The rise of the BIM consultant

Emergence

The role of ‘BIM Consultant’ has emerged over the last 5-10 years and is now commonplace on major building projects and is increasing on infrastructure projects. In this post, I examine the background and expertise of these consultants and the value of services offered.

Drivers

Many design or construction contracts now have some form of BIM requirement, such as:

  • documents such as a ‘BIM Execution Plan’
  • a role such as a BIM Manager, or BIM management responsibilities
  • defined processes such as design coordination or clash detection
  • data deliverables for visualisation, asset management or operational purposes

BIM Consultants provide services in these areas, as well as:

  • brief/specification development or auditing services on behalf of a building owner, to review performance and BIM deliverables of other consultants or contractors
  • BIM implementation & strategy
  • Training & mentoring
  • Technical expertise e.g configuration of software or system set-up

 Origins

BIM consultants fall into several categories including:

  • Design consultants such as architects or engineers who treat BIM as an additional service.
  • Software providers & resellers, who convert a technical software role into more profitable ‘business consulting’
  • Offshore design, documentation and modelling providers who supplement these services with BIM services
  • Dedicated BIM consultants or freelancers

Regardless of the origin of the consultant, they often have a vested interest in one form or another such as selling software & training, or moving work out of the design & documentation bucket and into the BIM one.

Value of Services

Like any business or service offering, there is no shortage of snake-oil merchants & charlatans.

BIM consultants certainly have a place in providing specific expertise, skills & resources particularly for short-term use or in smaller organisations that may not have the volume of work or financial ability to support dedicated resources. For these organisations, BIM consultants can provide a good starting point or extra capacity.

Generally speaking, services of a BIM consultant are not viable in the long term and some core in-house understanding & capability is necessary for most design & construction businesses.

I would argue that to be successful, BIM needs to be an integral part of the process, and it is unlikely to have much value if treated as an isolated or independent endeavour.

Colonel Sander’s Secret Recipe

It may be in the interest of a BIM consultant to maintain a version of the “secret 11 herbs & spices” to gain repeat work, or resell the same work several times. This often involves talking up the complexity of or expertise necessary for BIM.
To extend the KFC parallel- in the same way that the secret recipe seems to be largely salt and basic household spices, much of BIM is fundamentally quite straightforward, but can be sold as special and exclusive.

Quality of deliverables

I see many BIM documents that are copy & paste compilations of content readily available on the internet and often have little relevance to the project, or are intended for completely different types of projects.

For example, documents intended for building projects which cover BIM specifications for roof appurtenances, flagpoles and fireplaces, obviously have no relevance to a rail, infrastructure or industrial project.

Quantity not quality

In the consulting world, it is not unusual practice to pad out documents such as reports & specification with superfluous guff in order to justify fees, and BIM consulting is no different. (Well, at least that was what I used to do in my previous life as a design consultant…)

Unfortunately, the result is that many documents such as BIM specifications contain excessive requirements, that are of no value to the client, designer, contractor or end users. Personally, I would prefer a concise & simple document even if it does not register much on the scales.

Tick that box

Unfortunately, some organisations will hand over a significant sum of money for a low quality document that offers no project benefit, such as a BIM Execution Plan (BEP) purely as a box-ticking exercise. In other words, a BEP is a contract requirement and that box can be ticked.

Freelancers

Good freelancers or independent consultants are fairly few & far between, but there are some out there who will work collaboratively and provide unbiased advice. This would be my first choice in selecting a BIM consultant. The downside is that they may not have resourcing capacity or stability/longevity for long term work.

Software resellers

I would generally favour the design consultant (over software vendors & resellers) for reasons of industry experience and general professionalism in working as a true consultant.

As I explained in my BIM: Tech is the easy bit post, the key is to use people who properly understand design and construction and to develop their BIM skills rather than the opposite approach.

Design Consultants as BIM Consultants

Design consultants can provide high levels of BIM expertise. However, a twin design and BIM consulting role on a particular project can either be a conflict of interest, or it is difficult to separate the roles. For example, work such as design coordination can mysteriously become a BIM issue.

A design consultant providing BIM consulting services (where the same company does not have design responsibilities on the project) will likely be reviewing the work of their design consulting competitors, so this can become more about one-upmanship between consultants, rather than working towards value and benefit for the client.

For a construction company, design-based BIM consultants can provide useful services, but they will obviously have a design perspective and may not fully understand the construction priorities and issues.

What to look for in a BIM Consultant

  • Practical project experience, rather than just preparation of documents such as reports or BIM Execution Plans
  • Independence (not tied into software sales or other services)
  • Collaborative approach and prepared to mentor & transfer knowledge, rather than just provide a closed box service.
  • Provides specific scope & deliverables & measurable objectives
  • Can communicate effectively and in plain English, rather than technical jargon

 

 

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