When appointed by a client as an architect, surveyor, project manager, engineer or contractor on a project, the chances are that an organisation is going to produce information such as a cost plan, programme or model.
This information will quite possibly be needed by the client themselves. Where this is case, the obligation to deliver the information that should be captured in the appointment between the client and the organisation. The information might also be necessary to support work by other parties, whether the client needs it or not.
So, there is information that has to be delivered to fulfil contractual obligations and information that needs to be delivered for the project to progress and for other members of the team to fulfil their obligations.
While we might be extremely competent in our particular specialisms, there are times when we're poor at sharing information when it's needed, in the right form and format and to the correct level of detail.
Maybe the client hasn't been specific about what they want and when; maybe we didn't get the information we needed from the client or other parties. Whatever the reason, this failure to provide the right information tends to have consequences for someone – often the client, sometimes ourselves – during the asset's life.
One objective of the UK government's BIM Level 2 initiative was to tackle this issue, and it was arguably successful to a point. It at least got us thinking about the potential of data and information, while collaboration became part of our day-to-day vocabulary, and technology moved on at pace.
However, time passes, we learn from experience and initiatives change and evolve. BIM Level 2 is no more. In its place we have the UK BIM Framework - the delivery vehicle for the information management mandate in the UK government's 2021 policy paper Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030 (TIP).
The paper helpfully defines BIM as a combination of processes, standards and technology through which it is possible to generate, visualise, exchange and assure – and subsequently use and reuse – data and information as a trustworthy foundation for decision-making.
There are two important points to bear in mind.
BIM covers the management of all forms of information, not just geometrical models.
It focuses on enabling robust processes through the use of standards and technology.
The UK BIM Framework is a collection of standards supported by guidance and resources. These provide us with the processes so that we can manage information successfully throughout an asset's life: the standards tell us what we need to do, and the guidance and resources help us to understand why and how.
The standards include the BS EN ISO 19650 series, which sets out the processes for managing information during the design, construction and operation phases of an asset. The series is relevant to anyone who requires and uses or produces information. I think we can safely say that means all of us.
ISO 19650-1 set out the concepts that are at the heart of the series.
ISO 19650-2 is the standard covering the design and construction phase.
ISO 19650-3 covers an asset's operational phase.
ISO 19650-5 considers a security-minded approach.
New standards will be available in due course, to cover information exchange superseding BS 1992-4, and health and safety, superseding PAS 1192-6.
If you are familiar with the requirements of PAS 1192-2 and 1192-3, it is worth highlighting that there are aspects of these that are picked up by the ISO 19650 series. Equally, there are new concepts to consider.
There are a few clear messages when we apply ISO 19650-2.
The information management process begins and ends with the client. They have to articulate what information they need from whom, when and to what degree of detail. They also have to set out the standards and processes to be adhered to in producing and exchanging information (the information management resources). The need for information is determined by proper consideration of what it will be used for, so that only useful and useable information is produced. The client then plays an important role in accepting or rejecting information, and they lead the process of reflecting on lessons learned from the project.
Any appointment in the supply chain should include the information management resources with information requirements that are specific to them. This is so that the organisation knows exactly what it needs to produce and what is going to make this information acceptable to the client or other party that needs it.
The capability and capacity to manage and share information is a key part of tender evaluation.
Information production and exchange should be planned; where there are just a few information deliverables, very little planning will be necessary.
Information should be checked and approved before sharing it with the client.
Information that the client needs should be shared through a common data environment, ideally one established by the client themselves.
Just as our understanding of data and information manipulation and use continues to evolve, so does what we are required to do as surveyors and the way we do it.
When I was a practising quantity surveyor, I both feared and relished aspects of my job. I was often hesitant to start a big quantity take-off or cost planning activity. But by the end of it, I knew the design inside out and I'd often learned about some configuration of construction I hadn't seen before. I was equipped for detailed and confident discussions with the client and other members of the design and construction team.
It was a valuable process. But quite a lot of my work involved activities that could be easily automated. In addition, I was often reproducing or duplicating information that I had been given. The potential for error was high. So what informed my approach to such tasks?
The information I needed was often represented in PDF drawings and Excel or Word schedules and specifications. This meant that I had to copy it or rewrite it.
I didn't always trust the information to be as detailed or complete as I needed it to be.
The technology to help me properly wasn't widely available.
I was convinced that my approach and reproducing information was necessary to do my job properly.
Admittedly it's a long time since I was in an active surveying role, although colleagues continue to report similar experiences. However, things have changed and we need to evolve.
First, if the processes set out in ISO 19650-2 are embraced by the client and the design and construction team then information should be available to us when we need it in an accessible and useable format. We should also be able to trust that the information we need is as complete as it needs to be and as correct as it needs to be.
Second, technology has moved on significantly. Using geometrical modelling software to produce designs certainly benefits surveyors. The data generated in modelling can be accessed, manipulated and supplemented so we can model and manage quantities, costs, options and risks.
This means that there is no duplication of specifications, no unnecessary measuring of quantities, no manual comparison of designs, and no poring for hours over drawings. It means that it is much easier to recommend or respond to changes in design. The ability to visualise and navigate geometrical models also helps us to understand design proposals in detail and in context.
It seems to me that ever since we heard the phrase 'BIM Level 2', there have been discussions about what the future holds for quantity surveyors. I believe that it is very positive – but on the proviso that we embrace data and the technology that will enable us to manipulate it.
To do this we have to be able to trust the data and information that we receive and produce, and we have not only to rely on but also contribute to sound information management processes.
So visit the UK BIM Framework and take a look at the guidance and resources available. Think about the information you produce, the information you rely on, and the benefits for you, the project team and the client of information that can be trusted. Think about how you use technology – how your processes, and ultimately your profit margins, could be improved if you had reliable data and information you could use.
Then, the next time you see the words BIM Level 2 in a tender or appointment document, stop. Go back to the client and steer them towards the UK BIM Framework. And when you see UK BIM Framework in a tender or appointment document, check the resources that set out the information and technology processes and start planning how you will produce and share information.
Sarah Davidson FRICS is an associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham