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.”