President / CEO WinEstimator, Inc.
October 23rd, 2009 by Steve Watt
Before you ask yourself whether or not your company has money in the budget to purchase and implement a suite of BIM (Building Information Model) software applications, you should first ask yourself whether or not your company has a culture that supports collaboration. While some contractors and design firms have positioned themselves to win contracts where the owner mandates support for BIM technology, most firms are still trying to understand exactly what that means. In many cases, contractors and architects have a misconception that they can become BIM compliant by rushing out and purchasing software systems that boast support for 3D, 4D, and 5D. It’s only after purchasing these software applications that reality sets in; they don’t have an internal culture that supports the practical use of these tools.
Successful companies that are on the “cutting edge” of BIM technology had to first be on the “cutting edge” of creating a collaborative culture. In other words, do design firms and contractors view themselves as partners trying to work together to secure large project opportunities? Or do they want to continue to work in the traditional design, bid, build process, often times leading to an adversarial relationship between architect and contractor?
A company can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars purchasing a variety of software applications designed to leverage the information contained in a 3D model. The value of these tools is only fully realized when designer and contractor have an understanding and agreement as to the level of information that is going to be “appropriately” represented in the building model. This requires designers and contractors to meet (preferably in the same room even) early on in the pre-design phase. Decisions about what’s going to be modeled and what isn’t can become a point of negotiation. The cost savings associated with having a complete 3D model, can in most cases easily justify the added time and expense in creating the model, but it is also important to recognize the point of diminishing returns. It’s this highly collaborative approach that is essential to ensure that all project participants have a clear understanding as to the level of detail contained in the 3D model. Having a common understanding and clear expectations will actually ease tensions and place efforts in the direction that will bring value to the project. This, after all should be about adding value and not just embracing technology.
The benefits of BIM are substantial, but they’re not free. For example; many powerful tools exist that allow objects contained in the building model to be sequenced and analyzed for the purpose of clash detection. If the designer takes shortcuts and doesn’t use the 3D object technology available in their design software to represent the various building components, the tremendous cost savings associated with discovering interference issues in the design stage instead of the field cannot be realized.
Not all projects are being awarded based on a team’s capability to support BIM, but many are. If your company wants to get off the sideline and begin going after these typically large, high profile projects, you had better begin to knock down some traditional barriers and begin to understand that BIM is as much about process and collaboration as it is about technology.