/ Column / Managing the Model: Why Do A/E Firms Hate BIM?

Managing the Model: Why Do A/E Firms Hate BIM?

Mark Scacco on January 31, 2016 - in Column

It’s possible that “hate” in this column’s title is too strong a sentiment—perhaps “have indifference toward BIM” is more appropriate. I spend a lot of time talking to owners and department managers at A/E firms, and a common chorus I repeatedly hear is “there’s no need to move to BIM.”

To be sure, “The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure” report by McGraw-Hill found that 59 percent of A/E firms understand the benefits of BIM and have adopted it. What’s not clear is how the term “adopted” is defined. Does owning BIM software mean that your firm has adopted it? Does using BIM software only as an expensive drafting tool mean it’s been adopted? By these definitions, the reported adoption rate seems to correlate with what I find. However, we all know this isn’t true adoption—not even close.

Defining BIM

The National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee defines BIM as the following:

BIM is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its lifecycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

A basic premise of BIM is a collaboration by different stakeholders at different phases of the lifecycle of a facility to insert, extract, update or modify information in the BIM to support and reflect the roles of that stakeholder.

If this definition of BIM is expanded outside the vertical building itself and applied to include infrastructure projects, I believe the adoption rate is well below 59 percent. And if the definition of “BIM” is more-generously neutered to include only 3D and 4D modeling components, the adoption rate remains much lower than reported. Why is this? Why are owners and business-unit leaders reluctant to (or even downright hostile toward) full implementation of BIM software? As with many complicated issues, there’s more than one reason.

Disrupting Technology

In an excellent column in Building Design + Construction (bit.ly/1mBZE1W) titled “BIM becomes VDC,” author John Tobin lays the groundwork for one of the main reasons: lack of understanding of what BIM really is and its potential for (positive) disruption in the A/E marketplace. Tobin notes that 2D CAD was a “sustaining technology.” A/E firms produced drawings before CAD and continued to produce drawings after CAD was adopted, just more efficiently. He further points out that BIM also started as a sustaining technology, with 3D modeling making it easier and more efficient to produce drawings.

This idea that BIM is just an incremental improvement over 2D CAD is where the adoption problem at A/E firms started and is, for the most part, where it has remained stuck for the last several years. As I’m fond of saying, the difference between hand drafting and 2D CAD is like the difference between crawling and toddling. The difference between 2D CAD and BIM is like the difference between toddling and competing in a triathlon.

Clarity through Clutter

In an ironic outcome, the vast amount of marketing and hype associated with BIM and all the miraculous improvements an A/E firm will immediately realize created a backlash and inoculated A/E owners from learning about the true benefits. It’s difficult to separate the signal from the static and make an informed decision about what the software can do from technical and business points of view. The end result is a frustrated and indifferent ownership tuning out the entire message.

Further frustrating decision makers is what happens when they dabble at a BIM “implementation.” When BIM is looked at only as a sustaining technology to draft plan sets, a firm can conceivably dip its toe into BIM and learn only the features needed to more or less do what they were doing with previous software. However, this timid approach is seldom worth the effort.

A final, but no less important, reason for resistance to embracing BIM and its true benefits is the scarcity of reliable, competent consulting resources. Implementation of advanced, innovative technology such as BIM requires more than a handful of three-day training sessions. It starts with asking two questions:

  1. What benefits can BIM really provide for my business?
  2. How much effort is required to realize those benefits?

With the answers to these two questions, businesses can answer the third and most-important question: Is it worth the effort? This isn’t a software or hardware or technology question. It’s a business question that must be answered by A/E business owners and decision makers at the firm.

A true understanding on the part of A/E owners, department managers and other decision makers of the business benefits of BIM will go a long way in mitigating the pervasive indifference, moving the needle toward greater industry adoption, and ultimately improving the bottom line and efficiency at A/E firms.

Mark Scacco

About Mark Scacco

Mark Scacco, P.E., is the Editor in Residence for Informed Infrastructure magazine and since 2001 has been an AEC industry consultant. He is the president of Scacco LLC and can be reached at mark.scacco@scaccollc.com.

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