Building information modelling (BIM) is on track to become a game changer in the Australian construction industry.  The increasing use of BIM in Australia is requiring a significant re-think to project delivery for both government and the industry.  The use of BIM will create a number of challenges for local councils (both as a planning authority and a developer of projects) in Australia.

In this alert Senior Associate Goran Gelic and Partners Ren Niemann and Adam Wallwork report on the impact the use of BIM will have on local councils.

BIM - what is it?

BIM is the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility.  BIM is much more than 3D design - it is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility, forming a reliable basis for decisions during its project life-cycle (from conception to demolition).

BIM is a relatively new approach to building design and modelling, rather than a new technology (although supportable technology is required to operate BIM).  BIM can also come in different forms (or maturity levels).  At the most basic level, the various BIM forms may be described as follows:

  • Level 0 BIM - includes only 2D drawings without 3D modelling (essentially the current 2D paper-based approach to design development)
  • Level 1 BIM - a mixture of 2D drawings and 3D models where 3D models do not contain any intelligence (the 3D model is predominately used as a design tool during the early stages of the project and for visualisation of the finished project)
  • Level 2 BIM - each project participant creates their own separate BIM model (with intelligence) but there is no central BIM model, and
  • Level 3 BIM - a central BIM model (with intelligence) is created which combines input from each project participant.

It is important to fully understand the different forms of BIM as they impact differently on various project issues (including how the project is delivered and the contracts that are used to support the BIM model).  If a project is purporting to use BIM, it is important to clarify at the outset the type of BIM that is to be used.

State of play in Australia

The use of BIM in Australian projects (at least in some form) is on the rise, having intensified over the past three to five years.  Savings in time, cost and improved asset management are frequently cited as the main drivers for the growing up take of BIM.

The Australian government is now strongly encouraging the construction industry to implement the new technology, having recognised that using BIM has begun to change the way buildings are designed, built and managed.  Significantly, the Australian government has released the National Building Information Modelling Initiative, which recommends that from 1 July 2016, all government building procurements use BIM.

Despite the increasing use of BIM in Australian based projects, it has given rise to many issues in the Australian market. Some of these include the contractual integration of BIM, insurance, project management and design development issues.  Although guidelines have been developed in Australia to address some of these issues, to date, little consensus exists (both at the government and industry level) on BIM issues.

Importantly, the contractual integration of BIM in the Australian market has largely been ad hoc.  At present, there are no published standard form construction contracts or arrangements that specifically address BIM issues.  Bespoke contracts are likely to be used.  To this end, it is common to see parties not properly adapting the current standard form construction contracts on BIM issues, and on some occasions only making rudimentary changes to address these issues without changing the underlying risk allocation.

Implications for local councils

Local councils will need to be ready to use BIM and to respond to the challenges it creates.  Some of the challenges BIM poses to local councils include:

  • Procurement and legal issues

Local councils will need to fully understand the various procurement and legal issues raised by BIM as its use will require a significant rethink on issues such as intellectual property, insurance and liability issues for design development in contracting.

Local councils will also need to have in place BIM friendly contracts (separate contracts may need to be developed to address different forms of BIM).

  • BIM guidelines

Local councils will need to establish clear standards for using BIM to facilitate the exchange of data for collaboration on BIM based projects.

  • Education

Local councils will need to implement software and operational training to educate their project team on BIM.

  • Technology

Local councils will need to have appropriate technology in place to facilitate the use of BIM, including software systems which enable the digitalising of components for inclusion in BIM models.

  • Compliance and certification issues

Local councils will need to understand how BIM actually works so that they can consider whether their processes for approvals need to change to adapt to BIM.

The BIM revolution is coming and local councils should take appropriate steps to ensure they are well positioned to respond.

There may be opportunities for local councils to collectively approach some of these issues so as to ensure there are common guidelines and sharing of costs.