What is BIM?

What does BIM Mean?

The 3 letters in the acronym B I M are subject to much confusion and debate within the construction industry. Depending on the context in which it is used, BIM can potentially mean:

  • Building Information Model [thing]
  • Building Information Modelling [process]
  • Building an Information Model [activity]
  • Building Information Management
  • Building Information Modelling & Management
  • Better Information Management
  • Virtual Design & Construction
  • All of the above!

BIM-Boozled? Amidst all the technical jargon and acronyms involved in BIM [and there are many!], it is important to bear in mind that BIM is a value creating process involving implementation of more efficient working practices throughout the entire life-cycle of built assets!

The basic underlying principle is that on construction and infrastructure projects, we should have access to the information we need, when we need it  – irrespective of what you label this as! So ignore the subjective acronym BIM and instead focus on the objective processes that a Building Information Modelling [or whatever you want to call it] process entails!

In the UK [and accepted generally in Europe] an objective Building Information Modelling process is laid out in a suite of 8 interlinked documents, standards & protocols [often referred to as the ‘8 Pillars of BIM’] – known as UK BIM Level 2 – which are in turn built on a foundation standard for collaborative working.

What Does BIM Involve?


Before we offer our definition of BIM processes, it is important to dispel some common myths and define what BIM isn’t:

  • BIM is not just 3D CAD
    • It’s a process which involves 3D CAD but also management of all non-graphical information & project communication
  • BIM is not achieved through simply purchasing a 3D or BIM authoring software package
    • The right software package[s] can certainly save you lots of time and make your workflow more efficient however, the principles of BIM can be instilled without a requirement for major software investment in many cases. There are also plenty of free software viewer and markup tools available – this may be enough for you to perform your role – especially if you aren’t required to design anything! See our post on Software for BIM for links to commonly used programs.
  • BIM is not just a new technology application
    • As above, depending on your role in the industry or how you wish to grow your business services, the majority of the principles can be achieved without major technology investment.
  • BIM is expensive to implement
    • As per the previous points, implementing BIM can cost little or nothing at all to your business beyond some R&D investment time when approached the right way. The key is to plan your implementation strategy and roll it out gradually giving you and your colleagues time to adapt and spread out capitol and training costs which may be incurred along the way. Many of the BIM enabling software packages are now also at a similar pricing to traditional 2D CAD packages so the gap is not as vast as some perceive. Yes there are training costs involved too but training should be a valuable part of any business regardless of what packages you use. Either way, implementation costs are an investment which will pay out big time the more time you invest in and utilise BIM.
  • BIM is not next generation, it here and now!
    • There’s no point in waiting anymore and sitting on the fence. Sure, there will always be aspects of BIM Level 2 that are open to interpretation and industry review, but the public sector mandate is now in effect and the private sector demand is growing fast. Get going or get left behind!

BIM Levels Explained

There are lots of descriptive labels knocking around in the industry such as ‘BIM Ready’, ‘BIM Compliant’ and ‘BIM Specialists’ however what does this actually mean in practice? In reality, as mentioned above, there are lots of different things the acronym BIM can actually mean and there are 4 distinct levels of BIM maturity against which readiness can refer to:

  • BIM Level 0 is the utilisation of 2D CAD information to develop drawings that are not managed or coordinated with other disciplines. Practitioners in the industry should now be beyond this level of working.
  • BIM Level 1 is the utilisation of managed 2D and 3D CAD information across the project team using a Common Data Environment [shared workspace]. Whilst the information is managed at Level 1, there is no cross-discipline collaboration thus each discipline within the project independently produces and maintains their own data. The majority of the industry is [or should be] working at least at this level.
  • BIM Level 2 is the utilisation of managed 2D and 3D CAD information along with attached & structured data which is produced in a collaborative Common Data Environment [CDE]. Marking this as an advancement beyond BIM Level 1, information across the project team is produced and exchanged using a common delivery plan [BIM Execution Plan (BEP)] and common file formats [e.g. IFC] which allow different disciplines to use each other’s information as reference whilst developing theirs. Facilitating collaboration across the team, BIM Level 2 [where implemented effectively] ensures individual designs are complimentary [clash-free] and enables enhanced analysis, management and efficiency throughout the activities involved in the design, construction and use of built assets.
    • When you hear an individual or organisation refer to themselves as BIM Ready or BIM Compliant, BIM Level 2 is generally accepted as the standard to be measured against to be determined as such. BIM Level 2 is the mandatory level of project collaboration required for public sector works in the UK from April 4th 2016 and is also a steadily growing deliverable target within the private sector. As outlined above, there are a number of standards and protocols [often referred to as the ‘8 Pillars of BIM’] required to achieve a full BIM Level 2 workflow.
  • BIM Level 3 is the holy grail for information management in the construction industry. Notionally this involves the use of a single all-inclusive model [shared simultaneously between all the project disciplines] to coordinate design and construction processes. BIM Level 3 is still very much a work in progress however the UK has put in place a Strategic Plan for development.

BIM Workflow Example

Below is a workflow example for a BIM project as laid out in the Information Delivery Cycle from PAS 1192-2 as shown in the header image of this page.

Strategy Phase
  • Stage 0 – Strategy & Definition
    1. The project Client assesses the need for a new building, infrastructure asset, extension, renovation [etc.]
    2. The project Client’s requirements are defined in the Employer’s Information Requirements [EIR] under the following categories
      • Information Management/Technical Requirements [levels of detail;  planning and coordination of people, work & information; software formats etc.]
      • Commercial Management Requirements [exchange of information; roles & responsibilities etc.]
      • Competence Assessment [assessment details]
    3. The project is procured to the construction industry along with the EIR document
      • Prospective bidders must return a pre-contract BIM Execution Plan [BEP] detailing how they intend to deliver the Employer’s Information Requirements if they win the works
        • The BEP is a top level document and applies to all personnel that prospective bidders will use to deliver the project works.
        • This requires bidding suppliers to consider the competency of their entire supply chain of partners and sub-contractors.
    4. The client assesses the bidding suppliers on their proposed approach, capability, capacity & competence and awards the works accordingly.
    5. The winning supplier submits a post-contract BIM Execution Plan [BEP] and a Master Information Delivery Plan [MIDP] to the employer confirming the capabilities and responsibilities of the entire supply chain.
      • The BEP sets in place a standard method and procedure across the entire project delivery team.
      • The entire supply chain must also agree and commit to the BEP
    6. The project supplier mobilises their project delivery team and puts in place resources to deliver the project e.g. the Common Data Environment [CDE] platform. This may also include a period of training or upskilling across the supply chain.
Project Information Model [PIM] Phase
  • Stage 1 – Brief
    • Development of project brief
    • Employer’s Decision Point 1 [Gate 1] determines whether the project can proceed to the next stage
  • Stage 2 – Concept Design
    • Under the Common Data Environment [CDE] using the standard method and procedure agreed to in the BEP, the project delivery team author and exchange information as necessary to develop the conceptual design
    • Employer’s Decision Point 2 [Gate 2] determines whether the project can proceed to the next stage
  • Stage 3 – Design Definition/Developed Design
    • Under the Common Data Environment [CDE] using the standard method and procedure agreed to in the BEP, the project delivery team author and exchange information as necessary to develop the developed design
    • Employer’s Decision Point 3 [Gate 3] determines whether the project can proceed to the next stage
  • Stage 4 – Technical Design
    • Under the Common Data Environment [CDE] using the standard method and procedure agreed to in the BEP, the project delivery team author and exchange information as necessary to develop the technical design
  • Stage 5 – Build & Commission/Construction
    • Under the Common Data Environment [CDE] using the standard method and procedure agreed to in the BEP, the project delivery team author and exchange information as necessary to construct the built asset.
  • Stage 6 – Handover & Close-Out
    • Under the Common Data Environment [CDE] using the standard method and procedure agreed to in the BEP, the project delivery team author and exchange information as necessary to complete the built asset construction and associated handover information.
    • Employer’s Decision Point 6 [Gate 4] determines whether the project can proceed to the next stage
Asset Information Model [AIM] Phase
  •  Stage 7 – Operation/in Use

Why use BIM?

Public Sector Push & Pull


The demand for BIM has been led in the UK by Government who have mandated BIM Level 2 for public sector projects from 4th April 2016. You can read the Procurement Guidance note for BIM in Northern Ireland here.

The public sector mandate for BIM Level 2 is part of a wider Government Construction Strategy to  reduce the cost of government construction projects by 15-20%. To achieve this strategy, the government requires construction suppliers tendering for centrally-procured government projects to be working at BIM Level 2. As a minimum, they require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic). The requirement has been introduced to drive the adoption of BIM processes throughout the public and private sector to encourage benefits including:

  • Reduction in CAPEX, delivery and operational costs
  • Reduced risk
  • Improved carbon performance
  • Predictable planning

Private Sector Push & Pull

Whilst the requirement was introduced initially for government projects, BIM Level 2 is increasingly becoming a deliverable target for private sector works as more clients see the benefits of the process and information management and want to maximise return on their investment.

It makes sense

Regardless of client demand, BIM is simply a more efficient process of working and professionals in the industry can also realise the benefits of BIM internally within their own organisations. BIM becomes much more valuable to your business when approached as a standard way of working, not a one-off solution to a particular project. Even on smaller projects where the works would not call for a full-on BIM Level 2 workflow, utilisation of BIM processes offers significant advantages.

BIM – What do I need to Know, Where do I start?

Implementing Building Information Modelling processes into your working practices can be a long but very rewarding process. Below is a suggested workflow for BIM Level 2 implementation – please feel free to add your own comments in the comment section below this post:

  1. Check out our page on BIM Level 2 here for information on and links to the standards and documents which constitute the BIM Level 2 approach and start reading!
    • TIP – If BIM is a new concept to you and/or your organisation, my recommendation would be to initially focus on the PAS1192-2 document which lays down the standard workflow during the design and construction phases of a built asset project. It is very well laid out and provides an excellent overview of BIM in general, associated roles & definitions – get to grips with this document and the general principles before tackling the other documents.
    • Also make sure to register onto the Government supported BIM Level 2 site at bim-level2.org for further guidance.
  2. Using the BIM Level 2 documentation explore your role/discipline in the industry, where its fits in during the BIM Information Delivery cycle [the header image for this post] and what information you will need to deliver on projects.
    • Use the community forum here at BIMregNI and local/national events to network & chat with your peers and other members who have already been through the implementation process and can offer some advice or assistance.
    • Also use our Useful Links section to check out some industry resources for context & background information on BIM generally within the industry and within your discipline or special interest.
  3. Head over to CPIx and download the assement forms under the CPIx Protocol section.
    • Fill in the assessment forms as objectively as you can in order to perform capability and capacity self-assessment of your personal or organisational BIM skills, IT resources and use to assess your supply chain partners if necessary.
  4. Put a plan & strategy in place to implement BIM within your organisation
    • BIM should be embraced and approached as a standard way of working and offers most value when you have commitment and buy-in throughout your entire organisation. The construction industry is notoriously adversarial & divisive so you will need to instill some culture change to facilitate more open collaboration both internally within your organisation and externally within your wider supply chain. A top down approach will ensure you get attention across your organisation – a bottom up approach relying on a single ‘BIM Guy/Girl‘ or IT Manager to nurture implementation is slow to develop momentum and almost invariably hits a wall!
    • This will take time! BIM Level 2 is not intended to create more work – the tasks and roles under BIM Level 2 where always required in construction –  it just coordinates the relationships between these tasks and roles better. Depending on your existing set-up, it may require some time and patience to get to that level of coordination..
    • TIP – Make sure your implementation plan & strategy works for you and your needs. No one but you can determine how BIM will work within your organisation so a lot of self-reflection is required. The guys over at the B1M have a great pointer list to help you with this step.
  5. Undertake some training and/or purchase software [if necessary] to plug any gaps between where you need to be [as per step 2 above] and where you are now [as per step 3 above].
    • Our BIM Training page is a good place to start with links to the main training providers locally and nationally.
    • Our post on Software for BIM may also be of benefit!
    • Again, the BIM Delivery Cube is an excellent guidance resource here which has an education section showing skills required for various disciplines at different work stages.
    • Don’t dwell too much on choice of software packages. Unless you have a strong market reason to go with one over another [e.g. all of your partner organisations use the same package], they can all pretty much do the same thing – just in different ways. Pick the one which best compliments your way of working. Just ensure your chosen package is industry recognized and can support Open exchange formats such as IFC and COBie so that you can collaborate with other project team members using different software platforms. Building Smart are the foremost authority supporting Open BIM within the industry.
    • TIP – Definitely don’t rush out and buy some ‘BIM Software‘ until you have considered Steps 1 to 4 above and planned your implementation approach! Also leave hold off on the training and software purchase until you have gone as far as you can through Step 6 below and tried to use BIM on some projects – if you do need training and/or new software, you will soon know and know exactly what you need the software/training to deliver – and then choose the right options for you accordingly.
  6. Alongside your training, start expanding your horizons and implementing new BIM skills bit by bit into your working practice. If you try to implement BIM Level 2 from scratch in one big jump, you will soon find yourself totally confused, BIM-Boozled and lose confidence in what you are doing – along with the confidence of your unprepared team and clients.
    • Start with getting your internal workflow and information aligned with the BS 1192:2007 standard for BIM Level 1 2D content. BS 1192 is the foundation standard which BIM Level 2 is built on.
    • Then establish a Common Data Environment [CDE] platform which is aligned with the BS 1192 standard allowing you to collaborate with your team. Initially start using some free file sharing tools such as Dropbox alongside the free NBS Toolkit project management platform. Depending on your responsibilities, the size of the project team and/or the complexity of projects, you may later need to consider utilising 3rd party dedicated CDE providers such as Viewpoint or Aconex. If you are not the primary project delivery party, a CDE is generally provided for you by the client or main contractor on larger projects for you to use.
    • Then start integrating 3D design, aligned with BS 1192, into your internal working practice as a complimentary non-contractual service alongside your normal deliverables and/or on a dummy test project
      • then start collaborating with the wider project delivery team on live projects using 3D when you are ready
    • Then start integrating Building Information Modelling process, aligned with the BIM Level 2 standards, into your internal working practice as a complimentary non-contractual service alongside your normal deliverables and/or on a dummy test project – try to get your clients to buy in and experiment with you aswell!
      • then start collaborating with the wider project delivery team on live projects using BIM when you are ready
  7. Repeat step 3 assessments – are you and your partners BIM Level 2 ready? Yes, Good to go!
    • TIP – Save and maintain the assessment forms for use when tendering for projects and as base information for developing BIM Execution Plans.
  8. Keep your skills and knowledge up to date with the industry zeitgeist. BIM processes and methodologies will continuously evolve alongside IT advancements. Join our BIM Region NI community to keep up to date with local news, training and events and also join with your relevant professional bodies in the wider industry for discipline specific content.

Leave a reply


We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


pimsmart-logo©2018 BIMRegNI.co.uk is developed and maintained by PIM Smart LTD. on behalf of BIM Region NI

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?

Skip to toolbar