Engineering

How Do We Prove The Benefits of BIM?

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Taking a look around the BIM forums and discussion threads there is a common sticking point that often threatens and sometimes even undermines the premise of BIM technology as a useful tool for the AEC Industry – how can we quantify BIM accomplishments?

There are a lot of anecdotal and surmised advantages to BIM being talked about, particularly by software vendors and other AEC leaders. Curiously enough, however, there is little-to-no actual tangible proof. This is not merely conjecture; The McGraw-Hill Smart Market Report 2014 echoes much the same thing.

“Even though I’m asked too frequently, it is nigh impossible to quantify BIM savings as a marketable selling point that proves substantively that an individual company is more or less BIM capable than another,” said Nathan Taffard, BIM leader (Australia) at Meinhardt.

“We do it – yes. Does it create savings? Well yes, I think so, but I can’t categorically prove it in a court of law. And therein lies the problem. Unless you can record it, measure it, and analyse it, it becomes fantasy and not fact. That’s not to say it is not there but we have no framework at present for measuring BIM. It is more an assumed saving than money in the bank.”

Given that this is so important to BIM viability, we should be looking for more ways to measure BIM. If it can be proven with empirical evidence, then we can expect contractors and owners alike to want to participate and then we will see that BIM deserves the hype.

“I have felt frustrations myself,” admitted Taffard. “Producing 5D models has definitely benefitted the QS in terms of the time and cost to provide their figures. To qualify this advantage to the client is much more difficult as it did not directly result in savings for them. This poses a conundrum since I cannot promote outcomes that save a sub-contractor money if the client pays the same regardless.”

Of course a 5D model, and the cost analysis thereafter, provides other indirect benefits such as budget risk management, value engineering or ‘Optioneering’ but this again is even harder to quantify since whilst it can potentially save money, it can also cost money to conduct in the first place.

So – can you really put a figure on this?

Often we are victims of our own failings. If we know exactly what and how we intend to use BIM specifically on the project (beyond the standard BIM Execution Plan) and we have laid down savings goals driven by the use of BIM at the outset, then perhaps we will be in a better position to measure those specific BIM outcomes.

How often is this happening in reality though? Never. Not yet anyway, perhaps because the client does not know they can have it.

“Often the client, who is not necessarily BIM savvy, does not fully comprehend the implications of proper Integrated Project Delivery (IPD),” said Taffard. “The very mechanisms required to generate real BIM achievements are not implemented, and thus inevitably fail. To be honest, there are perhaps only a handful of individuals in the market with the experience level and expertise required to advise on and implement IPD.”

If this is all sounding fairly pessimistic so far, take heart, for there is a silver lining ahead.

What we want, what we need, is bold contractors, clients and consultants willing to commit to an IPD approach in the full knowledge of what this actually means. It is scary because the people who will drive this change are not really the ones who understand it best.

Ironically, BIM ‘capability,’ encompassing both techniques and tools, is directed at the coal face of the industry – the designers and early adopters who have or are in the process of developing their understanding of how BIM works from an operational perspective. BIM use and the actual implementation of BIM on projects is a top down process, however, with the client inevitably dictating what level of BIM is to be delivered on project.

As a consequence the BIM decision lies with the client, not the AEC team, and this means the usefulness of BIM is effectively stifled by their misunderstandings.

The solution thankfully is actually pretty obvious when you consider the above.

Engage BIM consultants right from the get-go. Essentially, these are pseudo BIM Project Managers who will need to have some serious BIM chops to be effective in this role. Their job is to carefully and independently work in the interest of the client to first implement and then manage a full IPD BIM Plan beginning with a comprehensive and realistic BIM Brief included in the tender proposal.

Let the team members know what they’re in for during tendering for the project, set specific BIM targets and constantly evaluate the deliverable against those expected outcomes.

“Most BIM related tenders I have seen lack the IPD essential for BIM success,” said Taffard. “There are BIM related deliverables, but no framework (IPD) to give them a reasonable chance at success and therefore BIM use and all the associated potential gains go out the window the second workflows unravel.”

“The project then inevitably devolves into traditional 3D BIM. It still has value, but not nearly as much as it could have. There are some challenges to this but I believe these are teething in nature.”

Lastly, BIM is scalable. The rewards are as well, but this can only work if we take a measured stance.

“I don’t advocate going for full 6D, FM Management deliverables straight way,” added Taffard. “But take bites at the BIM cherry instead.”

Taffard advises forming a team that is comfortable with a base level of BIM Delivery, and perhaps adding one or two additional “desirable” BIM outcomes to that list. Make them measurable and achievable and set about establishing a plan and essentially a framework to make those outcomes possible.

“Whether you chose to disclose these to the client for the first couple of attempts is up to you,” said Taffard. “But imagine if you can show them genuine savings they weren’t even expecting.I’m sure that would garner a nod or two.”

“What I do suggest is start small and scale up from your successes, build expertise in this approach and then you can present the market with empirical evidence we sorely need, rather than more ‘hype’ we surely don’t.”

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  1. David Chandler says:

    I am not sure who authored this? Is the article a marketing piece for Meinhardt Group BIM Consultants? The question of what do we need to prove the benefits of BIM remains unanswered. There is no mention of Lean Construction or Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DFMA). There is no mention as to what BIM might bring to Australia's construction industry. Will it help improve on-site productivity, or quality and drive costs down. If so BIM would need to make some purposeful statements about what it is after and how successes would be independently verified. BIM down-under has another challenge. It needs to add value to a southern hemisphere market otherwise it will be a tool more suited for large northern hemisphere markets. Pray more?

    • Nathan says:

      @ David. Thanks for the feedback, I am the author of this article. Not an excuse but the article is an opinion piece not a dissertation. What I am saying is that (IMO) evidence of BIM savings is not available but is needed so that the value of BIM to the stakeholders and decision makers is a quantifiable variable, not merely conjecture. I am not trying to propose or promote specific vehicles for BIM savings (you mention Lean and DMFA). But I do suggest that in order to generate the evidence we want, we need to consider making them targeted deliverables before rather then afterthoughts of the BIM process.

  2. John Falkner says:

    I wonder if the benefits of BIM are as great for smaller residential projects as they are for the large scale commercial and civil jobs? I guess the answer is probably no.

    Perhaps it would be helpful if one of the big research firms did a study quantifying the overall dollar value benefit of BIM.

    Not sure if this has been done already but if now, it could be worthwhile.

  3. Lana G says:

    This article is disturbing and sadly 750 characters are not enough to refute what is being said here.
    “Surmised advantages”, I’d say finding constructability issues with models that mitigate RFI”S, creating a project schedule that allows the building to be constructed in a shorter duration and returning the contingency to the owner is not surmised. Even when BIM is not required and the architect is not modeling, we use BIM because we do have the numbers and we are not the only ones. We have owners that are very savvy and are requiring BIM, even IPDish projects and they have captured their ROI’s by the number of RFIs from previous non-BIM’d projects based on size and use of building vs. how many they now have with full BIM’d projects.

  4. BarryJ says:

    Interesting article that raises some good points.
    I don't think anyone is arguing against the benefits of BIM here?

    More Structured BIM Briefs/Savings Goals – Good/essential
    More measurement of benefits/benchmarking – Got to be good.
    Moving more towards IPD – Essential to unlock BIM's full potential
    Independent BIM PM – Good/Essential to ensure goals are execute.
    Establishing more confidence in the less BIM savvy clients – Good

    Personally, I think the BIM industry is at a cross roads. I'd agree that we should focus on & develop what actually works now while we wait for the industry to become more BIM focused and then we can make those bigger leaps.

  5. Ken Smerz says:

    I enjoy the somewhat objective look at the topic. In the US, the great majority of the firms using BIM are faking it in a big way. Sure there's a model, but it's not used by enough stakeholders to have the impact it could. And generationally speaking the gray-haired guys who run the companies don't really want to give up control to younger generations…those who are leading the BIM revolution. I'd also suggest that it's success/failure depends truly on the cash flow of the project…who get's paid and when…and is it in my best interest to play nice with the other contractors.

    • John Grady says:

      I think Ken hit the nail on the head so to speak. It really is not about the contract type that makes, oh I hate the term BIM, a project successful. It is about how firms integrate the technology into their processes that makes them more efficient, therefore the project becomes more efficient.

      If by using the technology I am able to meet a very demanding schedule then there are real savings there so there is a metric. If I can meet the schedule and maintain the clients budget then BIM Uses added value.

      In order to get a true metrics you need to look at repeatable indicators. That's the true value.

  6. Chris Swane says:

    I agree with the comments in the article. It is inevitable that BIM processes is the way of the future and in some respects is likened to the transition from hand drawn design to CAD. I expect the first CAD developments were quite expensive in comparison. The trick is to convince a client to invest more in pre design using BIM processes. It is also important to understand projects that get more benefit out of BIM such as those with long term maintenance requirements. These projects present highest value. The team of BIM consultant's will most likely need to absorb seed funding to convince a client of long term benefits but in return will be rewarded with long term contracts.

  7. Nathan says:

    Footnote. I wrote this article not to discuss the 'value' of BIM. I already am a huge fan of BIM and understand all that it can deliver now and with more polish and acceptance, what it can deliver in the future.
    This opinion piece is all about the need for EMPERICAL EVIDENCE to support what we all know is true – that BIM used intelligently can save the client money…"and here's the evidence (money in the bank) to back it up".
    As per the title I am asking the AEC industry "How do we do this?" I think it is important because XYZ…but how do we prove it? IMO IPD is a starting point but certainly not the only way and certainly not the end.

    I'd like the community to discuss more about PROOF and this article is a prompt for that discussion.