Introduction

On 2 December 2014, the Australasian Procurement and Construction Council (ACCP) and the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) jointly released the Framework for the Adoption of Project Team Integration and Building Information Modelling (the 'Framework').

The ACCP is the peak government council responsible for procurement and construction in Australia, whilst ACIF is an industry body comprising key stakeholders. The Framework seeks to enhance awareness of changes needed to adopt BIM technology in the Australian construction industry. Although it does not impose any legal or regulatory obligations, the Framework provides a guide to industry stakeholders regarding future implementation of BIM.

The Framework also identifies unresolved legal issues arising from the growing use of BIM technology, such as the implications for intellectual property rights and data protection.

The Framework foreshadows that BIM use may even be made mandatory on 'major' government projects. It also identifies challenges to the implementation of BIM and makes recommendations to overcome these. The Framework advises that a 'whole-of-industry' approach is advisable to achieve successful adoption of BIM technology.

What is BIM?

BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a building. It is a relatively new technology developed for the construction industry. At its most basic, BIM is a 3D virtual simulation of a project. The unique aspect of BIM is its ability to integrate the contributions of various design participants into a single model.

There are a number of competing BIM software packages on the market, of which Autodesk Revit is the most commonly used in Australia, being used by approximately 48% of BIM software users. According to a study conducted by McGraw Hill, the uptake of BIM in Australia and New Zealand is rising. Design consultants lead building contractors as users, with 6 out of 10 currently using BIM on 30% or more of their work, compared to only one third of contractors.

Advantages of BIM

BIM has the potential to drastically alter methods of working in the construction and engineering industry because of the information-sharing environment it creates, and the collaborative design process it facilitates. The Framework cites a large number of benefits associated with using BIM. These are summarised in Table 1 below.

Table 1: General & Specific Benefits of BIM

Click here to view table.

The Framework also references an Australian Government Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Public Infrastructure published in 2014, which suggests that "given the potential savings from BIM, government clients should consider provision of initial designs in a BIM format when the project is of sufficient complexity…"

The Framework and its Recommendations

The Framework identifies the key challenges for the further implementation of BIM in Australia as:

  • the lack of demand by clients and project owners;
  • the localised nature of the Australian construction industry, comprising many smaller firms with insufficient funds to invest in adoption of BIM;
  • the cost of hardware, software and retraining; and
  • the lack of expertise, standardised tools and collaboration in the industry.

The APCC and ACIF propose that government and industry stakeholders undertake a number of actions to overcome these challenges. Their recommendations include:

  • a top-down driven change in the organisational culture of the construction industry to make it more amenable to collaborative systems such as BIM;
  • the introduction of contractually binding BIM Management Plans to address practical and legal issues such as access, liability and protection of intellectual property rights;
  • the establishment of a data-sharing scheme whereby a National Object Library system is established;
  • the adoption of national standards; and
  • that government agencies consider the mandating of BIM use for major projects (although the definition of 'major' is at the discretion of each jurisdiction).

Legal Issues

The Framework acknowledges that the collaborative nature of BIM may dictate adoption of contractual relationships different from traditional contract models. Potential legal issues include:

  • whether the completed model is a product and hence subject to the laws that govern warranties and liability in relation to goods;
  • whether the data and BIM model should be afforded proprietary recognition and the need for clarity whether the BIM Model constitutes personal or real property;
  • licensing, including copyright and access to data issues;
  • BIM data and the need to have it protected through legal channels;
  • whether BIM usage is covered under professional indemnity insurance; and
  • allocation of legal liability of individual contributors arising from their respective reliance upon and contributions to the collaborative BIM model.

Although it provides no concrete guidelines, the Framework recommends that parties using BIM should formulate binding BIM Management Plans to address the issues listed above.

What you should do

Although the Framework reflects aspirations only, it does make a compelling argument for the adoption of BIM. It also foreshadows the possibility that governments may mandate BIM use on 'major' projects. It is therefore advisable for industry participants to:

  • familiarise themselves with BIM products and actively consider the business case for its adoption in their business;
  • gauge client interest levels in BIM;
  • assess their capacity to take on BIM; and
  • discern whether designers, consultants or contractors with whom they frequently work are also able to participate in BIM projects.

Conclusion

The Framework makes the case for a whole-of-industry approach to adoption of BIM. It argues that the benefits outweigh the costs, and suggests it is inevitable that BIM will become a significant future component of the construction industry. A number of obstacles still remain, which the Framework identifies but without identifying any clear solutions.

The Framework represents another step towards wide-spread adoption of BIM in the Australian construction industry. There are a number of other countries taking the same steps toward large scale BIM use. In 2011 the UK government mandated the use of BIM for all government projects by 2016, and in Norway major public clients require BIM to be used across all of their projects. It is looking like BIM, along with the legal and practical issues that it poses, will inevitably become part of the Australian construction industry landscape in the foreseeable future.