Building Information Modelling, or BIM, is something that you may be familiar with already or it may just be on the edge of your consciousness but you will have to get used to it, as the government is planning to make it mandatory for publicly-funded projects by 2016.

What is it?

I'm only getting to grips with it myself, and there is a lot of mumbo jumbo talked about it - it is this decade's 'sustainable development'.  What I have ascertained is that BIM is essentially a single shared software model for building projects that lasts for the lifetime of the project, getting passed along project disciplines from master planning to facilities management - even demolition.

As every discipline will be using the same model, there is less room for error so that slight differences in where different people assume things will be are eliminated and conflicts in design (e.g. lights going where pillars have been put) will be all but removed.  When the design changes, it will change for all those working on it.  Elements of a system are linked so that if you raise a ceiling the walls will automatically stretch to meet it.

If you are feeling Einsteinian you can imagine a 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) model, and adding a fourth dimension - time.  Cost and facilities management information can be thought of as fifth and sixth dimensions that can also be added.

There still seems to be a bit of a format war going on (think VHS versus Betamax, or if you're younger HD-DVD versus Blu-ray) as to what standards should be adopted.  Governments are trying to develop common standards, but once that is settled I can see local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate eventually accepting application documents using BIM.

At first, they will be printed from the developer's BIM system, but eventually the authorities will have their own systems.  I can see an issue there, that developers will only want to pass on the information the authorities will need to determine the application, not everything about the building, but presumably parts of the model can be made unavailable to them.

Like PDFs, I imagine that there will be expensive software to write them, and then cheap or even free software for just being able to read a BIM system for various purposes.

What is happening?

BIM is being developed across the world, but the UK government is stealing a march on other countries, having established a BIM Task Group back in May 2011.  The Task Group website is a little impenetrable for the non-expert but there are some FAQs and resources available.

The reason that the government is pushing BIM can be found from the Task Group's 'hypothesis': 'Government as a client can derive significant improvements in cost, value and carbon performance through the use of open sharable asset information'.

The particular standard for BIM that the government wants everyone to use is called 'COBie' (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange), and the current version of this is COBie UK 2012.

Over the next three years,  then, the Task Group will raise awareness and develop guides for those interested in - or having to use - BIM.

There are some events being organised by the Construction Industry Council (CIC) on BIM going forwards.  They are holding a series of free or cheap regional seminars in the very near future.  There are two on Thursday in Manchester and Cambridge and more in Birmingham on 24 April and Cardiff on 29 April.  More will no doubt be planned and announced on the CIC website.

Conclusion

BIM is a new concept with a new vocabulary that nevertheless seems like common sense.  While it may not have direct impact on many in the infrastructure planning sector for a year or two, it is definitely something to keep abreast of, as it will eventually become a disadvantage not to know about it.