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BIM guidance part 2: The need for collaboration in BIM

An introduction to collaboration through BIM - discussing effective practices, the role of the employer's information manager, and the Common Data Environment - produced by the Institution's BIM Panel.

The importance of collaboration

BIM stage 2 was intended to be a small step from current practices, so that it could be implemented without radically changing the construction sector’s organisational structures, contracts and procurement routes. 

However, BIM is fundamentally about sharing structured information and as such is optimally deployed within a collaborative framework. The need for more collaborative working with the construction industry is not new, and concluded by numerous industrial reports1,2,3,4,5,6.

The 2011 Government Construction Strategy7, heralded for launching the UK Government BIM Mandate, only mentions BIM in passing. A significant proportion of the report is given to the importance of collaboration, procurement and improving the effectiveness of the “Government as a client”.

Challenges facing the sector from traditional ways of working

Traditional project delivery methods have failed the construction industry and its clients due to lack of confidence in shared data and incorrect assessments of how to minimise risk and liability.

Yet the current mindset is to digitise existing traditional (document-centric) methods. This will not solve the underlying issues facing the construction sector and wider built environment. The sector’s systemic problems are likely to be manifestations of one or more of the following:

  • Rudimentary exchanges of information by way of briefing, proposals and pricing
  • Task and activity programming not commonly shared or consistent across team members
  • Subjective decisions (design, project management, etc) based on information inferred from ambiguous, often partial, data that is ultimately unverifiable
  • Cost data that is inconsistent across the project and not sufficiently transparent
  • Failure to engage early with the parties who will subsequently operate the built assets
  • Lack of commitment to timeframes and deadlines
  • Late notification of problems without the necessary supporting data
  • Inconsistent communication across the project (written/verbal instructions and feedback)
  • Lack of a proper system of capturing and utilising ‘lessons learned’ from project to project

Any one or combination of the above can undermine the efficiency of the asset during delivery, in-use and end-of-use phases.

Using a BIM authoring tool in isolation will not address these issues. Structural engineers need to make improvements in information transformation, and the underlying processes required for information flow.

This is why BS EN ISO 196508 defines BIM as the use of a shared digital representation of a built asset to facilitate design, construction and operation processes to form a reliable basis for decisions.

How to work collaboratively

Stage 2 BIM requires all parties to work together in a collaborative manner. Figure 1 represents a simplified workflow for a building structure and how the duties of architect/structural engineer/building services engineer interact.

If any one party does not contribute to the workflow then the process breaks down. The BIM process requires two fundamental components:

  • What information is required by each participant needs to be clearly articulated - contained in the Exchange Information Requirements (EIR)
  • The participants need to clearly articulate (and agree) how they will deliver information as needed - contained in the BIM Execution Plan (BEP)

The potential for BIM to improve productivity and reduce waste can only be reached if there are protocols for information exchange, standards of deliverables and procedures in place to ensure that the parties are contributing as required.

This is not a radical change from what structural engineers currently deliver. What is new is the rigorous and unambiguous scope and the structure of the information deliverable.

The scope and deliverable for this requirement also needs to be a contractual requirement - in the same way that any traditional scope of deliverable needs to be contractual.

Without a coordinated approach between parties the industry will retain islands of automation regardless of new technologies (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 - Islands of Automation by Hannus (Credit: Matti Hannus, Hannu Penttila and Per Silen)

Role of employer’s Information Manager

It is not enough for a client to express a desire for BIM on a project, a much deeper involvement is required from the client. This can be facilitated by employing someone to carry out the tasks required for successful BIM implementation.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) BIM Protocol9 calls this role the 'employer’s Information Manager'. The duties of this role are set out in the CIC document ‘Outline Scope of Services for the role of the Information Manager’10.

Figure 3 shows how all members of the project team contribute to, and make use of, the Information Model.


(Credit: Tony Broomhead, BL Consult)

The employer’s Information Manager is responsible for the information flow and exchange between project team members.

There is much debate as to who is best placed to take on this role - should it be the architect, contractor or structural engineer?

The structural engineer has the opportunity to expand their role to encompass that of the Employer’s Information Manager as they exhibit many of the core skills and competencies required. 

Sharing information through the Common Data Environment (CDE)

BS EN ISO 196508 suggests four states of information exchange:

1. Work in Progress (WIP)

This is a private area where project team members evolve the design within their own discipline. Often teams will be exploring several options and scenario testing but continuously sharing this with other team members is counter-productive. The WIP is often within the individual companies own IT infrastructure and not within the CDE

2: Shared

This is the information that project team members need to share with each other to complete their tasks. The frequency and process of sharing should be stated in the BIM Execution Plan (BEP) and managed by the Employer’s Information Manager.

The frequency of information exchange can vary throughout the project lifecycle, within a project stage and between different disciplines. It is imperative that the format of the data exchanges is agreed and adhered to. This includes the version of software(s) that the team are using to complete their work, the format of the information exchange and the ‘export options’.

Changing software versions throughout a project should only be done by exception and needs to be agreed by all. This does not mean that all project team members must use the same software, instead all team members must check that information required by others from them can flow unimpeded - this is often made easier by all using the same software.

Some clients have mandated software and version. This is not the same as requiring the team work to BIM stage 2. It is entirely possible for project team members to all be using the same software and version, but each in a different way leading to the same incompatibility issues as if they all were using different software.

Stage 2 is about how users structure and share the information, not which software they use. Good practice is to continually check models for coordination throughout the ‘Shared’ phase and not wait until it is ‘Published’.

3. Published

The published state is reached upon agreement among the project team to have reached a significant project milestone awaiting a decision from the appointing party (client) to continue.

The appointing party’s information need is typically specified in the Exchange Information Requirements (EIR) for each project milestone.

To meet this milestone the project team will bring together all the discipline information models, produce a federated model and extract a subset of this information to meet the requirements outlined in the EIR. This subset of the federated model is known as Information Exchange aka ‘data-drop’.

Although there is no standard requirement a possible Information Exchange delivery format is COBie (Construction to Operation Building Information Exchange). COBie was originally devised to be used at the ‘Handover Stage’ only, however BS 1192-411 proposes this can be used at all stages.

The requirements for the ‘data drop’ and the format for the Information Exchange should be specified in the EIR and is effectively the scope for the contractual delivery of the digital asset information.

4. Archive

As the project moves to the next milestone a copy of the federated information model is archived. This is just as important to digital deliverables as it was for 2D documentation and serves the same QA, audit and project control purposes.

However, it is the recommendation of the BIM Panel that information is always stored in a neutral format (ie Industry Foundation Classes) as well as native formats due to the issue of longevity of data.

It is difficult to open native file formats from even five years ago, but built environment assets are expected to last at least an order of magnitude longer than this.

This means that neutral formats should be required at the ‘Published’ stage and checked for adequacy. Common bad practice is to exchange information in native formats which everyone checks and an ‘IFC’ version which no one has checked.


[1] Ministry of Works (1962) Survey of Problems Before the Construction Industries, HMSO [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[2] Banwell C.H., (1964) The Placing and Management of Contracts for Building and Civil Engineering Work, HMSO [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[3] EDCs for Building and Civil Engineering (1975) The Public Client and the Construction Industries (The Wood Report), HMSO

[4] Latham M, (1994) Constructing the Team, HMSO [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[5] Construction Task Force (1998) Rethinking Construction, HMSO [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[6] Constructing Excellence (2009) Never Waste A Good Crisis, [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[7] Cabinet Office (2011) Government Construction Strategy, [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[8] British Standards Institution (2019) BS EN ISO 19650 Organization and digitization of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including building information modelling - Information management using building information modelling, London: BSI

 [9] Construction Industry Council (2018) Building Information Model (BIM) Protocol, 2nd Edition, London: CIC, [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[10] Construction Industry Council (2013) Outline Scope of Services for the Role of Information Management, 1st Edition, London: CIC [online] available at: [Accessed 15 April 2020]

[11] British Standards Institution (2014) BS 1192-4:2014 Collaborative production of information. Fulfilling employer’s information exchange requirements using COBie. Code of practice, London: BSI

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