Strategic BIM implementation can lead to new ways of thinking and working with BIM.
Current economic news suggests that the U.S. construction industry is in an upswing. More residential and commercial construction projects are breaking ground and architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals are busier than in the last several years. The question now: How are these new projects being designed, built, and managed? Are the same business practices before the economic downturn still in place, or has the industry taken that time to retool and reinvent itself? Did some organizations look at project delivery modernization as a way to create a competitive edge for winning work?
Often in business, the difference between success and failure hinges on an organization’s ability to maintain a competitive advantage. In today’s business climate, every advantage counts to establish a business at the top of its industry. Gaining an edge against competitors takes strategic planning and extensive commitment to executing business strategy.
In the AEC industry, BIM has become much more than just an acronym for Building Information Modeling. It has become a business strategy for gaining a competitive advantage.
The BIM revolution is affecting competition in three vital ways:
• It is changing the industry structure and in so doing, altering the rules of competition.
• It is creating a competitive advantage by providing BIM-enabled firms new ways to outperform rivals.
• It has begun to spawn whole new businesses, often from within a company’s existing operations.
Industry-wide acceptance and maturation of BIM technologies is significant as a business practice. This evolution toward BIM did not occur by flipping a switch. The industry move from dependence on 2D CAD to 3/4/5D BIM required a learning curve that many were not prepared for culturally. Before you can turn your organization into a BIM-integrated business, you will need to ask many questions about the role that BIM might play in your overall business strategy. To start, you will need to assess how BIM can redefine your project methodologies and how your efforts can provide a return on investment.
Let’s begin to define the ways that the move toward BIM can change you and the organization you represent.
BIM is a process
First, it is important to understand that BIM is a process. The BIM process enables enhanced communication of conceptual design intent, fabrication and construction detail, and everything in between. The BIM process increases collaboration across multiple disciplines where the net result is that the entire design team, construction team, and owners have better metrics to make informed decisions about projects. By using an integrated BIM model, it is far easier to predict issues and optimize construction schedule and cost savings.
I recently led my Fuscoe team on a significant BIM project for one of our largest repeat clients. This effort was a BIM milestone; the stakes were high, and the timelines short. The collaboration team included architects, MEP, structural and civil engineers, landscape architects, and more. For many, this was also a launch point for BIM and project execution using integrated project delivery (IPD). The initial coordination was clunky as the team ironed out details such as shared coordinates and visibility settings, but as the BIM coordination schedule progressed, many advantages of this integrated approach became evident to our team. Not only were we identifying issues in the BIM model related to clashes and missing connections, but we were also using this review as a quality control for design and plan sets. We quickly developed workflows and technologies that helped the BIM team work more efficiently as we utilized tools such as Autodesk Navisworks software to help view modeling progress.
BIM underground utility infrastructure models show storm drain, sanitary sewer, domestic water, and dry utilities
Navisworks software provides clash detection to identify and resolve costly construction conflicts.
As multiple firms combine their expertise to engineer design/build projects, many lead contractors want proactive and constant coordination across extended teams. This was the case in The Netherlands on a project led by iNFRANEA, an infrastructure-focused firm with deep expertise in BIM. For the River Wall Project, Nijmegen, permanent changes to the river were necessary, along with new bridges and temporary structures, requiring contributions from more than 10 engineering disciplines. The most difficult aspects of the project to manage and coordinate were the permanent and temporary structures. BIM helped the team go through the model systematically to find clashes, discussing and addressing each issue. With the entire team aware of the details of all aspects of the project, it was possible to spot and correct problems quickly.
BIM workflows help teams model, coordinate, and construct roads, bridges, and channel dredging on the River Waal Nijmegen project. Images courtesy of iNFRANEA, The Netherlands.
BIM is a technology
Once we understand BIM as a process, the next step is to identify BIM as a technology. BIM technologies are still evolving and maturing. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all, BIM-in-a-box technology; therefore, it will require some research and planning to understand what is right for your organization. BIM technologies have evolved at a steady rate, enabling better access to more tools that meet the needs of BIM professionals; however, there are still many hurdles to providing a true BIM-integrated delivery. The technology has changed the way project teams work together to solve problems and deliver better project designs with fewer construction issues in the field.
This is the case in Brazil, where Adherbal Moreira, director of operational support in the heavy construction department at Camargo Correa, stated in an interview, “The future of BIM technology will be the future of construction, not only in Brazil, but worldwide. The fact that you can visualize, plan, and see what the project will be like in 3D is going to let us clearly see the problems that come up during construction and how they can be solved before they even occur.”
Planning and 3D modeling with BIM solutions help to identify economic, ecological and constructability issues and improve communication with stakeholders on the Laguna Bridge project in Brazil. Images courtesy of Camargo Correa, Brazil.
BIM is a mindset
Breaking the seal on your first few BIM project(s) will have noticeable effects on your organization as the concept of BIM becomes a new mindset. Suddenly, BIM becomes a discussion point across the organization. How are we marketing BIM? How are we delivering BIM as a service? Who are the BIM champions in the company? How do we get started with our clients? The discussion switches from “Should we be doing BIM?” to “How are we doing BIM?”
The support for BIM integration has to start from the top in an organization. There has to be dedicated support for the concept of “going BIM.” Both monetary and time investments will need to be made to build a BIM business. It will require significant energy from your team, but the entire organization will realize the dramatic dividends.
BIM can enhance staffing
Competitive advantages can be achieved in many ways. One direct way to establish an industry edge is to attract the very best talent by using BIM as a way to enhance staff. BIM integration means your current and future staff will have new and more modern ways to work and collaborate. BIM learning paths will be necessary to get your staff up to a baseline level of knowledge for the process to work effectively. Investing in training and mentoring for your staff will demonstrate a commitment to personal development and staff retention. BIM introduces new opportunities for staff to develop and grow professionally, with added avenues for upward mobility as BIM-focused positions grow with your BIM strategy.
BIM can open new opportunities
Once your team has executed BIM on a complete project, it will become widely apparent that BIM can open new opportunities. A well-defined BIM business strategy will include a detailed review of your current business practice to determine how BIM can open up new niche opportunities for your current and future clients. BIM opportunities grow with each project that you complete as the customer begins to fully understand the value of a BIM model and all of its potential uses. BIM projects are an ecosystem, and many of these projects provide opportunities to extend your participation beyond the normal scope of delivery. BIM content and BIM execution planning are valuable intellectual property, and in most cases they can become new sources of project revenue that otherwise would never have been realized.
BIM can build better client relationships
At its core, BIM is a communication tool for design intent. It is an effective way to develop a more valuable relationship with your clients who may not fully understand your design intent using traditional methods of communication (2D drawings, static story boards, etc.).
For example, Coastal Engineering’s BIM manager, Quinton McDaniel, used 3D modeling and visualization software as a means to present changes on a new project. “The animation was the only material we used at the proposal presentation, and it had a big impact on the non-technical audience. The movie allowed them to virtually drive down the streets and fly over the project area to get a clearer understanding of our proposal.”
Since that successful meeting, McDaniel anticipates 3D modeling and visualization will help to win additional work. His current project for a regional airport is to create new 3D entrance visualizations, including existing conditions, new monument signage, landscaping, and general entrance improvements. The customer has requested video and still shots to communicate improvements with stakeholders.
Visualization tools used to communicate preliminary designs help the client to understand technical details on a roadway improvement proposal, resulting in award of the design project. Images courtesy of Coastal Engineering Associates, USA.
BIM is a business strategy
In addition to everything else, BIM is ultimately a business strategy. Developing a framework for your BIM strategy will be essential to overall success. Vision, leadership, and incremental change are the three pillars to the success of your BIM strategy — which will evolve as your BIM practice matures.
Remember to review and update your strategy to keep pace with the overall BIM maturity of your company and its clients. BIM will impact and change your marketing efforts, your project delivery, and your technology needs.
A great example of BIM causing a fundamental change in how a company markets and positions its capabilities came from Jeff Lyons, AEC business unit leader at Cole Engineering in Canada. “A few years ago, when we talked about BIM, (our partners) didn’t get what we wanted to do,” Lyons said. “It wasn’t until 3D visualization was used that our project management team started looking at BIM in a serious way. It was the tipping point for Cole. It made a traditional 2D process a BIM process going forward. Over the last 18 months, 3D visualization has been implemented on every RFP, and if we don’t do a specific model for the RFP, we put out an entire BIM appendix with previous work that we’ve done to let the client know that we are capable of not just building a 3D model, but something that is linked and active to the design.”
Design firm uses model-based solutions and 3D models and visualization on all proposal responses. Images courtesy of Cole Engineering, Canada.
The ripple effects of the most recent economic downturn has had far-reaching impacts on our way of life. Through this slow and steady climb out of the recession, BIM has become a proven process for how the AEC industry will compete and win in a highly competitive business climate. BIM has become an opportunity to deliver better designed and built projects to our customers.
With this added value of enhanced project delivery, the industry is building solid client relationships that go far beyond the scope of a single project. With strategic BIM integration and enhanced staffing, a new mindset is developing in an industry that is primed to deliver on the promise of digital technologies for a built world.
John Rodriguez is BIM manager at Fuscoe Engineering, Inc. (www.fuscoe.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Teresa Elliott is Infrastructure marketing manager at Autodesk, Inc. She can be contacted at email@example.com.