Level 2 BIM on the highways - are we there yet?

Author: David Owens, Design and BIM Manager, Costain

By this April all public sector construction bids will have show they can meet the technological requirements demanded by the next level of the Business Information Modelling programme described as Level 2 BIM. It calls for all project and asset information, documentation and data to be electronic to bring costs down and speed up delivery times to increase value for money.

The big question for our industry has to be: are we ready?

It’s not as if we haven’t had time to prepare. The government set the deadline back in 2011 as part of its determination to ensure that the UK construction industry maintains its competitive edge in the emerging digital economy.

BIM is critical to this. It acts as the framework for digital transformation by using advanced computer systems to create a digital representation of a whole asset to understand it in all its complexity and its interaction with other systems well before actual construction. Put simply, BIM is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time and in the right format to enable both effective and efficient whole asset lifecycle management.


BIM on the highways

Forward-looking organisations have been getting ready for this for some time. Highways England, where I am seconded, has been committed to BIM since 2011. This is a major change, from engineers producing drawings and having others interpreting them to a world where computer models calculate quantities needed and highlight potential risks through three-dimensional graphical model interfaces.

We are using this approach on one (of several) of the Highways England’s ‘early adopter’ projects, the A556 Knutsford to Bowdon improvement, which should be completed early next year. The emphasis is on consistency of information management across the supply chain. We are now reaching the stage where, from April, any contracts that go live will have the appropriate documentation so suppliers will know exactly what’s required of them. This ability of different information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data, and use the information will lead to more intelligent decision-making.


A cultural shift

Highways England’s determination to become BIM-ready by the April deadline as part of its remit from the Office of Rail and Road goes well beyond the technical aspects. It is preparing for the evolution of the contracts regime in the industry from one based on allocating budgets for construction and maintenance separately to a whole-life cost approach to managing assets.

This is a formidable challenge. For example, estimating whole life costs at an early stage of a job demands not only a data-rich picture of assets but the information required to choose the best value-for-money option over the longer-term.

We are already benefiting from BIM in terms of reducing design time, increasing productivity and better collaboration. Taking it to the next stage will demand the leadership and the skills to do it. When it comes to the modernising and maintaining of the nation’s road network, I believe we are definitely headed in the right direction.


This is based on a talk given by David Owens at ‘Gearing Up for 2016: How Ready is UK Infrastructure for Level 2 BIM Delivery?’ on 28th January 2016 at the Construct IT For Business event in conjunction with BIM4IUK and the University of Bath.