Case Studies

BIM Implementation Learning from the mistakes of others


The following case study details how a business eventually realised that successful BIM implementation necessitated process change as well as software purchase.

Although happy to share its experiences, the company asked for their name to be withheld. They will therefore be referred to as Company X.

As a multidisciplinary design and project management consultancy, Company X could see the enormous benefits inherent in making the switch from a traditional segmented approach to project delivery, to an integrated BIM solution. It was very keen to hit the ground running and so enlisted its architectural, structural and MEP teams to achieve an in-house BIM capability.

Company X had already heard much about BIM and realised that its adoption would be less costly than leaving things as they were. The decision was supported from the outset by senior management.

The current global financial crisis exacerbated things and given that Company X was also looking to consolidate its position in the market and expand its core skills to maximise potential earnings through cost savings and increased productivity, the case for BIM was proven.

Cutting costs versus cutting corners

Aiming to minimise costs Company X decided to forego essential basics training in favour of end users  self-learning and testing both software and newly acquired skills, on a live on a small-scale pilot project. Back up would be in the form of hiring the services of a technical support consultancy.

In many ways this approach was very short sighted. The introduction of CAD in the late 80's was a very large step for many businesses like Company X, but for most it did not change their existing workflows.

The introduction of BIM fundamentally changes the workflow within a design and engineering process. Placing more importance on model management at earlier stages ensures that benefit is secured throughout the process. BIM is not just a more powerful version of CAD. It changes the way offices and teams are structured, as well as how work is carried out.

A common misconception about BIM is that it is just another software program. This is based on the assumption that  CAD jockeys would merely be replaced with  BIM jockeys . In fact, to use BIM to its full potential, requires very high levels of skill, experience and judgment. The traditional draughtsman or junior architect is not equipped to simultaneously design and evaluate a myriad of interlocking pieces of information. The integration of design choices, cost implications and feasibility requires specific skills and authoritative decision making capability.

The move to a new way of thinking can only be achieved via a systematic implementation plan. This plan needs to address the need to properly train staff and to introduce best practices that effectively integrate the BIM process into the organisation.

Adequate training is one of the greatest challenges to BIM adoption. The bar chart illustrates this. Many businesses feel they have to reach a critical mass of user experience before it becomes viable to introduce new technology and this is especially true with BIM adoption. This experience can be established via a structured training program. Benchmarking of users enables training to be targeted to individual need and thereby reduces the overall costs of training. Benchmarking also allows firms to analyse the effectiveness of its training approach and to determine whether alternative methods such as  Just in Time Training ,  Over the shoulder training or similar approaches, can be used.

Technical versus systematic change

In its haste to introduce a BIM capability Company X purchased software, but did not factor in the process changes/training required to implement new workflow and design processes that would optimise the way the BIM system fitted with current and future business needs.

Returns from the software investment would have be realised more quickly if investment in proper process engineering and training, as well as recognition that existing processes needed to evolve, had been made. In addition, if teams were engaged in the design of the new workflow, they would understand why changes were necessary and how it could benefit them. Old-fashioned communication is vitally important when using an integrated BIM model. Each team member s contribution to the model affects the rest of the team. Rather than a traditional  hand-off of project data from one discipline to the next, BIM encourages collaborative decision-making.

The logic behind changes to workflow processes becomes more evident as a user gains experience by working with BIM systems. New users sometimes look so hard at  little BIM that they fail to see  big BIM and its potential.

Seven in 10 users say that BIM has had at least a moderate impact on internal project practices and processes. Given the long standing traditions of many firms, this is a significant finding. Companies develop best practices through years of project experience, yet a large percentage of users are willing to rethink those processes when using this still emerging technology. (McGraw Hill 2008)

How complex is too complex?

One major stumbling block encountered by Company X with its  self help implementation plan was that it thought that it could immediately generate all the content needed to be productive. It underestimated the skill level and time needed to generate content components in 3D. This illustrates the necessity to manage the BIM process at a higher level than required by a traditional 2D CAD project. Following external consultation, the company found that the strong CAD specialists and designers thought they could  go wild defining many data points for an element. The capabilities of BIM in this area are nearly limitless. CAD users who had experience in 3D CAD found it very easy to grasp the concepts of the modelling aspects of BIM, but then failed to understand the information and process layers required to connect the complete BIM project. Allowing the BIM model to work like 3D CAD was an easy way to introduce some of the concepts of the mass modelling tools, whilst using only a fraction of the capability of the software and process.

The question is, how complex does the model need to be to generate an accurate picture for the client and for construction? Company X has since been advised that teams need to sit down at the start of a project to discuss which data is important to get things started, which can be added over time and that which can be left out altogether. This is a crucial part of any implementation strategy. Feedback consistently reports that one of the most challenging aspects of BIM implementation is agreeing on standards for each design. Whether this be simple title blocks or complex types of parametric data different drawing elements should contain. Even though Company X chose to take the self learning and discovery path, they will be best served to leverage this change as an opportunity to promote consistency, accuracy, and productivity. It needs to discuss these new in-house process and drawing standards to improve effectiveness and efficiency in its new environment.

As they work towards BIM implementation, Company X s management team are discovering new ways to work that generate long-term benefits. They are now considering benchmarking as a tool to cut back on the upfront costs associated with training. In addition to recognising new ways to make BIM work for them, Company X is now considering customising the technology so that it meets the specific needs of its organisation, facilitates best practice and ensures that business goals are met. Company X now realises that the road ahead will be strewn with options not encountered before. It also acknowledges that that the most effective way to implement its particular strategy is build a solid base of knowledge, which will maximise future potential.

With this understanding Company X will make the change to BIM a fruitful one. It will not just put the software  back on the shelf . As the global recession recedes Company X will be  ahead of the pack and in a strong position to capitalise on new opportunities.

BIM Journal would like to thank Daniel Frawley, BIM Consultant, for providing materials to support this case study.