Introduction

Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been on the horizon for many years. For the right projects, BIM is a game-changer and has the potential to create significant benefit for owners, designers and contractors. Suddenly there is a real prospect that it will become reality in the near future.

The implementation of BIM will require careful consideration of consultancy agreements where it is necessary to engage multiple consultants to work on a single digital design model. For example, will a lead consultant take liability to ensure the proper integration of the design from all consultants? Will 'usual' third party professional indemnity insurance be adequate, particularly in relation to design defects that arise because of the fusion of design elements that by themselves are satisfactory?

Background

In March 2016 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities (Committee) released its Smart Information and Communications Technology report (smart ICT report).

In this post, I have focused on the report's recommendations concerning BIM. The report recommended that the Australian Government:

  1. lead the formation of a Smart Infrastructure Task Force, led by Infrastructure Australia, on the model of the UK BIM Task Group, to provide for the coordination and implementation of smart ICT in the design, planning and development of infrastructure, and in the maintenance and optimisation of existing infrastructure; and
  2. as part of its infrastructure procurement processes, require BIM to the LOD500 level (As-Built Model) on all major infrastructure projects exceeding $50 million in cost that receive Australian Government funding, with a view to ultimately establishing BIM as a procurement standard.

What is BIM?

One definition of BIM is that it is a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a building.

It allows a 3D project model to serve as the principal means for communication between project activities and collaboration between project teams to simulate and visualise designs to optimise desired outcomes. The model can be shared between the design team (architects, surveyors, civil and structural engineers) then handed to the main contractor and subcontractors, and finally to the owner/operator. Each team adds discipline-specific data to the project model.

BIM internationally

The United States, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany and France require the use of BIM for government building procurement. In the Asia-Pacific region, China, South Korea and Singapore have taken steps to achieve BIM implementation through a planned approach.

Promoting smart ICT

The smart ICT report provides insight from industry, which calls for government to promote the uptake of smart ICT in the development of infrastructure. These calls have also come from State Governments which seek strong leadership at a national level in the promotion of smart ICT in infrastructure.

For example the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) argued in its submission that 'to expedite industry adoption, all levels of government must come together' to drive the development and adoption of technical, procedural and procurement standards for BIM. TMR supported 'the coordinated implementation of BIM as critical component of a smart ICT framework' and was 'committed to working with government and industry to fast-track BIM'.

Committee conclusions

The Committee concluded there is a need for government to engage at some level with smart ICT in infrastructure design and planning, but found it difficult to determine the extent and what form the government should engage in smart ICT. It concluded that engagement is already occurring but, by accident or design, there seems to be little urgency or coordination in this engagement.

The Committee concluded there were two alternative ways to adopt BIM:

  1. adoption of the UK model of infrastructure procurement which mandates the use of BIM; or
  2.  a slower introduction by initially restricting BIM to major projects and expanding from there.

The Committee preferred the second alternative to allow industry to adapt to the new requirements on major projects and to gradually develop a skill base throughout the construction sector.

The general thrust of submissions appeared to be that BIM technology needs to be addressed at the Federal Government level quickly and in a coordinated manner; otherwise Australia runs the risk of falling behind other nations.

Conclusion

Now is the time to start running so that the legal risks related to the introduction to BIM are understood … before it is too late!