Friday, February 17, 2012

BIM first, ask questions later

It's been a while since the last post here, but the time has come to put across my view on the tricky question of BIM ownership.  I'm not an active "BIM practitioner", but am a self-declared advocate and enthusiast, so these thoughts should be read with that in mind.

This is a much-debated and frequently raised subject, and not one that I'm particularly fond of, but it's clearly something that needs to be discussed.

Who owns the model?

During a recent talk I gave at Glasgow University, a point that I made was that the construction industry would really be required to re-visit and re-think its approach to contractual relationships in order for BIM to be allowed to flourish.  This is no easy or small ask, as it would involve a completely fresh approach to the way that information and data is shared and handled between stakeholders and key parties.


At present, I believe there is no suitable contractual framework in the UK to address this issue.  This is essential, as BIM by nature is based on a notion of openness and sharing of information.

Such a contractual framework would need to outline and define the level of modeling required for a particular project, the responsibilities of each party or stakeholder involved in input or manipulation of data, as well as the deliverable expected from the model to each party.

In USA, addenda have been introduced – AIA-E202 & ConsensusDocs301.  The objective of these was to balance the risk and benefits associated with the sharing of models and intellectual data.   

Part of AIA states: Drawings, Specifications and other documents, including those in electronic form, prepared by the Architect and the Architect's consultants are Instruments of Service for use solely with respect to this project. The Architect and Architect's consultants shall be deemed the authors and owners of their respective Instruments of Service and shall retain all common law, statutory and other reserved right, including copyrights.”

This seems to fit the general state in the UK, where the architect / designer would be the “owner”.  However, my thoughts are that the building itself ultimately would be the “owner” of the model, and each party would act as a “custodian” during the period that they were engaged in inputting data (see previous blog post).  The data relates specifically to the project, and so should be “owned” by the same.  Practically speaking, the client / project owner would be the keeper of the BIM, and would act as the legacy manager for it.  In order for BIM to succeed and for the full benefits to be realised, the true owner must be the building / project owner – i.e. the client.

Through out the life of a building for example, the largest cost / profit / benefit / use is post-construction, during the occupation of the building.  The aim of BIM is to define and create a usable pool of data that can be leveraged to extract value during the design, delivery, but crucially the operation of the building.  The building owner will be the last party (prior to decommissioning) who will handle and use the data, so they should be the ultimate owner of the BIM.

What about liability?

My own belief is that liability would remain largely unchanged throughout the design and delivery process, when transitioning to BIM.  My own thought, as outlined above, is that each party – designer, consultant, engineer, contractor, etc – simply act as “custodians” of the data for a period in the project lifecycle.  Their input and the expectations of their delivery would remain largely the same within or outwith a BIM-centred project.

Key to this would be the main point outlined above – the contractual framework.  As stated, this would need to define and address the deliverable expected from each party.  Simply, does that party meet the expectation defined for their role within the framework?

 Additionally, the form of deliverable from the BIM to each party could be detailed and scheduled.  This could be something as simple as a spreadsheet schedule or plan 2D PDF be extracted from the data for a particular party to use for a particular activity.  This could remove some of the complexity or uncertainty that an individual may feel is a barrier if required to navigate around the data-rich model itself.  Just because all the data is available, doesn’t mean that it all needs to be used by everyone.

At present, I do not believe there is a specific policy that has been developed in the UK for limiting liability of parties engaged in BIM.  Would current insurance be appropriate?  I’m no lawyer, but I would expect that a deliverable could be assessed on the basis of “does the outcome meet the expectation?”.

With the fundamental basis of collaboration and the sharing of data in place, it’s not unreasonable to expect that a greater level of transparency and auditability could be demonstrated during the development and execution of a project.  Regular data audits could be performed, and used as the basis to assess the performance of the “BIM”.  Appropriate levels of data, of the right quality could be determined, along with the point in the project timeline when the data was added, and therefore the party responsible.

Moving to a more efficient, higher-quality method of project delivery is in everyone’s interest.  The ability to produce better projects that have higher-performance levels as well as a lower environmental and financial impact is a goal that we would all like to see achieved.

As an industry, is it possible or practicable to make a move to come together to try and achieve this ideal and start collaborating more without delaying to consider how we can apportion blame if we can’t play nicely together?

BIM first, ask questions later?*

*no kittens were harmed during the writing of this post