BIM: A workhorse, not a show pony

The essence of BIM ?

I once had the pleasure of working for a guy named Bob Merkenhof. He was a larger-than-life character who inspired & motivated people. He sadly passed away at a much too early age.

More than a decade ago, I was in a meeting of designers and constructors (builders) discussing the future of BIM. The constructors were fairly traditional, conservative and sceptical about BIM. In my efforts to convince them I said “BIM is not a show-pony
Bob said “well, if BIM is not a show-pony, then it must be a work-horse”

I think between the two of us, we summed up BIM.

Just a toy ?

Within construction, the 3 dimensional aspect of BIM can detract (or distract) from the power and benefits that are available. In other words, many people perceive BIM as just pretty pictures, a ‘toy’ or not a proper construction tool.

It can be like turning up on the construction site with a box of pink feather dusters, when everyone else has ‘serious’ tools and big machines.

For example, an Excel schedule that lists the location, mass, length and other information of every structural steel member might be viewed as constructionlike information. But the 3D model might be seen as unnecessary, even if that is where the schedule originated.

The 3D or visualisation aspect of BIM is often overemphasised in software sales, with the misguided idea that it will impress an audience, and the more practical or simple aspects are neglected.


The construction world is particularly conservative & there is an attitude that successful projects do not involve ‘playing around’ with computers, data and technology. Some think that making money just involves toughing it out with client and subcontractors.

A common mindset is that all construction methods are tried and tested, and it is too risky to change.

In fact, most construction activities (such as pouring concrete, erecting steelwork etc) are essentially a level playing field with limited opportunity to outperform competitors. Delivering a project in exactly the same way as rivals is very unlikely to offer decent profits & it is just a race to the bottom in margins.

So it is essential to proactively find better methods. The use of technology & model-based techniques is one of the biggest opportunities.

It is remarkable how little the construction industry has changed with the advent of BIM & related technologies. Even quite conservative industries such as shipbuilding have been revolutionised by changes in construction technique & methods, some of it driven by technology

Practical and useful

To me, BIM is all about practical, useful & valuable information. Too often, this gets overlooked and secondary uses such as clash detection, visualisation & animations take the limelight.
Furthermore, the important information is obscured by too much irrelevant detail through a misguided approach of adding too much information into BIM.

I’ll cover such BIM uses specifically for construction in a future post.