Friday, September 28, 2007

BIM Discussion at Global Design Alliance

I was recently asked to participate in a panel on BIM implementation and experience for the Global Design Alliance (GDA), an "international network of dynamic design, planning and construction firms who are committed to growth and change." Our panel consisted of experts from Zetlin & De Chiara, Marsh, Lexington Insurance, Turner Construction, Beck and KPF along with me from SOM. So what do lawyers, risk advisors and insurance companies have to do with BIM implementation? Plenty.

One of the major factors in collaboration with building information modeling is risk management. As I see it, there are two basic methods of categorizing these types of risk - design/build consortia and design-bid-build. If a single company operates in design/build, risk management from data collaboration is minimal; however, when design firms and construction companies work together to deliver a project, risk management is critical. In many countries around the world, different approaches to project delivery such as the "Project Alliance" are being used to acheive goals and avoid litigation. You can read more about Project Alliances in Lachmi Khemlani's article on the 2006 AIA Integrated Practice Convention. This type of delivery approach is different than design-bid-build and can be described in a simple way.

I've always heard the expression, "throwing drawings over the fence," when referring to collaboration between design team, bidders and contractors. With BIM tools, we are now able to throw a complete (but scaled) model of the building over the fence. Hopefully, the receiving parties will have a much better understanding of the design intent with the model instead of a bunch of 2D drawings. Does BIM eliminate the fence? No. The fence remains and can be seen as a safety barrier if you equate the fence with your Digital Data Disclaimer. A properly written disclaimer ensures that the design team is merely sending a better and more complete representation of the design intent. The BIM data does not imply means and methods of construction and is being shared as a courtesy to the other project team constituents. Results of estimates, schedules and analyses derived from the Architect's or Engineer's 3D model are still the responsibility of the contractors, fabricators and estimators. The design/build or Project Alliance approach eliminates the fence, thus the data is more closely integrated.

While companies such as Lexington Insurance offer coverage for project teams such as "cyber risk insurance," the insurance industry is taking a 'wait and see' approach to BIM. This is not unexpected because new types of insurance seem to appear only after something bad happens. An interesting summary of the most common claims in building project lawsuits include the following:

  • Deficiencies in detail

  • Inadequate coordination

  • Deviations in submittals

  • Excessive changes

  • Failure to meet requirements

Today's BIM tools can serve to address these issues in a variety of ways. Deficiencies in detail are reduced with a better understanding of the proposed design through virtual construction. Tools like Navisworks, in concert with 3D modeling tools, facilitate coordination with automated interference detection. Deviations in submittals should be reduced because the quality of data being "thrown over the fence" is greatly enhanced. There may be nothing a design team can do about excessive changes by an owner/developer; however, these may be reduced by the design requirements being adequately addressed. This can be acheived through integrated program design tools such as Trelligence Affinity and energy analysis tools such as Ecotect or IES <Virtual Environment>. Hopefully, insurance companies will recognize the risk avoidance benefits of BIM tools and begin to offer discounted rates to the AEC industry.

Some other important tidbits and open questions from the discussion:

  • Michael Zetlin Esq. reminds us that "standard of care" is not defined by the client, rather by similarly practicing professionals. Use of BIM does not require architects and engineers to address means and methods of construction.

  • How 'front-loaded' should the BIM process be? Is the design team responsible for coordination? This must be defined in the scope of work!

  • Should risk be allocated across the entire project team including the owner who may have required BIM data delivery in the first place?

  • Is open sharing of model data the best risk management task as is distributes risk?

  • Under BIM, are deliverables now considered 'products,' not 'services' thus exposing the design team to additional risk?

  • Building information modeling is not a standardized process yet. All project teams handle it in different ways.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, very relevant article to some discussions we have been having as of late, and very well put! The industry is in a state where the contracts that we sign and practice under need to play "catch-up" to the technology we use. Unfortunately the technology and methods of providing service are sometimes held back because of these contracts and it takes very passionate and dedicated teams to think beyond the obvious "this is how we do it" and use BIM in innovative ways. Very, very good piece of writing....