Australia: Old Habits die hard - Building Information Modelling (BIM) saves Time and Money, so Why is it being Ignored?

Remember the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube at the Beijing Olympics? The intricate beauty of those structures was achieved using a revolutionary design approach called BIM or Building Information Modelling. Sydney's iconic Opera House has also used BIM to guide its renovations and facilities management program.

BIM discards the old way of building design where the upfront architectural work is often done with little input from other project participants such as engineers, contractors and facilities managers.

Instead, BIM brings together all parties early in the project and connects them into a virtual 'design' forum to review the simulated structure, ask questions, share information and raise issues.

It's the focus on collaboration in the early stages of a project that sets BIM apart. Everyone is 'on the same page' with increased data sharing between the design and the construction participants, and the facilities managers.

For project owners the spill over benefits from using BIM can be substantial. The project is likely to go more smoothly with fewer costly misunderstandings between parties.

Open sharing of information also means the structure can be thoroughly assessed before construction starts with less potential for variations to be needed later on.

So why, despite the benefits, hasn't there been significant uptake of BIM in Australia?

A key challenge is the lack of a documentation framework to underpin contracts where BIM is used. The Australian Institute of Architects recognised this in their 2010, 'BIM in Australia Report' commenting,

"Legal and contractual requirements within the AEC industry have not yet developed to reflect the collaborative potential of BIM. There are difficulties working out how liabilities and responsibilities are shared, and while licensing agreements are feasible to allow appropriate use of BIM models, there are difficulties with embedded data and 'whole of life' risk and audit. This may also have an impact on insurance issues."

In the United States, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has just released for comment a suite of draft contractual documentation, called the Digital Practice Documents, to facilitate the use of BIMs in projects.

The Documents address several legal issues related to BIMs, including identifying the scope of work and determining participant responsibilities for managing digital data and the BIM model. They also set out a protocol for authorised use of digital data to safeguard data integrity and ensure each participant has access to the right data.

The proposed documentation requires project participants to meet as soon as practical (after executing their underlying contracts with the owner) to decide and agree on the protocols governing the digital data and models. This sets the foundation for the co-ordinated and efficient use of data and the model itself.

The current set of contractual documentation used in Australia for traditional delivery structures, such as D&C (or novated D&C), DBOM or ECI/EPC, do not necessarily foster the type of collaborative teamwork contemplated in the use of BIM.

Simply attaching an addenda dealing with BIM issues to a set of traditional contractual documentation is inadequate to achieve the efficiencies and cost savings that BIM offers, because the fundamental risk allocation among the parties has not changed. The approach to key legal and commercial issues dealing with ownership of intellectual property, sharing of information and confidentiality, apportionment of liability, sound document control procedures and fitness for purposes warranties when using BIMs needs to be reconsidered.

While governments and owners stand to gain the most from the use of BIMs, most initiatives in Australia are being driven by designers, engineers and architects, and less so by building owners.

The Australian Institute of Architects and Consult Australia (AustIA/CA) formed a BIM Steering Group in mid-2011 and has now released a set of BIM in Practice Guidelines.

Government agencies in the United States (GSA) and Europe (Norway, Denmark and Finland) have implemented policies requiring government–funded projects to use web–based or digital applications such as BIM backed by open IFC standards. The UK Government published its Government Construction Strategy which announced its intention to require collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) on its projects by 2016.

In Australia, the federal government (with BuildingSmart) has established the Built Environment Industry Council (BEIIC) to develop a strategy to adopt BIM. BEIIC has released the National Building Information Modelling Initiative with four recommendations:

  1. Require full 3D collaborative BIM based on open standards for information exchange for all Australian Government building procurements by 1 July 2016;
  2. Encourage the Australian States and Territories through COAG to require full 3D collaborative BIM;
  3. Implement the National BIM Initiative Implementation Plan;
  4. Establish a taskforce with key stakeholder representation to manage delivery of the Implementation plan.

Over the next decade, there will be more impetus on owners to set up collaborative teams to deploy BIM and other virtual and open source design tools, and to support those tools through the design, construction, operation and even demolition phases—that is, from the 'womb to tomb'.

There will be a need for the industry to respond by drafting and implementing fully functional and integrated agreements for the use of BIM in Australia, while also adopting a number of the collaborative concepts (such as integrated project delivery) currently used in relationship contracts.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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