Ok, maybe “hate” is too strong a sentiment. Perhaps “indifference” 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 is no need for their firm to move to BIM (or VDC, etc.). It’s tempting for me to think that maybe I’m just talking to the wrong firms and maybe most other firms are fully embracing this technology. To be sure, "The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure" report by McGraw-Hill found that 59% 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 based on the conversations I have. However, we all know this is not true adoption, not even close.
The National Building Information Model Standard Project Committee defines BIM as:
Building Information Modeling (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 life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.
A basic premise of BIM is collaboration by different stakeholders at different phases of the life cycle of a facility to insert, extract, update or modify information in the BIM to support and reflect the roles of that stakeholder.
If we expand this definition of BIM outside the vertical building itself and apply it to include infrastructure projects, I feel the adoption rate is still well below 59%. And, if we are even more generous and neuter the definition of “BIM” to include only the 3D and 4D modeling components, the adoption rate still remains much lower than reported. Why is this? Why are owners and business unit leaders reluctant to (or even downright hostile towards) a full implementation of BIM software? As with many complicated issues, there is more than one reason.
In a great column 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. Mr. Tobin makes the point 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 had its start as a sustaining technology, with 3D modeling making it easier and more efficient to produce drawings. I think this idea that BIM is just an incremental improvement over 2D CAD is where the adoption problem at A/E firms started and for the most part where it has remained stuck for the past several years. As I mentioned in a previous post, 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.
In what is an ironic outcome, I think the vast amount of marketing and hype associated with BIM and all the miraculous improvements an A/E firm will immediately realize if they only purchase the latest version of xyz BIM software, has created a backlash and inoculated A/E owners from learning about the true benefits. There is so much marketing noise (this column included?) that it’s very hard to separate the signal from the static and make an informed decision about what the software can do from both technical and business points of view. The end result is a frustrated and indifferent ownership tuning out the entire message and the signal gets ignored along with the static.
Further frustrating these decision makers is what happens when they (or a trusted advisor) succumb to the marketing and sales pitches and dabble at a BIM implementation (I’m using “implementation” very loosely here). When BIM is looked at only as a sustaining technology to draft plan sets, a firm can conceivably dip their toe into it and learn only the features needed to more or less do what they were doing with their previous software. However, this timid approach to BIM is seldom worth the effort in terms of upfront hardware and software costs and the time required to learn the new software. It is seldom worth the disruption it can cause in the office and with other consultants. So many times I hear “Our people can do it faster with the old software.” And this is usually true: you don’t buy a pile-driver to hammer home a nail. The last decade is littered with failed “implementations” which have left a bad taste in the industry’s mouth and added to the tuning-out of the BIM message.
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 like BIM requires more than a handful of 3-day training sessions. It starts with asking two questions: What benefits can BIM really provide for my business and how much effort is required to realize those benefits? With the answers to these two questions, you can answer the third and most important question: Is it worth the effort? This last question is not 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. The ability to answer this question accurately requires a lot of information, coming from a variety of (not always impartial) sources and requires the time needed to analyze the data. It is in these situations that a trusted consultant (or employee) can be invaluable.
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 towards greater industry adoption and ultimately improving the bottom line and efficiency at A/E firms.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!