Panellists at a recent Ontario conference on construction risks agreed BIM is a transformative tool that can bring seemingly limitless benefits — but with its growth comes the need for prudence and rigour from the teams drafting project contracts.
Chief technology officer Brent Mauti of Turner Fleischer Architects, an ardent BIM advocate, compared notes with EllisDon’s chief innovation officer Rosemarie Lipman and Andrea Lee, partner at Glaholt Bowles LLP, during a recent Canadian Institute (CI) session devoted to risks associated with technology. The session was held as part of CI’s Managing Risk in Construction Contracts and Projects conference.
For all of BIM’s potential to link together project teams, it seems there can be failures incorporating the system into contracts.
Lee deals with complex, multimillion-dollar projects but sometimes when she looks at the contract, expectations for BIM deliverables can be a few short sentences.
“Sometimes you get to the BIM section and it’s actually quite short, like it’s very high level and it’s almost like the parties are just trusting their team to understand the technical aspects just to do it,” she explained.
“What if there are new parties brought into the project and they don’t have an understanding of what the rules are? I put on my lawyer’s hat and think the parties who were actually involved in the project need to get together and put the plan down in writing.”
Mauti agreed some project owners insert a minimal BIM clause in the expectation that the BIM team will figure out its role.
“I’ve seen a small BIM paragraph when I’ve been brought into a major project…‘You’re the BIM guy, implement this,’ and you read the 10 or 20 lines that doesn’t really say much, and now you’ve got all these entities coming together to try to figure out how to rationalize the BIM clause buried inside a contract,” he said.
Essentially, Mauti explained, BIM is made up of two components, 3D model objects and a structured database. At its best, in the early stages BIM can ensure design information is co-ordinated and reflects the stakeholders’ vision of the project; during the construction stage it allows collaboration and “clash detection”; and during handover it can deliver rich data that is an asset for the full lifecycle of the project.
“Nothing gets lost, nothing has to be translated or is misunderstood,” said Mauti.
BIM is ideal within an integrated project delivery process, Mauti added.
“There is no finger-pointing, all the walls are broken down,” he said, recalling how with one alliance project in Australia, “We were all collaborative and it was really a beautiful world.”
Breakdowns occur when there is failure to provide for parties’ expectations in the contract, the panellists said. The use of boilerplate BIM requirements that are not fully agreed upon by the parties may result in the delivery of more than is actually required for the project. Use of vague wording such as “must provide BIM” can result in misalignment between stakeholders.
Or the BIM team can stray too far from the owner’s intentions, Lipman said.
“With every project there needs to be a way to enforce the BIM process,” she said. “We’ve seen some of them where the plan isn’t followed from the design phase forward and then it’s too difficult to catch up, so the digital can’t catch up to the physical. It’s too much work. The project is too complex.”
To minimize disputes in a project using BIM, the two lawyers outlined, there should be clear requirements that are appropriate for the project in the prime contract; those requirements must be dropped down in the appropriate subcontracts and consulting agreements, with clear deliverables; upfront planning is essential, with a clear work breakdown structure that all project stakeholders follow; and stakeholders must validate and verify model co-ordination and progress throughout the project.
“In situations where there’s not clear requirements, you’re managing and co-ordinating information that some is going to be in 2D, some is going to be in 3D, and there’s not going to be alignment between the two,” said Lipman. “I think it’s really important to start with the prime contract and then it all waterfalls down.”
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