ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 16 - 08/13/2009

BIM: Reinventing How We Do Business

For the past year or two, the AEC industry has teetered on the tipping point of mainstream acceptance of Building Information Modeling. But even so, AEC professionals across the board are wondering what exactly it means for their businesses. “BIM is … reinventing how we do business,” saidDeke Smith, executive director of the buildingSMART alliance.Smith and colleague Michael Tardif, director of Integrated Project Delivery Systems for Grunley Construction Company, partnered with WPL Publishing to address BIM strategy in the first of four webinar presentations on BIM implementation

Not Business as Usual
BIM implementation requires a new way of looking at how construction is performed, Smith said. The BIM philosophy trains users to look beyond tasks and even beyond the project team and task automation. “If one team player is optimizing to his own internal needs, he may be creating a burden for the other members of the project team,” Tardif said. “It means that you need to take a look at not just optimizing your own work in your own organization, but … at the entire process of the project” – and not just the construction process, but the entire lifecycle of the building and the needs of the owner long after the contractor’s work is done. “We’re not accustomed in this industry to looking at things in that way,” Tardif said.Though owners may not initially be wowed by BIM’s up-front capabilities (especially if it increases their costs), they will like the results from a lifecycle perspective. “It’s not necessarily delivering more product,” Smith said. “Rather, it’s delivering a better product.”


Metrics Are Critical
As with any construction project, “your metrics must be measurable,” Smith said. This includes your progress measurements and your return on investment. “Establish a baseline and project your return on investment, then see if you’re achieving it,” he said. The data you collect will determine the types of systematic changes, if any, that need to take place. 


Information In, Information Out
The buildingSMART alliance recently conducted a survey, which revealed that the construction industry spends 31 percent of its time in non-value-added efforts. In a $1.8 trillion industry, that translates to $399 billion in waste every year. One of the ways to reduce this staggering figure is to eliminate unnecessary and redundant activities. “It’s so easy to just jump into technology but within our organizations, we are rekeying data multiple times,” Tardif said. BIM stores data and multi-purposes it so that once it is keyed in, everyone can work with the same set of facts.“Historically, we haven’t had good information from the design and construction phase because they get reduced down to as-built drawings that are red-line drawings, [which] aren’t all that valuable to the different parties,” Smith said. As a result, those down the line recollect data and disregard the information already provided by the design and construction professionals. “This is where we have a real opportunity to make some major changes,” Smith added.


Across the Board
One-on-one relationships between players on a construction project (such as trade to trade, engineer to CM, architect to owner) do not promote effective business collaboration. The project has a better chance of success if all parties understand the needs of all stakeholders and use that mentality to contribute to a common pool of information from which everyone gathers the same set of facts. “It’s just a much smarter way to work,” Smith said.


Information Assurances
Today, electronic building information is routinely downgraded to a non-digital, non-structured form for only one reason, Smith said. “Information transfer to another party.” It is rarely compiled into a comprehensive, integrated database. And, it is routinely lost or discarded at every hand-off stage.

With BIM implementation, contractors are seeing up to a 12 to one return on investment, Smith said. Other benefits include improved coordination, greater collaboration and risk reduction. “Anytime you can go through and identify information [that can then be shared], you [get] greater accountability, accelerated product/service delivery, greater predictability in cost and schedule -- all made possible by readily accessible, structured information,” he added.

Smith also offered a word of advice: “If you’re creating information, are you the first person, the best person, the most authoritative source for that information? If not, find that source.”  And, added Tardif, “Regardless of where we are in the process, we are temporary stewards of building information. When you think of yourself as a steward, you realize you have a responsibility to take care of the information you have in an organized fashion.”


Today’s Product, Tomorrow’s Potential
Much like its brick and mortar counterpart, a model must be approached from a lifecycle perspective. How will this model be used five or 10 years from now? Smith cited a prime example of a model’s lifecycle success in a collaboration withMapLab, the Building Service Performance Project at Ontolog and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Building Fire Research Lab. The open floor plan model enables the facility manager to maintain accurate data on the building. Because of the mission of the building (as a fire research lab), “some of it changes very rapidly, but some of it [such as the structure] doesn’t change at all,” Smith said.


Open Standards Lead to Long-Term Success
The biggest problem with BIM in its current iterations is the lack of interoperability. “Everybody has their own rendition of what a BIM is,” Smith said. “That is one of the things we really need to standardize.” In addition, vendors come and go, platforms and their features change, and through it all, the programs don’t talk to each other. Smith and the buildingSMART alliance, along with the AIAAGC and COBIE,  have championed the cause for open standards, not just within the United States but also on an international level.Until those standards are in place, Tardif suggests that project team members need to reach out to other team members and business partners to find out which data applications they’re using and understand their sharing capabilities. “The goal is to always find the most organized and most structured electronic information form possible for information exchange.”


With so many tools on the market, entry into the world of BIM may seem daunting. But, Smith and Tardif offer up a three-prong business plan to help ensure successful BIM integration:

  1. Define your core expertise. If you need to partner with an A/E firm or hire in-house personnel to generate the models, do it, Smith said.
  2. Define your core markets. Does your chosen market require BIM? Is it migrating towards full BIM integration? Getting on board sooner than later will put you ahead of the curve.
  3. Choose technology that will enable you to leverage your expertise and markets so you can grow beyond both (if that is your goal).
“BIM gives lots of happy endings when everything converges on the jobsite and automatically fits,” Smith said.  “Those already optimized are seeing the intrinsic value of structured information as they align BIM technologies with their core expertise and core markets. They are able to grow as they streamline the exchange of information throughout the supply chain.”


To purchase a recording of the webinar and presentation materials and to learn about what Deke Smith said about theInteractive Capability Maturity Modelclick here, or visit




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