Theoretically, any specialist contractor can harness the potential benefits of BIM – in the widest sense of a fusion of people, process and technology – given the will to do so.
Deciding to seek BIM enablement to level 2 maturity is a strategic decision and needs the same thought processes as any other high level business-changing undertaking. There are a number of questions an organisation should consider:
- Why are you considering BIM?
- What do you want BIM to achieve?
- What are the costs?
- What will the return on investment be?
1 Why is BIM being considered?
Is there an internal motivation? Are you more or less convinced of the potential advantages? Can you see the benefits accruing to your business? Is there an external motivation? What are customers asking for? Are customers urging you to develop a BIM capability? Are BIM requirements appearing in tenders? If so, how BIM ready are those customers who are asking for it? What BIM ingredients are they using? Talk to your main contractors and find out where a BIM capability would position your organisation. What is the appropriate level of BIM involvement for you? Main contractors are also feeling their way, and some are obviously more advanced than others, so respond appropriately.
2 What do you want BIM to achieve?
How would a BIM capability enhance the products and services you provide? Do you manufacture? Do you design? Will you need to develop your own BIM objects or will you be using those developed by the manufacturers and suppliers whose products you install? Where are those manufacturers and suppliers in their BIM development? You already engage with them in jointly providing their products so what does this additionally mean in relation to BIM? For those specialist contractors who do not need to develop BIM objects the route to some level of BIM capability may be easier than you might think. Manufacturers need to think of the ease of use of their BIM objects for other parties and their customers; a database for the products you install may already exist which would mean you are already well placed.
3 What are the costs?
Consideration of the first two questions will start to give some indication of potential people, process and technology implications which will impact cost. In all three aspects, start with determining where the organisation is now and before anything else investigate the many options of getting into BIM that do not need any significant financial outlay. What can you build on? How well do your people currently engage with the project teams with whom you work? How do you currently manage your information? Do you, for example, use BS 1192 naming conventions already? What is the CAD expertise in your business? Have you experience of 3D modelling? How big would the leap be from current CAD experience and level of technology to a BIM capability? You may already have all the “information” you need; it might just need some ‘BIM treatment’. A slow progression is worth considering, not least because the industry’s BIM experience is evolving all the time. The importance of information management demands investment in its principles just as much as in software expertise. Costs can be phased and controlled with a slow but deliberate approach.
a) Information management
Information management can be improved without too much financial cost. Revamping current roles and processes in relation to information management and, for example, adopting the naming conventions in BS 1192, will advance the organisation down the path of BIM readiness without expenditure on technology. BS 1192 and the classification systems are not expensive to buy and learn. Adoption of a BIM approach will likely result in a change in methods but for some this may mean simple consistency about information in CAD files. For others it could mean an entirely different business procedure. Everyone’s business is probably awash with product and other information, lots of it probably very valuable in terms of lessons learned and previous experience and solutions. But how much is immediately retrievable, legible and identifiable? Managed information storage can make that information’s use and reuse efficient and effective with positive implications for capacity, competitiveness and growth. It is then that your information becomes a true asset. A very consistent information and document management system is a great start to developing BIM capability.
There is no point buying technology until you really know what is needed and also the cost will increase with its capability so there is no point acquiring capability that is not required by your busienss. Some specialists will not require BIM software to perform design activities, they will need to view, check, understand and perhaps manipulate information provided to them by their main contractor or by their product suppliers. There are products that allow this and even some free BIM viewers. You will need to find out what your suppliers and customers are using to check compatibility (interoperability). Some products allow information to be exchanged between different BIM software applications, and provide access to industry classification systems to create data for sharing. At the other end of the scale it could well be that in the first instance the only BIM requirement you need is the ability to contribute data to a COBie spreadsheet.
Those main contractors who are engaging heavily with BIM offer training to bring their supply chain up to speed. Some of the leading software suppliers have fully functioning free trials which allow you to further understand the level of technology that you may need.
Don’t limit your thoughts to just software training. Information management training will give a more encompassing stimulus to integrating BIM within the business, and provide the potential for your information to become a true asset. To this internal initiative you can build further by going on your main contractor courses and/or software vendor’s training.
It is not hard to conceive of the situation arising whereby you promote your BIM readiness as part of your proposition to potential customers, as early adopters will enjoy a competitive advantage.
4 Return on investment
In terms of how long it would be before any investments start to pay off, there will clearly be a time investment to match that of money (training, the learning curve, revamping process). Spectacular returns are being quoted by all kinds of users but each experience will be different depending on what you have decided you want BIM to do for you.
Starting to develop a BIM capability can appear to be a daunting prospect but by starting slowly and deliberately, rapid progress can be made in bite-size chunks which will have long term value.
Going back to our idea of a common sense progression, you could decide to try a BIM approach as an internal management technique first, as a single project methodology with a good customer or a whole approach to your business because of your position as a crucial member of your customer’s supply chain. Which ingredients of BIM are you going to adopt and how far are you going to go? It is clear that it is not just about whose software you want to use – it is about integrating BIM principles into your whole business.
BIM offers a positive opportunity to grasp collaborative use of shared information and will compel structure, consistency, co-ordination and quality assurance. Get to know enough about BIM to make those initial decisions referred to above and know the time and cost dimensions to the way forward that you choose, be it small baby steps or a wholehearted jumping in at the deep end. Whichever way you go, keep evaluating as your experience grows, the industry’s BIM implementation evolves and your customers’ requirements change.