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BIM requirements

Several building owners now require BIM to be used in their construction projects. More and more owners also require the models to be handed over at the end of the project.

But what do “requiring BIM” really mean? How and when do you require it from whom? How do you amend your contracts? And as a designer or contractor - how do you work with requirements being put on you? How do you pass the requirements down the chain? How will requirements be validated?

In this post we give an introduction to what you need to know about BIM requirements. This introductory post will lay the foundation for later posts where we will cover common BIM requirements frameworks and tools from around the globe. We will end the post with a list of some common pitfalls in BIM requirements and give some general advice.

The need for requirements

The use of BIM tools and BIM workflows has huge potential to affect most processes in design, construction and operations.

BIM represents a new way of collaboration. With BIM we share more information both across disciplines but also across phases. With this big change in how we do things we need to update or amend our contracts. Both to ensure this new way of working and to prevent falling back to the old way.

There may be a perfect way to do BIM. However in real life we need to be pragmatic and aim for incremental improvements. Instead of the one true way we need to define the right way for our project. We need to set the correct ambition level to make BIM an enabler of great things instead of a straight-jacket for the project participants.

The project owner/ asset owner is the overall responsible for the requirements. They are covering the cost of the project and they are the ones left with the results of the project, both the physical asset and the virtual building model. The owner needs to specify the overarching requirements for the use of BIM. The owner also have a responsibility for future-proofing the assets and in defining the ambition level and risk tolerance of the project

However - the owner do not have all the answers. Owner knowledge and background varies a lot. Unless the owner is very professional parts of the BIM requirements are better handled by the project team themselves. The architect, main contractor or BIM coordinator may be better resources to state most of the BIM process requirements. However, the owner is still responsible for proper BIM requirements being in place at the right time.

Two definitions of BIM - two types of requirements

Before looking into BIM requirements we should remind ourself that there are two definitions of BIM.

  1. Building Information Modelling - BIM as a process. Industry professionals using tools and a shared data model to work together across phases and disciplines
  2. Building Information Model - BIM as virtual building. During design and construction this is an ever evolving representation of what is to be. The model is used to support the BIM processes. After handover this is is a representation of the asset to be used for finding documentation and data, visualizing performance, planning major/ minor works etc

The same way these two definitions are related, requirements for BIM processes and BIM models are related as well. However our experience is that most people focus too narrowly on only one of the aspects when defining requirements

Modelling requirements for BIM collaboration

These requirements should focus on making it easy for the project participants to work together. What data and file formats in what versions will be used to exchange data? When and where will the data be made available? What is the expected content and level of detail for different parts of the model? The requirements will start with answering these questions for basic design collaboration/ clash detection, visualisation etc. Also what general process procedures will be in place to support these processes, e.g design review meetings with BIM coordination software, common issue trackers to handle open issues in a shared model etc

Then the project should evaluate the specific processes where sharing of BIM data is needed and amend the requirements list to support these use cases. E.g. what are the interfaces between the electrical designer and the the rest of the design team. What information about ventilation equipment, fire and security equipment, electrical appliances etc do the electrical engineer need to do his work and how can that be coordinated by exchanging BIM data?

Model requirements for Lifecycle BIM

These requirements should make sure that each major phase of the project (e.g. concept design, detailed design, construction and handover) generate suitable BIM model(s) for the coming phases suitable for their needs. The biggest phase change and the most obvious one is the handover from construction to operations where the virtual BIM models from design and constructions “turn into” both as built models and asset information models to support the ongoing management, operations and maintenance of the facility.

However there are also important to note that other phase changes also have model requirements. E.g. for the contractor to use the model for information takeoff and production planning the design models need to have specific content and structure in a sufficient quality.

A portfolio view of your assets and projects

For BIM practitioners it is easy and normal to focus just on the needs of a specific project. But if you are an owner or facilities manager you need to take a holistic view of you portfolio. You need a strategy and a plan for implementing lifecycle BIM/ BIM-supported FM. You want the deliverables from each new build and major works project to be as similar as possible. The models and building data should be managed in the same CAFM systems and looking similar for your staff.

At the same time your plan should take into account that implementing lifecycle BIM is a journey. Things are constantly evolving in the market, you gain experiences along the way and every asset and project has its own specific needs. Also you should constantly evaluate where you draw the line between you defining the requirements and where you make sure there is requirements in place (but leave it up to the project to set the right requirements and standards).

Your portfolio-strategy should start with your goals and aspirations. You should define common ways to store, share and update building data both for your running operations and for your projects. The actual plan to reach your goals should take into account where you are now. What are your existing repositories and systems. What kind of integrations are needed for enterprise systems. What legacy systems will be replaced and what systems will be kept for now.

How the requirements are related

The design model that are supporting both design coordination and construction management is going to evolve into the model that will be used for operations. The best processes are where designers get their work done at the same time as they are providing useful information for later phases. This is one of the basic promises of BIM. (Enter the data once).

However there is generally a misunderstanding that if designers and engineers use BIM tools for design there will automatically be generated a model that is suitable for operations. The truth is that some extra information needs to be added to the model to support lifecycle BIM. The owner should be prepared to require this information early in the process and be prepared to cover the cost of adding this extra information.

The need for standardisation

To develop BIM requirements from the ground up is a very time consuming and risky task for an individual organization. Very few owners have the resources or knowledge to do so.

Having to learn and adapt to specific owners home grown systems for all bids and all projects is similarly impossible for the AEC professionals

There is a need for familiarity, best practice sharing, stepping-stone templates etc to make these processes more efficient. Everything that is common knowledge and common requirements should be standardised.

The need for customization

At the same time it is important to note by nature every construction project is different in size and complexity, owners have different CAFM systems, owners have different ambitions and risk tolerances etc.

Therefore not everything can be standardized and a standard document cannot be the only contract addendum. Templates are ways to kickstart the requirements process and to make the bidding and implementation easier. It is not replacing the requirements process. The owner still needs to consider : “what do we need and want?” and “what are we willing to pay for?”. E.g. what object in the model needs to be updated with as-installed data before handover

Common pitfalls in requiring BIM

Here are some of the challenges and limitations we see in the market today related to BIM requirements :

General advice

Here are our generic advice for owners looking to define requirements for their projects and assets :

Summary

In this post we have introduced the need for requirements both for the modelling process itself (to support collaboration) and for the model content and structure when the project reach certain milestones. We have argued that BIM requirements should be based on standards and templates, but also that copying a template without supplementing and adjusting for project-specific conditions is not enough. The building owner has a responsibility for having BIM requirements in place, but some of the requirements can be agreed upon by the project participants. We have also covered the need for building owners to have a holistic portfolio view when defining their BIM requirements strategy and tactical plan.

Next steps

In the coming weeks we will review and summarize a list of leading frameworks, guides and tools to support the in the BIM requirement process. Our todo-list of frameworks are listed below. When the review has been done the listed item will turn into a link.

If you are missing an item from the list feel free to give us input below and we will try to add it to the queue if we feel it is of general interest to the global community. If you have questions to the text above, or maybe have a different point of view, please share below and we will do our best to answer or comment.