Practice 2.0: BIM is an opportunity, not a problem

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by David Fano

is a regular series of posts guest authored by CASE (@case_inc), focusing on technology and innovation in the building industry.

At CASE my efforts focus on the strategic implementation of new technology, software development and learning. As a regular contributor to ArchDaily, I hope to touch on how firms of all sizes are dealing with change and how I think embracing new technologies will enable new forms of practice and create opportunities. If there is interest, I can also chime in on how to start a consulting firm and alternative forms of practice in the building industry.

I give a lot of presentations on BIM. Understandably, there is a certain level of anxiety that comes along with any new process. But I’m frequently confronted with the same set of fears, which really have no solid footing in reality. In this article, I would like to address those fears and in the process debunk three commonly held myths about BIM: that a firm’s size should be the deciding factor in whether or not to implement BIM; that the size and type of project limit opportunities for BIM; and that BIM requires a wholesale change of tools and processes. BIM adoption is making its way through the industry at an amazing pace and I hope to ease some of the unrest around taking the plunge and point out where we can capitalize on the value it provides.

More after the break.

Based on my direct experience, small-to-medium sized firms have a tremendous amount to gain from BIM. While working at SHoP (30 to 40 people at the time), we made the transition from a fairly typical 2D and 3D workflow to a fully integrated process using BIM. The first project did take longer, and it wasn’t a painless transition, but the benefits vastly outweighed the hurdles. SHoP did an amazing job of identifying the opportunities that leveraging BIM presented, as opposed to finding ways it hindered their workflow. There were a number of occasions where we could go toe-to-toe with a contractor on cost issues because we had ample amounts of information from our models to back up our design decisions. Not only did it present opportunities as a design firm; this early adoption of new technologies enabled them to form a new venture: SHoP Construction, which is doing well in its own right.

Another concern that I commonly hear is that only large or complex new projects warrant BIM. This could not be further from the truth. New construction, renovations, large or small projects do not impact the success or failure of the use of BIM. Each project type presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. The key with implementing any new process is to minimize the variables. If this is your firm’s first hospital, don’t do it as a BIM project. If it’s your third or fourth, go for it. Think about team structure, experience, scope, schedule or anything else that might be significantly different from previous projects. Every project has a compressed schedule, tight budget or a few new team members, so there will never be a “perfect” project. Choose a project that does not present too many new challenges, that will enable you to have a better understanding of how you can leverage BIM to add value to your process and in turn to the services you provide.

Finally, despite what a vast majority of the marketing material would lead you to believe, the entire project team does NOT have to work in a BIM environment in order for it to be worth it for a single member to make the switch. This is true when working with external firms that have various levels of BIM proficiency, as well as individual team members or disciplines within a single firm. Most, if not all, BIM platforms allow for the exporting of various 2D and 3D formats, which can be used by other members of the project team. This can take some finessing depending on the desired format, but it generally works. As for team members within an office, there are hybrid workflows that can work. A team’s technical fluency should be taken into account before a practice tries to take on a project in BIM, but even that may not be enough. Schedules, design, and/or deliverables are going to change, and if you are piloting a BIM project you will need to be adaptive. Develop a workflow that will allow part of your team (the staff not proficient in BIM) to work with the tools they do know and integrate them using best practices. Most BIM platforms allow you to work in hybrid 2D workflows, enabling many of the benefits of BIM, while mimicking the output of a CAD platform.

I know I sound like a BIM fanboy (granted, I’m a huge geek), but I am pretty tuned into the hurdles that firms experience when switching to BIM. After two years implementing BIM in an architectural practice and now three as a technology consultant, I wholeheartedly believe that the pros far outweigh the cons. BIM is an opportunity and needs to be understood as one. Much of the messaging and promotion around BIM has caused a fair amount of skepticism, and to be honest, much of it is warranted. Yet despite, some initial growing pains, I would argue that a committed effort to implementing BIM will have many long-term positive impacts to an individual practice and the industry as a whole.

If your firm has seen success or failure at implementing BIM I’d love to hear about it in the comments. And don’t pull any punches….

Cite: CASE, CASE. "Practice 2.0: BIM is an opportunity, not a problem" 17 May 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 21 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=135486>

3 comments

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    architects (at least in the US) have already ceeded too much control of the delivery of our designs to CMs anyway…I’d much rather be proactive and excercise better control of the entire process (take on some added liabillity if neccessary) then continue to ceede control to other professionals whose only interest is in proving value to the client by diluting or value engineering our design work. This is not about making it easier to do our work…its about survival of the profession. just wait until our work is being outsourced to Indian or Chinese production shops all fluent in BIM…

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    @joe So far that has been solved by the “reference only” label on the data sets. Also, most firms have a digital exchange waiver.

    @bla_d That is exactly my point. We can sit by the side lines and watch architects be marginalized or they can be pro-active and stop looking for reasons why they should not be more involved. For now i’d argue it’s a choice. Soon, that will not be the case.

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