Whole new level

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BIM level 3 is the next step towards a fully collaborative approach between all the construction disciplines

Attention is now focussed on widespread adoption of BIM level 3, which will be another step change for construction professionals in terms of their contractual liability, intellectual property rights and cyber security.

Why is BIM level 3 different?

Traditionally, drawings were produced in 2D, by hand or with the use of CAD, without any collaboration between members of the design team (level 0). There was then a move towards drawings being shared online using a common data environment (level 1).

Under level 2, each construction professional produces their own 3D model, which is stored on their own IT infrastructure and shared electronically using an agreed standard file format. This significantly progressed the collaborative approach while allowing each designer to manage and control their own models.

BIM level 3 is the next step towards a fully collaborative approach between all of the construction disciplines. All parties can access and modify the same model, most likely hosted off-site on infrastructure owned and operated by the employer or a third party. This streamlines working practices and allows better coordination and clash detection than current working practices.

Revision history and change logs are available to determine who did what to the model and when, which helps with error tracking and assignment of responsibility for revisions.

The introduction of a shared model also creates a new role in a typical construction project – the BIM manager.

This role manages the process and procedures for information exchange on the project and implementation of the BIM protocol and project information plans. Typically the lead designer will also become the BIM manager, but this role should not be confused with taking on the responsibility of design coordination, which remains with the various lead parties on a project.

New responsibilities

The use of BIM in itself should not cause any significant change to the duty of a construction professional to produce a design with reasonable skill and care.

However, the introduction of a single model creates new responsibilities in relation to the accuracy of the information produced by each user and the reliance of other users on that data. Designers at the front end of the project should be aware that other professions and trades following further down the line, with whom they would not usually have dealings, will begin to rely more heavily on the accuracy of the information put into the model.

The BIM protocol requires a plan at the start of the project, implemented and supervised by the BIM manager, stipulating how the professional team will coordinate production of their information. Each professional involved must ensure that the BIM protocol and the requirements of the plan are reflected in the terms of their contract, so that the scope of their responsibility in respect of the model is clearly defined.

The model remains live after the detailed design stage and extends into the construction of the works. At this point in a traditional project, most professionals are scaling down their involvement, as the bulk of their design has been completed with the issue of construction drawings.

It would be unusual for the design to remain stationary when the works are on site, and architects and engineers usually find themselves responding to queries that have been recorded on architect’s instructions and confirmation of verbal instructions. It is not uncommon for these changes and revisions to be missed on the as-built drawings.

However, with BIM level 3, it may be necessary to update the model throughout the construction of the works. Architects and engineers must ensure that their role in maintaining the model after their design work is completed is clearly defined and allowed for in their fees. The role of the contractor in recording site changes and how they are incorporated into the live model will also become more prevalent.

Construction professionals should also be aware that the BIM model may be incorporated into the building management system in the future, and subsequent users of the model may place greater reliance on their as-built information.

A clear understanding of the future use of the model should be established at an early stage, so that the professional can understand their potential liabilities once the project is complete and is being operated by the end user.

Copyright and cyber security

As the model will most likely be owned by the employer, designers on a BIM level 3 project will need to consider how they retain the copyright to their work. The ownership of copyright should be clearly defined in the contract and provisions should be made for the licensing or assignment of the model to other parties after the works have been completed.

BIM will inevitably require a greater emphasis on IT infrastructure and data control for the construction professional. The shared nature of the BIM level 3 model raises the risk of breaches of confidentiality and intellectual property rights, and could potentially threaten the integrity, resilience and recovery of the model. Problems may arise externally, for example, by attempts to gain access to systems and thereby the model to obtain data, or internally by the theft of data by employees or injection of malware, or by business or systems failure.

Each construction professional on the project will therefore need to assess their own IT practices and cyber security to determine their risks, particularly if the professional has taken on the role of the BIM manager or is responsible for hosting the BIM model itself.

Implications for construction professionals

BIM level 3 is a significant opportunity for designers and contractors to coordinate the design and the works, which could present real time and cost savings over the duration of a project.

But it also creates additional duties and responsibilities for each user. As BIM level 3 becomes more widely adopted in the industry, construction professionals may want to thoroughly review their current operational procedures and contracts. They should also talk to their broker to ensure they have adequate professional indemnity and cyber liability insurance cover in place.

About the author

Andrew Wright

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