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Reality Check, Is BIM Living Up to Its Promises?

What if I told you that over 90% of all Architectural, Engineering, Construction, and Operations (AECO) firms are engaged in BIM? Well, according to McGraw-Hill Construction (MHC), the construction data research arm of McGraw-Hill Publishing, that is the projected 2014 statistic.

bim-imageMHC began tracking BIM usage statistics in 2007, both regionally and globally. The rate for BIM adoption grew by 75% from 2007 to 2009, and 45% from 2009 to 2012. It is projected that more than 90% of all firms will be engaged in BIM by 2014 (Bernstein, et al., 2012).

The term Building Information Modeling (BIM) first appeared in the early 1990's. Architects began to visualize their buildings in 3D, and used that visualization model to generate 2D views. This was a shift in paradigm from conventional 2D architectural drawings used to construct buildings.

Now, BIM is used for all sorts of things: 3D coordination, clash detection, cost estimating, facilities management, energy analysis, and the list goes on. Penn State's Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program has identified 25 uses of BIM (Kreider, Messner, & Dubler, 2010).

Of all the uses identified for BIM, the #1 reason cited by engaged BIM users was "reduced document errors and omissions." Using a BIM model for authoring design drawings is proven to reduce errors due to parametric linking of data to the model. A change in one view is instantly propagated to all other views.

For all the buzz words associated with BIM, it is not immediately apparent what the advantages are by using BIM for building design and construction. What value do you place on BIM?

Reality Check #1 - "BIM saves time and money."

Only companies that are fully engaged in BIM will reap the benefits. When you take the soft approach to BIM, you often make compromises in productivity. Sometimes at a cost.

Research shows that more than two-thirds of firms at high levels of engagement reported a positive ROI, while only 20% of those considered low engagement reported the same (Bernstein, et al., 2012).

In addition, the effort curve has shifted.  Illustrated by the MacLeamy Curve, the effort in design development has increased significantly for BIM projects, requiring a shift in billing schedules. The documentation phase requires less effort due to the centralized source of data in the virtual model.

Reality Check #2 - "BIM makes for a well coordinated design."

BIM is often used for multi-discipline coordination of building systems. Interoperability and model sharing are essential to this endeavor. However, parties to the contract may be at different stages of BIM implementation and may not be aware of the other's limitations or variation of platform.

Another distinction in ability to coordinate the BIM models is the design vs. construction model paradigm. There are varying Levels of Development (LOD) required to achieve a well coordinated design.

While architects and engineers are aware of the need to coordinate in 3D, often they do not see the benefit of modeling a design to the level often required by contractors.

For example, an HVAC engineer would not typically take the time to model ductwork flanges and hangers. This is often considered "means and methods," which is typically under the responsibility of the contractor.

For this reason, contractors are often required to "re-model" much of the BIM design for construction purposes. A good contractor fully engaged in BIM will see the benefit of the work required to coordinate the BIM for construction.

Unfortunately, owners often do not understand the need to model the building twice, once by the A/E and second by the contractor. The cost to the owner can be significant, and they will not see an immediate ROI. For this reason, owners have been slower to engage in BIM.

Reality Check #3 - "BIM makes it possible to capture a building's lifecycle data."

Unfortunately, a number of factors can negatively affect the ability of an owner to take advantage of these perceived benefits.

  • - Lack of interoperability among various software platforms used by design/construction teams and owners.
  • - Constant evolution in technology, by which the eventual occupation of the building occurs years after the initial design was completed and the originating software is no longer supported by the vendor.
  • - Project specific requirements that do not take advantage of the tools offered by BIM.
  • - Qualified, trained staff working on behalf of the owner to maintain BIM data.
  • - Varying project delivery methods and contractual data requirements.
  • - Ownership of intellectual property and responsibility of model data among BIM participants.

Too many owners are not aware of the risk/reward scenarios afforded with BIM project delivery. Owners need to rethink their procurement strategies. A lack of knowledge and understanding of new technologies may be keeping owners from realizing the true benefits of BIM.


BIM offers many advantages to traditional design and documentation methods. However, it is the information sharing relationships of BIM participants that will ultimately determine the success of a BIM project.

Research has shown that when all participants are fully engaged in BIM, the rate of success increases significantly.  As more firms become fully engaged in BIM, the level of expertise increases among all categories of participation leading to better, more efficient processes and, ultimately lower costs.

Owners must be willing to engage all participants early in the process and avoid the failures of BIM early adopters. Not until then will owners be able to take full advantage of the promises of BIM.


Bernstein, H. M., Jones, S. A., Russo, M. A., Laquidara-Carr, D., Taylor, W., Ramos, J., et al. (Eds.). (2012). The Business Value of BIM in North America: Multi-Year Trend Analysis and User Ratings (2007-2012). Smart Market Report . Bedford, MA, USA: McGraw-Hill Construction.

Kreider, R., Messner, J., & Dubler, C. (2010). Determining the Frequency and Impact of Applying BIM for Different Purposes on Projects. University Park, PA, USA: Pennsylvania State University, Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program.

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