Building information modelling (BIM) gets people and information working together effectively and efficiently through defined processes and technology.

BIM 3D buildings map

BIM was brought to wide industry attention in the UK Government Construction Strategy published in 2011.  Since then the BIM Task Group has been developing standards and requirements to enable BIM adoption.  Take up of BIM is slowly but surely increasing although there is still more BIM related development work in the pipeline. 

This shouldn’t however, prevent any organisation or individual from developing their own BIM awareness and capability.  In fact it’s really important that the whole industry embraces the practice so that we can collectively look to optimise the benefits that BIM offers.   

Defining BIM

The emphasis is on the words ‘effective’ and ‘efficient’. The construction industry is known for delivering projects late and over budget with the resulting assets often not quite working as they should. Adopting a BIM approach can bring predictability to a project, not just around capital delivery but operation too.  BIM can also help us to save both money and carbon by cutting out wasteful processes/activities and making more informed decisions at the right time.

In summary key BIM words to remember are: people, information, processes, technology.  A word to forget is ‘Building’.  BIM applies to all built assets (bridges, roads, track etc.) not just buildings.

Did you know that adoption of BIM is mandated in the UK for 2016?

It’s likely that you do since this date has been in the UK construction headlines for some time now.  There are different levels of BIM maturity and the mandate refers to Level 2 BIM.  The details behind this are that:

  • The mandate is likely to come into effect in March 2016
  • It will apply to all centrally procured projects (whether or not a project comes out of central government may depend upon how it is funded)
  • There is no trigger threshold for value, size or complexity of project.  Level 2 BIM should be adopted where it will offer a positive return on investment

Consequently, if your future workload is likely to come out of central UK government then you need to be ‘BIM enabled’.  This means that not only do you have to be BIM aware, you may need to demonstrate your understanding and capability in the bids you submit to get a chance of securing the work.

What does Level 2 BIM mean?

The principles of Level 2 BIM are helpfully set out in PAS 1192-2:2013 (Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using building information modelling).

As well as providing project information in document formats we’re familiar with (schedules, emails, drawings, certificates etc.) Level 2 BIM identifies that some information will be expressed in digital object based models (models).  Where models are developed the information within them needs to be logical, visible and available for analysis and use by the project team.

Level 2 BIM effectively promotes sharing, analysis and reuse of information.  The models offer a better visual representation of design/construction and can therefore be used to help inform decision making.  Software can be used to lay multiple models on top of one another to see how they fit together; a process that allows object clashes to be identified and managed.

A few points to highlight:

  • Most projects will be supported by multiple models
  • Models should hold the right amount of detail to support their purpose.  Care should be taken not to burden models with too much or unnecessary information
  • Models may not necessarily offer the best way to communicate information.  A schedule or other format might equally do the job

An important principle of Level 2 BIM is that as a project progresses and information grows, it moves from information fit for design, to information fit for construction and then to information that represents what has been constructed.   An output of Level 2 BIM is therefore an accurate record of project information.  This can then be used to support the built asset in operation.

Managing BIM

Models are essentially another information source. Level 2 BIM therefore needs governance and direction via a few primary documents namely:

  • The Employer’s Information Requirements (produced by/on behalf of the Employer)
  • The BIM Execution Plan (produced by the project team)

BIM requirements can be contractually captured via the BIM protocol.

Thinking about technology

In the digital world information starts off life as data – an arrangement of letters and numbers.  Data becomes information when it is analysed, extended and applied for use.  In construction a lot of data and information is generated in design.  Object based design models will hold certain data about objects (eg the dimensions of a door) plus information (the door manufacturer and door model). 

As well as being visible in the software used to create a model, the data and information (collectively called ‘information’) can be viewed by opening up a model using other software.  There are a number of ‘viewers’ which are free to use and will offer some functionality – possibly good enough for what you need.  Equally there are programs developed to support specific activities which may have a cost attached to them.

As well as allowing you to see a model and its information viewing software enables the information to be scheduled outside of the model so that this can be extended and put to further use (i.e to create a cost plan).  Viewing software will not let you change the model itself or the information in the model.

The benefits of technology

BIM technology comes in various forms.  Collectively it offers a number of benefits by:

  • enabling managed access to information
  • giving us the platform to create virtual models -  representations of what is to be/has been constructed
  • allowing us to manoeuvre around models so we can see understand the environment better
  • allowing us to test the models and manage risk around proposals
  • giving us the means to analyse, extract and interrogate information

Importantly technology supports the transition of information.  This opens the doors for automation.  However, the robustness and usefulness of automated information is entirely dependent upon the quality and accuracy of information at the point of origin plus the originators understanding of what the information will be used for.  This is one of the reasons why BIM has to be managed.

It is also worth remembering that information will also be transferred by other means (not just models) and it will grow in detail and accuracy during the design/construction process.  So whilst some information may be automated, it’s unlikely that we’ll get all the information we need via automation. 

Ultimately software will support and enable but it will not completely ‘do’ – this is where we need to look at the value we offer in service delivery to see how we can make the most of this to be both efficient and effective.

Before committing to any particular software it’s important to understand what you want to be able to do with it and how it needs to integrate with other software you might already have running. 

BIM for small and medium-sized businesses

Thinking about people, information, processes and technology, BIM is for everyone – it is not biased towards organisation size or function.  We all contribute to and/or take information from the design/construction process. 

In looking at how BIM might be adopted within your organisation, consider the information you receive, what you do with it plus the information you generate, its purpose and the format you deliver it in.  Think about how you could reduce duplication, effort and risk in these processes, not just within your organisation but within the project team environment.

Consider also how you articulate these processes since, if you’re on the supply/service side this will become your BIM execution plan (BEP).  Having a comprehensive is BEP is important in demonstrating your BIM awareness, capability and capacity. The BEP will be an essential ingredient for winning work; don’t over-complicate it, keep it clear, concise and simple.

Want to know more about BIM?

BSI have published a series of comprehensive specifications and standards for BIM – PAS 1192-2, PAS 1192-3 and BS 1192-4.  These are all available at and will give you the detail around principles and processes.

The BIM Task Group also offers a vital information source as does BIM4SME

To find out more about BIM in action the Construction Industry Council has set up regional BIM hubs, covering all of the UK.  You can find your local hub at  The hubs host various events around the country and their purpose is to extend BIM awareness and capability and to feed back into the BIM Task Group.

The future of BIM

Level 2 BIM represents a certain maturity and is a stepping stone for where BIM could go.  It is effectively an enabler towards a more digital, data driven industry – one which is smarter, leaner and more collaborative and dynamic.  However it is important to walk first and Level 2 BIM is achievable given the way we currently procure and insure projects and hold them together via contract forms. 

Written by Sarah Davidson FRICS, Director, Head of Research & Development for Gleeds and RICS Certified BIM Manager.

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