Understand how implementing BIM workflows can grow your construction business.

The word "building" is a funny word.  I can practically guarantee your initial understanding of it is the physical assembly of parts that you work on 200+ days a year-which is the noun form of the word. But the word "building" is also a verb meaning the act of assembling.  These are two related but different definitions that we use on a daily basis. Another industry term that has both a noun and verb definition is Building Information Modeling (BIM).

Like the word "building," the term "BIM" has multiple meanings, and both "building" and "BIM" initially imply the noun. I believe we have over-emphasized the noun definition of BIM by dwelling on the creation of a BIM model, file, rendering or other output without focusing on the process of the BIM workflow.

Don't get me wrong. I am excited about the idea of a set of digital files that allow us to view a highly detailed and complex building from any visual or data-oriented perspective.  A single (perhaps distributed) model that can be used for visualization, documentation, analysis, simulation, construction management and operations is the final goal, which industry and academia have been pointing us to for decades.

However, the models have been built and continue to be built at a growing pace, and construction business owners ask themselves and industry experts: "What do we do with the BIM model now that we have it?"  The approach is backwards.  Owners should begin by looking for problems to solve as opposed to justifying using a BIM model.  Start by identifying problems and improving current processes by employing BIM-centric workflows.  Without understanding the many benefits of implementing BIM workflows (the verb), the adoption of BIM will be unnecessarily delayed, and you, your team, company, project and client will fail to realize the benefits.

The Benefits for the Construction Company Owner

You are an owner of a construction company in the midst of the worst economic hardship this industry has seen in generations. You are leading your company at a time when competition is fierce-5 to 10 times the number of bidders for projects compared to a couple of years ago.  Margins are squeezed by the need to compete on price-and in some markets, you have seen projects where BIM and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) are required.

For those of you who have adopted BIM and VDC, congratulations! You can skip ahead to the next section. You are likely already seeing some return on your investment as you improve both speed and accuracy of pre-construction workflows.  Perhaps your BIM-enabled business lends itself to automation, and you have connected BIM data to fabrication.  If so, you are likely producing higher quality deliverables due to the comfort, safety and predictability of a factory approach to component pre-assembly.

Or, you have taken BIM to the field and you have automated worklists, punchlists, materials management and more with a connection to the BIM model.  With your BIM/VDC experience, you are able to promote your services more aggressively by bidding on projects that once seemed out of reach.  BIM allows you to manage some of your ongoing processes and deliver new and improved work products as well.  You and your client have more visibility into the project, resulting in a well-informed and long-term client.  You are weathering the economic crisis and possibly even growing.

Perhaps these BIM benefits sound attractive but do not yet describe your construction business. If you fall into the category of "not yet adopted BIM," it is not too late.  Despite the message you might have heard, BIM has not passed you by yet.  There are wide ranges of resources to help you determine how to implement BIM workflows that benefit you.

The Benefits for the Construction Business Team

As business owners and leaders, your passion and motivation are attributed to more than just a paycheck.  You likely have a long tenure and deep interest in the company's lasting success.  You want to work with people who your passion. This requires creating an environment where team members feel they are on a winning team.

BIM, by its very nature, is a team effort, and winning companies adopt BIM processes. Today's successful construction companies are BIM-centric companies.  These companies have been forced to evolve or sometimes create new methods and workflows as BIM best practices are a moving target.  Recognizing there is still a lack of standards in many areas of BIM, some teams have developed best practices and work processes that address interoperability and collaboration.

These teams have impressive metrics and statistics, which they present at industry events and publish in industry publications.  Some of these teams are those you have seen in "best-in-class" lists, while others are companies you have not heard of until this year.  Now, you see these companies contributing to newsworthy construction projects and mentioned in case studies and articles about BIM.  Regardless of your familiarity with the company, these are the organizations that have positioned themselves for the future, and they are the teams your players want to emulate.

The Benefits for the Construction Project and Client

 

 

Twenty to 40 percent of unemployment figures are attributed to segments of the design and construction industry.  Industry analysts predict that commercial construction will begin to stabilize somewhere in the third to fourth quarter of 2011 and then begin a slow assent in what the economists are labeling "the new normal." Given this, those companies that design, build and deliver most efficiently in the end will reap the rewards of an ever smaller but growing market.

Many of the owners who have continued to build during the past two years are requiring BIM data and processes as part of their contracts.  They do not all have a clear understanding of what BIM means, and they might not have an immediate use for the data modeled and delivered.  But they understand, at an ever-growing pace, receiving a "digital double" will help them in a wide range of owner-specific business processes.  For some, the vision of the model applies to facilities management, others asset tracking, and others lease management or property and tax purposes.  Your ability to work and contribute to the BIM workflows and models creation helps you serve your clients' various uses of BIM.

Some of the most innovative uses of BIM for owners come from the retail industry.  Crate&Barrel and Target, two distinctly different retailers, recently presented their perspective and uses of BIM data.  Originating at building design, BIM is used by brand management to ensure the design meets corporate standards.  Target's brand is more recognizable, while Crate & Barrel's brand is less obvious but arguably delivers a stronger architectural statement.  Throughout design and into construction, BIM models are created, aggregated and analyzed, improving both the owner's ability to manage the project and ensure the doors are ready to open ahead of schedule and under budget.  As stores are reconfigured, merchandising models are created demonstrating optimal signage, product positioning and store traffic flow.

Are these two companies the "standard of practice," or are have they risen above the average, and are they setting the standard for the future?

Regardless of the answer, they are using BIM to serve their business needs.  Their needs are generally unrelated to often discussed BIM purposes such as clash detection, construction sequencing or quantity take-offs.  These clients, and many others, use BIM to manage, differentiate and grow their companies.  BIM is a strategic element of their success.

As the owner of a construction business, you must position yourself to serve your clients in creative and profitable ways.  Adopting BIM and promoting your BIM expertise will allow you to move beyond business as usual and win projects in which the client expectations exceed your competitors' ability to deliver.

Your company serves your clients by improving the processes, shortening the cycles, uncovering issues early and removing the risk of delays and overruns.  You can deliver these benefits to your clients with BIM.

The Benefits for the Construction Industry

There have been 493,000 scholarly articles published on the declining rate of the U.S. construction industry-15,000 were published in 2010 and 400 were specific to BIM.  Enough has been written with plenty of suggestions for improvement.   One might wonder how something so well understood remains so unproductive.

We know we work in an industry of great fragmentation where similar information is exchanged, processed, massaged and delivered.  Drawings are re-drawn, lists are re-entered, quantities are re-counted and materials are ripped out and replaced unnecessarily.  These examples of unproductive workflows are all contributors to declining productivity.  An acceptance of new workflows that contribute to the individual, the team, the company and the client's typical and specific business goals is needed. This can be found in BIM. 
BIM is certainly not the solution to all that ills the construction industry, but many of the BIM workflows do address many elements of the unproductive environment.

BIM can also be more to the industry than workflows, differentiators and career-advancing techniques.  It can be part of the "brand" that the construction industry conveys.  Modeling, virtual design & construction, laser scanning, animating, pre-fabricating and more-these are the things that attract the next generation of workers.  We are in an industry that we love, many representing the third or fourth generation in their family business.  It is important that the Construction Industry attract the best and brightest of all generations. We are at an exciting time in the building industry.  Some are taking a wait and see approach.  Some of us are doing more than waiting-we are instead experimenting and pushing our teams, our industry and ourselves.

Construction Business Owner, January 2011