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"The Business of BIM" reviews business challenges, benefits of BIM adoption

“The Business of BIM,” a panel discussion on the business advantages of integrating Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, drew a sizable audience of architects, engineers, subcontractors and construction managers on September 30 to the Seaport Hotel. Presented by the BSA and AGC (Associated General Contractors) of Massachusetts, and sponsored by Zurich, the dialogue stretched the conversation far beyond the basics of BIM 101 to examine a range of tangible benefits experienced. The verdict: Owners will see the biggest advantages from BIM, and those professionals providing design, construction, and facility operations and maintenance services will experience measureable benefits as new standards emerge and some of the open questions on BIM adoption are resolved.

Moderator Anthony Governanti of Service Point USA set the stage for the BIM discussion, presenting an overview of the economic challenges facing the construction industry.  Increasing competition, a pressure from owners “to do more with less,” and evolving developments in the areas of lean construction, sustainable design and innovation technology are combining to drive new thinking about the process and past conventions about building.

Traditional workflows in design and construction, with a focus on producing drawings and creating multiple files and formats, create risks and reduce a team’s ability to make changes late in the design phase, Governanti said. He showed in his graphic of the construction process that BIM integration provides an improved ability to affect cost, particularly once construction documents are produced. “The technology allows us to shift design changes and testing to earlier in the project timeline,” he explained.

Rebecca McWilliams AIA, LEED AP, BIM manager at Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, described how the use of BIM signals the end of the “silo culture” in construction. In assessing the business benefits, she contrasted the level of leadership on BIM adoption with the return experienced. “Owners have the highest expected benefits,” she said, “while surprisingly having the lowest level of industry leadership.” By contrast, designers are leading the way to industry adoption, while seeing a very low benefit. Contractors are also seeing a high level of benefits, as are specialized subcontractors.

McWilliams showed recent projects, including Wellesley High School, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Quincy High School, where BIM use helped reduce requests for information (RFIs) and improve coordination. She recommended that teams work to manage expectations of BIM—what it can provide and what that requires of the team, while assigning “ownership” of key issues and tasks. She cautioned that BIM adoption will take longer than one might expect and suggested that its benefits will be best seen when it receives top-down support in the form of training and resource investment.

The difficulty in quantifying the benefits and business advantages was a key point, as McWilliams asked how you capture the savings of a crisis avoided. Clash detection, greater collaboration and fewer changes are not easy things to put a number on.

Andy Deschenes, regional director of virtual design and construction at Skanska, presented case examples of BIM projects: the Harvard Law School Northwest Corner Project and the Springfield Data Center for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After Skanska built the model for Harvard Law School, the team was able to identify preferred options, including a below-grade parking garage, and incorporate the cost into the project budget. The advantages of using BIM on the project included fewer change orders, better coordination among disciplines and reduced project contingency. “Better solutions could be reached for the owner,” he said, “especially with regard to managing late changes.”

Deschenes discussed the lessons learned on BIM project applications. Although it’s beneficial to detect design and system clashes early in the process, just knowing about them doesn’t fix the problem. “Better tools and technology [don’t] replace knowledge and experience,” he said. He advised firms to train and use the people they currently have and trust—the experience factor—rather than hire dedicated BIM specialists. “We still have a lot to figure out with BIM, so find the people willing to work this way and help them be successful by providing the support, tools and training required.”

Maureen McDonough, director of program administration for Harvard Capital Planning and Project Management, described how owners are all striving to achieve an improved delivery process but are not yet sure of how to establish standards and requirements for BIM use. “Many of us are working now to figure out the opportunities and applications, and to know what to ask of our design and construction teams,” she said.

Her advice to the audience: Don’t tell an owner what it is we need; try to understand the needs by asking questions. Tailor the BIM solution to meet those expressed needs. “Owners have little expertise and knowledge of BIM applications,” she explained. “We know we should be driving this but need to have more information and objective advice from our design and construction partners.”

A sense of humor and an appreciation for the infinite possibilities of teamwork define Mike Reilly’s approach to his leadership of Reilly Communications. His communications and public relations career in the design, technology, construction and environmental-science sectors has produced measurable sales growth, numerous awards and strong brand positioning for his employers and clients.