Is BIM Better… er…. er? (Part 2.0)

So much hype.
So much noise.
So many people shouting about the benefits of BIM.

Every time you blink there is a new BIM Consulting group out in the marketplace. Each time you turn around, there is another BIM conference to consider. Ok, so there is lots of energy, lots of passion, lots of excitement. That’s gotta be a good thing, right?

Well, mostly, yes. Still, with all that energy and passion, there must be some awfully good material out there that PROVES what all these people are saying, right? Ummm, no, not really… There are some very good reasons why getting valid comparative data is hard. We operate in a bespoke industry, with a severe lack of standardisation and repetition, even in those areas where such things could be viable. How do you compare data when two projects are different? You can take benchmarks for the project type I suppose? But every site is different, the builders are different, the client is different, the details are different. You could repeat a CAD project as a BIM exercise? But the project is complete, so you aren’t going through a design process, a revision process, and inevitably the issues dealt with on site the first time around will be (even if unconsciously) avoided in the BIM version. You could quote the ‘experience’, the anecdotal evidence? Well, umm, that’s anecdotal, see? Maybe you could run comparisons at a discrete point in the process, say with a QS doing cost planning? Still needs the two versions of the project, and much of that noise about BIM is lifecycle benefit, so stopping at cost planning isn’t the comparison we really want, is it?

Interestingly, YTL Corporation, in Malaysia had a project fairly recently, that was getting close to perfect. It was a development with several identical towers which, for political reasons, ended up being awarded to multiple practices. One was in AutoCAD, one in Revit. Initial design was complete, so it was predominantly a documentation exercise. Here was the chance to get truly valid data back on ROI and the comparison to existing methodologies.

But that didn’t happen.


Still, even here there is no truly direct comparison. Working methodologies vary, tool skills vary, even staff morale and motivation can have a big impact.

What about the broader industry productivity calculations? If BIM really is better, and we have seen some real inroads into industry practice by BIM over the last 15-20 (and particularly the last 5) years, then we should see that in stats for the industry, right? As it happens, NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the United States, published a couple of charts back in 2004 which have been WAY over used in conference presentations ever since. I won’t reproduce them here because you’ve probably seen them in the last 10-15 minutes.

One chart reflects productivity ‘gains’ in construction and non-farm businesses, and is labour focused, but is of note because of the simple fact that it shows that construction has not improved in productivity in the 40 years captured in the chart. The other examines ‘inadequate interoperability in construction, and estimates that this accounted for $15.8 billion dollars of waste in 2002 alone! Most have taken this to be an opportunity… “BIM can fix this!” Few seem to have noticed that NIST updated their data in 2012 (as they are wont to do), and what did it show? In the following 8 years of data, covering a significant upsurge in the adoption of BIM tools and processes, the change has been.. ummm… nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero.


I can think of a few answers, some of them as simple as the evolutionary timescale required to see change reflected in data in an industry as big and slow as ours. Let’s not forget also that for all the noise, BIM penetration isn’t really all THAT big yet. Nevertheless, it is certainly disappointing.

If BIM is so clearly better, why are we having such a hard time PROVING it?

Join us at the Design Technology Summit this summer as we address this and other topics focused on the challenges that face us as Design Technology Leaders.

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