Gannett Fleming: Getting a large firm on board with BIM


Q: When did Gannett Fleming start using BIM?

A: Norb Howell: More than 5 years ago, and I arrived about 4 years ago to take BIM firm-wide. For a firm of our size—we have more than 2,000 employees—adopting BIM was a major cultural shift. You can’t make a change like that in a year or even 2. Today, we’re using BIM on about 90% of projects.

David Butts, BIM specialist, joined the interview.

Q: What were some of the keys to your successful transition to BIM?

A: Howell: We took the approach that BIM is a method and a process. We adopted it in steps. We didn’t tell people, “You’re going to do everything in BIM starting tomorrow.” We said, “We’re going to change how we do certain tasks.” Our transition was supported by training and help from our team throughout a project. Having buy-in from firm leadership proved to be essential, too. Support for a major change has to come from the top at the very start.

A: David Butts: For early projects, we took an atypical approach: we didn’t start with simple projects. We took on more complicated projects—the ones everyone said we couldn’t apply BIM to. We started mainly in our water and wastewater treatment group, where you have complexity but also many opportunities for BIM to help improve coordination. Proving that BIM delivered value on water and wastewater projects made it easier to work in other divisions. We won over many people who were skeptical that BIM could make a difference on their projects.



Q: Can you talk more about the importance of buy-in from firm leadership?

A: Howell: When you have BIM as a priority coming from the top, it’s hard to argue against the use of BIM on this project or that project. The firm leader who initiated the move to BIM at Gannett Fleming was very forward-thinking. She realized that to be competitive we couldn’t sit back and wait for BIM to take over the industry; we needed to be at the forefront of BIM use. Firm leaders recognized the importance of not just BIM technology but also integrating BIM into our processes and culture. When we started, integrating BIM into our firm was one of the board of directors’ top goals.

Q: What about clients? How do you present BIM to them?

A: Howell: Part of my job is explaining the value of BIM to our clients. BIM to us is not 3D modeling. BIM is a process. That process includes client interaction as well as project design team interaction. BIM is the hub for project information. We try to put as much information into the model as we can. That sets the stage for utilizing more complete information to do what’s necessary to move the project forward, whether that’s conducting design reviews with the client or coordinating designs.


Q: What advice would you give to a peer trying to help a larger firm transition to BIM?

A: Howell: Be ready to educate people. That doesn’t necessarily mean having lots of classes and talking about BIM all the time. It’s sharing information. For instance, we share articles about getting the most from BIM across the organization. When people log in to their computers, these articles are among the first things people see. You also need to sit down with your firm leadership and make sure you have their support. Explain to them that BIM is much more than a technology or a 3D model. It’s a process that involves new ways of generating and working with project information.

A: Butts: Be patient and have realistic expectations. As we’ve discussed, BIM is a process. You can’t just flip a switch and expect people to suddenly follow a new process. Start by defining goals for BIM adoption, and determine what you want to accomplish at every stage.

Q: What benefits has your firm realized since turning to BIM?

A: Howell: When we started designing our projects as models, we suddenly had one source for project information. You’re streamlining much of the information management process. And you’re improving coordination and collaboration because the whole team knows more about the design as a whole. For instance, you could be working on piping and accessing electrical information as you design. You also can reduce conflicts as you design. This more built-in coordination process probably has been the biggest timesaver for us as a firm. We’re now looking at how we can get even more out of the model. What else can we do with this information? What tasks are we still doing outside of the BIM process? We recently started conducting smoke and fire studies that use the building model as a starting point. It’s exciting to keep pushing our capabilities forward.

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