Roelf Nel Inc FB Pixel
By Daniellé Giannico (Associate) 

ISO 19650 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”. It is clear from this definition that Building Information Modelling (BIM) does not only mean the specialised software that is used on a project, and it is also not a physical item or object. It is a working process intended to be used throughout the entire lifecycle of a built asset that allows for the collaborative exchange of digital information.

The outcome of the BIM process is the Information Model, it is important to note that the 3D model on its own is not the Information Model. The Information Model is a virtual asset made up of a graphical model combined with its accompanying asset data and documentation. Essentially, the Information Model is made up of all the information about a built asset with the aim of allowing for better decision-making during design, construction and operational phases.

What is it used for?

The power of BIM is that it allows architects, engineers and contractors to collaborate on coordinated models, providing everyone involved in the various stages of construction an opportunity to understand how the portion of the works they are responsible for designing, constructing, or operating fits into the overall project, ultimately enabling everyone to work more efficiently.

Practically, BIM is used to create and manage data during the design, construction and operation process. It integrates data prepared by all the various consultants appointed on a project to create detailed digital representations thereof that are managed through a cloud-based platform that allows for real-time updating of data and collaboration. This is referred to as the Common Data Environment (CDE) and importantly this is so much more than the traditional cloud-based storage you are used to using on a project.

It is a system for managing data and information and comprises the required processes and rules to make sure that people are working on or using the current version of a file or a model and telling them what it can be used for. The importance of the use of a CDE lies in that it allows for collaboration between the participants involved in construction projects and in asset management, while further creating the possibility for efficient delivery and operation of facilities. A collaborative environment provides teams with the ability to communicate, re-use and share data efficiently without loss, contradiction or misinterpretation.

Why should you care about BIM?

Currently, it is unfortunately still the norm for Employer’s to appoint a principal consultant and simply say “I want BIM on this project”. There is still very little understanding of what BIM is and what all of its different uses are within the South African construction industry. It is also seldomly used past the design phase, and when it is used past the design phase there is no clear guidance as to what is expected of all the different parties appointed on the project. However, steps are slowly being taken to eliminate this uncertainty.

ISO Standards

BS EN ISO 19650 “Organisation and digitisation of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including BIM” is an international standard made up of several parts which are founded on the UK’s standard for information management using building information modelling. The purpose of this standard is to manage information over the whole lifecycle of a built asset using BIM. The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has adopted ISO 19650 Organization and digitisation of information about buildings and civil engineering works, including BIM – Information management using building information modelling – Part 1: Concepts and principle and it has now been accepted as a South African standard.

The standard guides users to be able to provide the right information to the right person at the right time for effective decision-making. It defines the information management principles to be used and the requirements of BIM Implementation within the broader context of digital transformation in the construction industry.

While the first part of the standard has been accepted as a South African standard, it requires further involvement of local industry stakeholders to develop what is known as the National Annex. The National Annex is required to standardise the day-to-day nitty-gritty of how we work with ISO 19650 and which systems the industry as a whole need to adopt for the categorisation of entities, spaces, elements, components and systems.

Information Protocol

A properly compiled Information Protocol is a contractual tool that supports the implementation of information management on the project.  Making provision for BIM Implementation in the contract enables the production of Information Models at defined stages of the project. The point of the protocol is to define the specific obligations, liabilities and associated limitations of each of the parties working on the project.

The Information Protocol will need to be included in any tender package so that every party invited to submit a tender is aware of their BIM obligations should they be appointed, this includes all the Consultants, the Main Contractor, each of the subcontractors and any direct contractors. The Information Protocol will also need to be included in the individual appointment documentation for every party that will manage and/or produce information as part of their activities within that appointment.

It is a common feature of the standard form contracts and professional services agreements used in the South African Construction Industry to include a non-variation clause which provides that no additions or amendments to these agreements will be valid and binding unless reduced to writing and signed by the parties thereto. This is why it is necessary to include the Information Protocol as an annexure or addendum to the contract/appointment from the outset to be signed by all parties thereto.


Currently, in the construction industry, the norm is for the design consultants to be required to use BIM processes in the production of the design documentation, however, very little use of BIM processes occurs after this stage of construction. It is clear that there is scope for this to change, and with the proper standards and contractual documents in place to guide the parties, there is no reason why, within the South African context, BIM implementation cannot take place from inception to close out, and even beyond that to operation of the asset.