As is now well known, BIM is currently being implemented across the construction sector at Level 2. For the Government and the BIM Task Group, Level 2 is now “business as usual” and all eyes are now fixed towards the development of BIM Level 3. The introduction of BIM across the construction industry is, of course, happening at different speeds depending upon where you look. Government-procured projects and large infrastructure developments such as Crossrail are using BIM at Level 2 and, arguably, in some respects beyond Level 2. However, the implementation of BIM across smaller more “mainstream” projects is patchy and arguably very few projects have used a fully-implemented Level 2 BIM process.

Just by way of reminder, Level 2 BIM is a managed 3D environment in which data is presented in specific BIM databases. These databases may include information about cost or programming. There is not, however, a single database for all information, and commercial data is held separately. Federated BIM models are used, prepared by each participant in the BIM process as required, and are linked together through a process known as interoperability which is still, in many respects, problematic. The strict delineation of liability contractually which characterises the pre-BIM landscape, is retained. In many ways, BIM at Level 2 represents the existing information resource landscape only used more efficiently and effectively. The real change will come with Level 3.

BIM Level 3 anticipates a fully open process and data integration. All data is held on an integrated, web based system that can be accessed by all relevant members of the construction team and is presented in a standardised format. The information will include costs, programming and life cycle facility management information. It will be a single model accessed by all participants in the process in real time. The emphasis at Level 3 would be on functionality and I suspect there will be a far greater concentration on how the BIM process works across the full life cycle of the asset, particularly the facilities and asset management stage, than there is at present.

Clearly, the legal and contractual frameworks required to deal with Level 3 BIM will need to move well beyond the liability ring fence model that we use at the moment and will, I suspect, look much more like alliancing contracts that incorporate “no risk” periods in between data drops while the model is being developed during which time any project costs or overruns generated by the development of the BIM model will be borne by project insurance rather than by any one of the parties. In addition, the BIM Task Group would like to see any such contractual arrangements being entirely paperless. Clearly there is going to be a very steep learning curve for everyone between levels 2 and 3.

At Level 2, the amendments to standard form construction contracts required to incorporate BIM are relatively minor, although perhaps more extensive than some commentators might suggest. Central to the contractual arrangements is the use of a BIM protocol, the document to be incorporated into the contract which sets out the parties’ rights and obligations in relation to the BIM process. Perhaps the most important part of the protocol is the Model Production Delivery Table (MPDT) which sets out who has to provide what and when and at what level of detail. Getting the precise levels of detail required at each stage of the process is vitally important to ensuring that the project deliverables are achievable and effective. .

We are still some way off from Level 3 and arguably we are also some way off from a full implementation of Level 2 across the majority of projects in the UK. BIM is, however, here to stay. Development towards Level 3 will not be smooth or seamless and we are very likely to go through BIM Levels 2.25, 2.5, 2.75 and so on before we get to Level 3. Evangelists will tell you this will be in five years’ time but my guess is it will be longer. There are still obstacles in the way, not the least of which is the inherent conservatism of the construction sector, particularly now we may be faced with another recession during which the sort of expenditure of time and money required to become fully familiar with and operate a BIM system is often resisted on the grounds of expense. The move, however, towards Digital Built Britain anticipated in the report issued last year is inevitable and unstoppable. We are not there yet, but we will get there eventually.