing demand for Level 2 maturity from private sector clients and witnessing Level 2 being executed in both new build and refurbishment, vertical and linear."
Philp's view is that, as of this June, "the Level 2 processes, tools and guides will all be in place, including the 'Digital Plan or Works' which will make Level 2 even easier and help build capacity in the UK supply chain".
"Last year, High Speed 2 undertook an industry capability report illustrating that 56 per cent of those surveyed had projects in what could be considered as L2 - this is good news for the UK and will, I am sure, continue to increase as digitisation of our sector becomes the new norm."
What is Level 3 BIM?
Building on the requirements for Level 2, BIM Level 3 looks to achieve full collaboration between all disciplines within a project through a data model that all parties involved in a project can access and modify. This single source common Data Environment (CDE) or 'Open BIM' should remove the potential for conflicting information.
It is hoped that Level 3 will mean:
- Savings to public procurement;
- A step change in the performance of the construction industry, transforming the efficiency of project delivery;
- Optimised operation of buildings, creating savings over the whole life of built assets, in particular through reduced energy demand.
The differences between levels 2 and 3 can be summarised thus: Level 2 is based upon a collaborative digital environment, Level 3 on a shift towards an integrated digital environment.
But although Level 3 looks set to ensure a single dynamic data model for project information, it still remains heavily focused on design, construction and project handover. There is still the need for operational system design knowledge and standards if BIM is to shape an effective design (and support information management for the benefit of the building's life cycle).
It has taken four years to mobilise for Level 2 BIM and it is thought it will take around eight to 10 years to mobilise for Level 3, hence the timing and release of the Digital Built Britain Business Plan. The message to industry is to keep the pedal on Level 2 - because it will be a while before Level 3 is mobilised.
The CIC BIM Protocol Document, produced in 2013, included a specimen table defining each stage of a BIM project and the 'data drops' required. Much of the debate has centred on how to produce and automate this process consistently. There remains much to do from the FM perspective in terms of receiving 'model' data and dealing with BIM model handovers between service contractors when a new contractor takes on an existing BIM.
Benefits in practice
Senior professionals continue to come to the realisation that BIM is a process. Ant Wilson, director of building engineering at AECOM, recently said: "The key is collaborative work; we're all in it together, sharing responsibility for delivery.
"BIM will be key to driving sustainability and embedded carbon in the design process. Not everyone can be a winner, and we need to be honest about where the real savings are in practice."
And Adrian Malone, group head of knowledge management and collaboration at Atkins, reports that industry adoption of Level 2 BIM is making good progress.
"This is important not only for the direct benefits it brings, but also because of the ability of suppliers to work in a joined-up way and co-ordinate the management of asset information, which will be essential to the future adoption of Level 3 BIM."
Evidence of BIM's value comes through a range of project success stories. It was used for the well-regarded Manchester City Library Project to minimise the number of joints in the concrete soffit (thus reducing material demands) and it has also been used at the Birmingham City University Campus Project, "for estimating, change control and engendering a greater sense of commercial understanding with designers at an early stage through better collaboration".
It is highly likely that BIM's collaborative working practices will become more evident as exemplar projects in the private sector emerge.
FM's BIM readiness
There are varying levels of understanding of BIM in the FM sector, with many remaining in denial. But Level 3 marks the stage at which the FM industry has to move forward and take its place if BIM is to fully achieve its potential.
Jo Harris of the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) believes that what FMs want - and what BIM can support - are entirely complimentary: Enhanced asset intelligence through the use of integrated Product Information Portals; Smarter assets; Cross-fertilisation of information across disciplines; a single version of the 'truth'; an understanding the performance of the project pre-handover; and an understanding of the intended operation of the project for maximum efficiency.
Kath Fontana, managing director of BAM FM, says that for her company "working towards Level 2 BIM has enabled us to collaborate with partners and create a step change in operational performance. Once it's fully embedded it will mean an end to poor quality asset data, something which has a long standing issue for clients and service providers alike".
"Level 3 takes this forward with an emphasis on integrated commercial models truly enabling us to create a whole life approach to designing, building and managing buildings," she adds.
Says Adrian Malone: "Level 3 BIM may finally offer a solution to long-standing problems associated with a fragmented industry, and from the disconnect that is too often apparent between the capital projects through which assets are created and the ongoing requirements for their operation, maintenance and use."
The real opportunity comes through getting early involvement of operational/systems thinking into the design team and process. In BIM terms, this specific phase is when employer's information requirements (EIR) are determined - requirements which define the information that the employer wishes to procure, along with the actual building itself, in order to be able to develop and operate that building.
So it is the 'model' part of the building information model, in whatever format, that offers the most interest to FM - the repository of data from handover that can be developed and grown as a 'one source of the truth' reference acros the lifetime of a building. The real opportunity - where the real savings will be - is in the efficient linking of existing operational systems (BMS/CAD/CAFM) and management systems through ongoing changes in the building's life.
The recent publications of CIBSE Guide M, B&ES SFG20 Maintenance Specification, BS8544 Life cycle costing and RICS NRM 3 Maintenance costing provide a consistent asset classification and basis for FM operation, also acting as a basis to be fed into BIM models.
The FM aspect is clearly key. As David Philp recently said: "Altruistic whole-life cost and carbon solutions will be key drivers. With Level 2 there is limited functionality for delivery of operational data sets and integration of telemetry. Level 3 will address these in sector delivery and operational stages, with a focus on enabling total cost and carbon outputs."
So Level 3 is clearly an opportunity for the FM services sector. Many ask: "who is going to pay for it?" But once it gains traction, more will embrace it.
There are already many 'BIM-badged' construction projects, but the reality in the FM sector is that only a few leading FM service providers are currently investing and grasping the BIM opportunity head-on.
Level 3 is far from the end of BIM's development, with '4D', '5D' and '6D' BIM all in the pipeline (dealing with time, cost and web-based BIM model access respectively).
As we hear more and more references to broader concepts such as 'Smart Cities' (box 2) and the 'Internet of Things', building information models are likely to be critical components in the digitisation of how our built environment is managed.
BIM is now internationally recognised as a technology that will deliver a step change in cost, time, quality, and waste performance in construction. As a result of the Level 2 initiative, the UK has a world-leading position in BIM. One recent Italian newspaper explained that the UK is the most "advanced and aware European Country because of the huge efforts made by the UK BIM Task Group which provided a comprehensive wrap of references and tools. The mandatory requirements to play in BIM by 2016 coming from the governmental agencies reflect the main intent of a nationwide industrial strategy (Construction 2025). High Speed 2, to be completed in 2026 by means of BIM, could act as a flagship programme."
So, today Level 2 - tomorrow Level 3 and the world. It's time for FMs to get on board or get left behind.
Geoff Prudence has more than 40 years' experience driving improved standards of delivery in the built environment
Business secretary Vince Cable announced the launch of the UK's Level 3 Building Information Modelling Programme - now branded Digital Built Britain - in February.
Announced as a programme to build on the standards and savings (£840 million in central public spend in 2013/14) delivered by the BIM level 2 initiative, the Level 3 programme is expected to deliver all of the aspirations set out in the 'Bew-Richards Wedge' BIM concept diagram (2008), and additionally "create relationships outside of the traditional construction sector by developing a more holistic outward-focused, inclusive industry that is seen to demonstrably add significant value and be seen as a diverse and attractive employer".
The Digital Built Britain document specifically refers to an acknowledgement and opportunity for FM, as Level 3 will enable the interconnected digital design of different elements in a built environment and "will extend BIM into the operation of assets over their lifetimes - where the lion's share of cost arises".
A 'smart city' is one that has digital technology embedded across its infrastructure functions in sectors such as transport, energy, healthcare, water and waste to enhance performance and wellbeing, cut costs and use of resources, and to engage more effectively with its inhabitants. It's also a place that puts a greater emphasis on citizen engagement.
'BIM' Maturity Levels
Level 0: Unmanaged CAD (Computer Aided Design).
Level 1: Managed CAD in 2D or 3D.
Level 2: Managed 3D/Data - in separated construction disciplines
Level 3: Single online project model inc. construction, cost & lifecycle management.
4D (including time/programme information)
5D (including cost information)
6D (including facilities management information)