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While a tax on sugary drinks may have captured most of the attention from the UK government’s 2016 Budget announcement this month, there was a more interesting element for the construction industry – at least for those not addicted to sugary drinks! To the surprise of many in the sector, the document included an explicit statement of intent when it comes to developing Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 3.

“The government will develop the next digital standard for the construction sector – Building Information Modelling 3 – to save owners of built assets billions of pounds a year in unnecessary costs, and maintain the UK’s global leadership in digital construction”.

BIM 2

Level 3 BIM is currently seen as the “holy grail” for building design. It represents full collaboration between all disciplines by means of using a single, shared project model that is held in a centralised repository. All parties can access and modify that same model, and the benefit is that it removes the final layer of risk that comes from conflicting information. It is also widely known as ‘Open BIM’.

The government has said that it will develop this next digital standard for the construction sector to save owners of built assets billions of pounds sterling per year in unnecessary costs, with the purpose of maintaining the UK’s global leadership in digital construction.

The UK government seems very keen to recognise the importance of the construction sector to the economy. Figures show that manufacturing, construction and service sectors are now all larger than when the current Conservative Party government came to power at the beginning of 2010. In addition, at the end of 2015, 62.6% of all employment growth has been in high skilled occupations, backing the development of digital construction.

The Conservative government originally launched a mandate for all centrally-procured projects to be delivered using BIM level 2, four years ago, kick starting a digital revolution in construction, but there had been concern across the sector that it would drop its dedication to the policy after the BIM level 2 mandate comes into force next month on 4 April this year. However, this development reinforces the UK’s commitment to digital construction, putting the industry at ease moving forward.

Last month’s statement will see the transfer of responsibility for BIM from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Treasury. With BIM Level 2 mandatory on public sector projects from 4 April 2016 this was confirmation from the Government on the next staging post in the BIM revolution. The Cabinet Office’s BIM Task Group, led by Mark Bew is charged with rolling out BIM adoption across the public sector, is likely to be re-launched to align more closely with the government’s wider digital policies, including smart cities and infrastructure.

In fact, Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget included a number of funding commitments for smart buildings and infrastructure, including a pledge to make the UK a “global centre for excellence” in driverless cars. The budget stated the government would look to conduct trials of driverless cars by 2017, and aims to consult this summer on sweeping away regulatory barriers to the technology. The government will also establish a £15m ‘connected corridor’ from London to Dover to enable vehicles to communicate wirelessly with infrastructure and potentially other vehicles.

For the construction industry, the significance of these steps, in real terms, is that UK government has adopted this definition in its Construction Strategy, by requiring that all publicly-funded construction work must be undertaken by using BIM to Level 2, by 2016. This mandate has been set as one measure to help in fulfilling their target of reducing waste in construction by 20%.

In construction, it is considered that abortive work, discrepancies and mistakes, and inefficiencies in the information supply chain are major contributors to this waste; and that collaborative working can assist in their reduction. Looking further ahead, it is highly probable that collaborative working practices, such as Open BIM, will ultimately filter through to the private sector, in much the same way that CAD took over from the drawing board during the 1990s.

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The concept of ‘BIM levels’ (and ‘BIM level 2 compliance’) has become the ‘accepted’ definition of what criteria are required to be deemed BIM-compliant, by seeing the adoption process as the next steps in a journey that has taken the industry from the drawing board to the computer and, ultimately, into the digital age and on to the Buildings as a Service concept. This, of course, is to the significant benefit of the smart city and smart building movement underway in the UK and across the globe.

Some apprehension remains in the industry around issues such as copyright and liability within BIM. Although the general feeling is that there is a strong intention by the CIC BIM Protocol to resolve these issues – the former by means of robust appointment documents and software originator/read/write permissions, and the latter by shared-risk procurement routes such as partnering.

Moving forward, the concept of ‘4D’ BIM has become the new buzzword recently. This equates to the use of BIM data to analyse time; beyond this are ‘5D’ which includes cost management, and ‘6D’ for facilities management (FM) purposes. With continued support from the UK government the British construction industry has every chance to lead the world into a smart building future.