Articulating the benefits of BIM

Articulating the benefits

The benefits of BIM are generally poorly explained and communicated:

  • Ask most BIM technical experts and you’ll get a garbled and convoluted description about visualisation, xD BIM , COBie, CDE, IFC or cringeworthy ‘clash detection‘.
  • The message from software sales typically overemphasises the 3D  & technology aspects and not the substance of BIM. The benefits are described in vague terms such as ‘improved collaboration’ or ‘increased productivity’ without pinpointing how or where these benefits occur.
  • Organisations promoting BIM standards have a distinct academic or theoretical flavour. These efforts (although well intentioned) are most possibly counterproductive in that something quite simple is presented as incredibly bureaucratic & complex, and may scare off more people than it attracts.
  • Various pseudo-studies (or ‘infomercials’) on the adoption rates and benefits of BIM present blatantly biased information to support their sponsors’ interests in selling more software, and therefore lack credibility.
  • Consultants selling BIM services often have a vested interest in talking up or complicating BIM, either as a smokescreen or to justify their fees.

To view BIM through the eyes of the uninitiated, it must seem complicated, onerous & as having unclear benefits.

Why is this ?

The reasons are varied:

  • BIM is typically the domain of tech geeks and evolves from the bottom of an organisation up, rather than the top down. This means that the focus is often on what can be done (in technical wizardry terms) rather than what should or must be done (in business terms).
  • My brief and unsuccessful foray working for a software vendor reinforced a view that many salespeople really don’t understand what they are selling, and gravitate to the simplest selling points, understandable to someone who might have been selling fridges, photocopiers or timeshare apartments previously.
  • BIM ‘insiders’ often operate in a vacuum and can’t view from the perspective of someone else, or communicate in plain language. The result is that websites for organisations such as BuildingSmart, NIBS or NBIMS-US are completely unfathomable to all but the most determined seekers of information.
  • Quantifying the benefits of BIM is not easy and the return on investment can’t be easily distilled down to a simple number. A lot depends on how BIM is applied and the returns can be both positive and negative.

Top Benefits of BIM

The following is my attempt to describe the benefits in a way that is understandable to someone with no prior knowledge of BIM:

1.  Communication & comprehension
BIM should be easy to understand, although this is not always the case.
Whilst 3D is not inherently better than 2D (a simple drawing may communicate more clearly than a 3D model), a large amount of information can be presented in a form understandable by most people.  Furthermore, BIM isn’t necessarily in the form of a 3D model, but could be as simple as a spreadsheet or  as sophisticated as large-scale data analytics.

2.  Quality
The benefit to design & documentation quality is twofold:
Firstly, there are the simple mechanics of eliminating discrepancies between the drawings & schedules that comprise construction documentation.
Secondly, querying of model data or the ability to navigate to a specific position with selective superimposition of design models is more of a ‘pull’ of required information, rather than relying just on the drawings that the architect or engineer decided to produce.
In other words, answer questions such as “how many doors ?” or “how much concrete?”

3.  Risk & opportunity
Many of the benefits in risk reduction or identification of opportunities are are result of better comprehension or quality of information. These benefits include:
> commercial (error reduction, more exact pricing, identification of opportunities/risks)
> safety i.e identification of hazards
> time (error reduction, earlier identification of acceleration opportunities or delays)
> methodology (greater understanding of what needs to be built and how this can be accomplished)

4.  Efficient data exchange
A model-based method to exchange data between design consultants or between contractor and subcontractors can be efficient and effectively, especially when compared to multiple CAD files or individual drawings. Each model can contain the equivalent of hundreds of drawings.

5.  Downstream use of data
By ‘downstream’ I mean the use of data for purposes beyond design (the bulk of BIM data being generated by designers).

Downstream use includes construction purposes such as methodology, planning, logistics, monitoring and analysis, or operational purposes once construction is complete.
The use of BIM data for operational purposes is often over-emphasised, with only a very small proportion of the data necessary for construction being relevant to ongoing use. Nonetheless- BIM data can be relevant and useful beyond design & construction.