BIM and CAD software licensing has been transitioning toward subscription-only programs.

These programs are best described as pay-as-you-go, software rental, subscription or software-as-a-service (Saas) programs.

Broadband internet empowered design-construction professionals and their IT departments with better management tools. Design professionals expected more autonomy and self-service access to maintain their BIM-CAD software licensing. They wanted independent access without needing to call the software companies and/or their software reseller networks.

As early as 2004, BIM-CAD software companies responded by providing “Cloud” access to software upgrades, add-in tools/extensions, content libraries and full 30-day working licenses. The web-empowered CAD and BIM Managers with around-the-clock software access found it more convenient for their scheduling.

In 2016, Autodesk Subscription Licensing Programs begin a major transition to BIM-CAD software rental or pay-as-you-go licensing programs. As new licensing is incrementally rolled out, this model will eventually become the standard software delivery-access process for design professionals.

This licensing transition has significant advantages to design professionals, owners or principals, project managers, BIM or CAD managers, and IT managers. It offers a financially positive option for both sole-proprietorship or unemployed architects-engineers.

Facility owners’ FM departments want to obtain BIM files from their construction projects. This offers a fiscally better method by which to implement BIM software to edit, manage data and maintain these as-built models.

This is why other BIM-CAD software companies such as Bentley, Graphisoft and Nemetschek have expanded their existing licensing programs, and have launched or will launch new flexible licensing programs for their BIM products.


Here are three financial situations where current BIM software licensing became a financial liability:

1. More BIM software licenses than staff

From 2008-2012, we saw many design firms lay off 20 to 50 per cent of their staff. These firms were left with more BIM-CAD software licenses than staff to use those licenses.

Unless an organization is being sold or acquired, software typically cannot be resold or transferred to another person or organization, so these licenses in many cases remained uninstalled and on the shelf.

Floating network licenses helped reduce the number of purchased software licenses for users who use BIM software only a few hours per day.

Network licenses offered free home licenses equal to the number of network licenses. Home licenses expire annually and need to be renewed. This provided licensing for a user that worked both at home and at the office.

However, when firms lacked the staff to use their BIM software licenses (standalone or network) with annual subscription costs, those subscriptions expired and the software remained ‘stuck’ at that version.

Rental/Subscription Licensing Benefit

Subscription licensing provides BIM software on a pay-as-you-go basis using monthly, quarterly or annual software rental licensing. BIM software suites bundle several software packages in a license. This helps reduce the amount of standalone software packages; that may be used infrequently.

This plan would also eliminate a situation we saw with unemployed architects and engineers. They bought commercial BIM software for self-employed consulting projects, then eventually found full-time employment – but could not liquidate (resell) their licenses.

It minimises the financial risk of being stuck with more software and associated subscription costs when organisational situations change.

2. Long-term License Costs for Short-Term Team Projects

A multi-billion dollar New York City project was comprised of several global design firms. They shared office space with multiple engineering firms in a central New York City office.

As the senior Revit consultant/trainer, my first meetings defined and assigned software ownership to each team member.

My project team’s software license plan forecasted:

  • which firms purchased which Revit and AutoCAD licenses
  • when to purchase those licenses as we “staffed up” the project
  • what network software deployment image to be used for each person
  • who  received that deployment image from their respective firm
  • how to minimise the overall software purchases for each firm
  • what licenses were rotated back to the purchasing firm’s inventory at project conclusion

In some cases, we staggered the designers’ working hours so designers could share a computer and thereby avoid purchasing another license, computer and monitor.

Not all of the firms were based in the US, which provided one more level of complexity with international licenses.

Rental/Subscription Licensing Benefit

This program does not require the permanent assignment of license ownership to a specific project team member. It also avoids the subscription’s long-term financial obligation to that team member’s organization.

The project can purchase software rental licenses as they “staff up.” They can eliminate renewal of licenses as the project staff is reduced. This would be similar to procuring short-term renting of computer equipment that is removed as the project concludes.

This eliminates the “what do we do with the BIM software” question at the end of a joint venture project.

BIM software and services are already transitioning to the BIM Cloud. Transitioning BIM software licensing to a subscription model is another step toward obtaining the benefits of cloud computing for Revit-BIM.

3. BIM Software Start-Up Costs

The financial start-up costs to procure BIM software for the following situations can be staggering if not prohibitive:

  • firms transitioning or growing from CAD-to-BIM processes
  • projects that need to “staff up” quickly due to accelerated project delivery
  • new firms that choose BIM software as their start-up design tool-of-choice
  • the unemployed architect-engineer now working in a contract or consultant role

Rental/Subscription Licensing Benefit

The purchase of a single BIM software license with subscription will cost anywhere from $6,000 to 10,000.

These are the BIM software costs a sole proprietor, a firm, a project or an unemployed design professional will incur just start using BIM. Computer equipment can be rented or leased, thereby drastically reducing their initial startup costs. This program will greatly reduce the IT financial costs at the beginning of the project.