Building Information Modelling (BIM): How to make it work

Fiona Bundy-Clarke, Sharpe Pritchard

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a continuing discussion point in the construction industry, in particular for those with an ICT focus. BIM has been in existence, in some form, for a number of years – but is becoming increasingly important. Fiona Bundy-Clarke, solicitor in the technology and data team, and Ron Cheriyan, solicitor in the projects team, discuss why this is, the further impact that BIM is likely to have on the industry, and summarise some of the key legal issues for consideration in relation to its implementation.

What is BIM?

BIM is a term used to describe computerised information modelling processes for documenting and sharing detailed information about construction projects. BIM data can be used to describe every component of a building, both from a physical and functional perspective, over the entire building lifecycle. The term BIM is commonly understood to refer to the 3D imaging software used to illustrate this, but it actually relates to the business process as a whole – a multi-dimensional model which facilitates collaboration and integration between stakeholders.

Used effectively, BIM has the potential to:

  • assist in adopting a common understanding of requirements, design proposals and dependencies across stakeholders to facilitate effective decision-making;
  • allow complex concepts to be illustrated across a multi-disciplinary audience, including by repurposing of data;
  • facilitate quick and collaborative development and remodelling, due to standardisation and capacity to re-work data;
  • streamline processes and interactions;
  • facilitate early detection and identification of risks, discrepancies and errors;
  • agree systems and sequences to facilitate planning and coordinate on-site activity;
  • manage pipeline and resourcing, including scheduling of materials; and
  • provide ‘as built’ design information for maintenance, facilities management and renovation.

All of these factors can assist in the end to end management of projects; driving efficiency, reducing risk, minimising abortive costs and increasing the overall value of the asset across its lifecycle.

BIM can be classified by its level of maturity. These levels range from Level 0, which represents an entirely non-collaborative solution, through to Level 3 (or ‘Open BIM’) – which utilises integrated, interoperable data across the full multi-disciplinary stakeholder group.

Why is BIM now so important?

In 2011 the Government Construction Strategy mandated the use of Level 2 BIM on all public sector projects by 2016. A fundamental requirement for Level 2 compliance is the ability to import and export information in a common file format, that is, one that can be understood by any other stakeholder’s software.

Public sector clients will need to comply with this government mandate. It is not compulsory for private sector clients, but they may take the view that to do so would represent best practice. Clients may also find that their construction partners, particularly large organisations, will be moving towards BIM level 2 in any event, perhaps where part of their workload is comprised of public sector projects.

The discussion around BIM is not limited to the UK. Similar initiatives are occurring internationally. In 2013, NBS and other international partners carried out the first International BIM Survey – this found that only 39% of respondents in the UK were using BIM. This was significantly lower than other countries, notably New Zealand (57%), Canada (64%) and Finland (65%).

BIM provides an efficient and cost effective method of constructing buildings, which may be used to view the entire life cycle of the project. It works by assembling all of the data about each element of a building in one place, thereby allowing anyone involved in the project to access the information for any purpose. If changes are required, the building model can be amended while all of the documents remain up to date. BIM has the scope to transform construction projects, making the process more streamlined. This increased coordination between the project owners minimises the risk of errors occurring at the different stages of the project, which also reduces overall costs. However, implementing BIM carries some risks of its own.

Challenges and risks

The benefits of using BIM are clear. However, there are some significant barriers to its implementation. Whilst it can be argued that the government mandate may make use of BIM across the construction sector inevitable, the optimal timing of the transitional shift will vary from organisation to organisation, depending on a number of factors. Some of the key considerations are dealt with below.

Challenges relating to industry factors
There is concern in some areas that a significant proportion of organisations in the construction sphere do not possess the requisite skillset to work in an increasingly digitised environment. With the advent of BIM, there is arguably a greater need to recruit individuals with skills in areas such as logistics and data analysis, compared to perhaps more traditional construction roles.

The success of BIM is dependent on the assumption that parties collaborate effectively on the project. However, construction projects are often characterised by disputes. Entrenched working practices and resistance to change are potential stumbling blocks to the successful adoption of BIM.

On BIM enabled projects, BIM will need to be incorporated into professional appointments and construction contracts. How this is achieved will depend on which level of BIM is used. As such, the contractual framework for the incorporation of BIM will require careful planning. One option is to draft new contracts. This option is attractive as it recognises the full extent of the changes which full ratification of BIM will bring. However, it is also a potentially time consuming one.

A second, and slightly less onerous, option is for the parties to use a BIM protocol. A BIM protocol is a set of amendments to the main contract which highlights the practical ways by which BIM may be implemented. This option has the clear advantage of allowing the parties to continue using their existing contracts, while implementing BIM.

Parties will need to decide whether to include the BIM protocol as part of the suite of normal documents in a construction contract or whether it should be incorporated as a separate, independent amendment to the contract.

Parties will also need to decide which specific BIM protocol they wish to use. The CIC BIM Protocol was commissioned by the government’s BIM implementation Task Force and is a supplementary legal agreement which may be used for incorporation into construction contracts, using Level 2 BIM. The CIC BIM Protocol creates additional rights and obligations for both supplier and employer and should include all BIM data which is to be created by all of the parties contracted to the employer. Parties should also contact their insurers to ensure that each stakeholder is satisfied with their roles and the contractual arrangements.

Intellectual property is a pivotal concern in the use of BIM. Intellectual property is created whenever data is generated that forms part of BIM. All parties involved in a BIM enabled project will want to have some element of authority over the intellectual property that they devise. If the intellectual property belongs to a third party, the parties must ensure that they have the rights to use it. The parties should negotiate and decide on responsibility and ownership of each intellectual property right in respect of all material that is created. Needless to say, the contractual framework should deal specifically with each intellectual property right to ensure that disputes are avoided.

Where a BIM protocol is relied upon, it is important for parties to be clear on the relationship between the protocol, the relevant standards (for example, PAS 1192-2) and the underlying contractual documents. There is a risk of duplication, misalignment or inconsistency, so the order of precedence should be clear and expressly addressed. Parties should also be in agreement as to whether they consider BIM documentation to have contractual force.

Challenges relating to technology and data
The requirement for the careful management of data and technology elements unarguably represents one of the most complex, and potentially costly, aspects of BIM implementation. Key concerns arise in respect of software capacity and compatibility. Large volumes of varied data need to be accessed by a range of stakeholders. Interoperability is a must, as information exchange is key to realising benefits from use of BIM. Expertise is also an issue, as are business process changes arising out of a requirement to use unfamiliar, specialist systems. The requirement for information sharing and particularly, a centralised data repository or ‘BIM hub’ can expose organisations to data security risks. Concerns in respect of data ownership may also arise, where novel business processes shed doubt on where both intellectual property rights and originator liability sit. Where there are many different parties feeding into the same BIM hub, it can be difficult to identify who is responsible for any breach.

These technology related risks must be fully considered prior to entering into contracts for projects requiring utilisation of BIM, particularly where the projects (not risks) are of a high value. Whilst the JCT and NEC contract precedents effectively manage risks and issues that are specific to a construction project, they are not always suitable for managing ICT-related requirements arising from the implementation of BIM, even where supplemented with a BIM protocol.

Factors to consider from an ICT perspective include:

  • software compatibility and licensing issues;
  • where personal data is involved, a privacy impact assessment may need to be completed;
  • whether a data sharing agreement is required for the multiple parties;
  • exit arrangements and ‘future proofing’ the BIM software, to avoid software under lock-in; and
  • whether there is a requirement to introduce an ICT collaboration agreement for any parties engaging with the BIM solution.


Successful implementation of BIM relies on the effective interplay between construction specific and ICT specific considerations. As a general rule, were an entity to consider entering into a high value ICT contract, it would take specialist advice and rely upon a relevant standard form contract as a template to ensure that ICT specific risks and issues were taken into consideration and dealt with appropriately.

The contractual framework for the incorporation of BIM requires careful planning. Contractual documents should address each intellectual property right and organisations should consider whether to use a BIM protocol. Successful implementation of BIM also requires parties to work collaboratively on the project.

Whilst it is likely that industry standards will develop as the processes around utilisation of Level 2 BIM mature, until that time it is of vital importance to make robust provision in respect of ICT requirements and not be tempted to view this crucial area as being merely antecedent to a standard construction project.

For more information please contact Fiona Bundy-Clarke, solicitor in the technology and data team, on 020 7405 4600 or email, or contact Ron Cheriyan, solicitor in the projects team, on 020 7405 4600 or email