Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about building information modeling.

What is BIM?

Building information modeling (BIM) can be viewed from a micro and macro standpoint. First, it refers to 3-D design system technology that enables a fully coordinated design to be developed while also incorporating clash detection capabilities.

From a macro standpoint, BIM refers to the capability the owner, designer, contractor and other consultants have to share project information. All involved can access information for their part of the project without recreating data. This enables an integrated project delivery (IPD) approach. The design and construction team are joined in a mutual effort to plan the project together, unlike the traditional design-bid-build method. BIM methodology requires a change in the approach to risk management and liability issues.

What are the benefits of using BIM?

BIM allows early collaboration and integration of the design information in a 3-D environment, and clashetection programs are widely used in the early stages to eliminate potential issues that would be costly to rectify in the field.

All parties involved benefit. Designers can identify and correct design issues before they result in rework and schedule delays. Contractors have more reliable information and can better plan for equipment use and construction sequencing. Owners can "walk" the project in a 3-D environment during the design. And facility managers can pinpoint ergonomic issues and plan maintenance activities more efficiently by sharing the model with their vendors and contractors.

BIM will only benefit users if it leads to improved design, faster delivery, reduced price or improved value. A combination of these factors will dictate how successful BIM implementation will be in the coming years.

What are the challenges of using BIM?

Some risks must be understood when using BIM in its current development state.

One of the fundamental shortcomings right now is that some details only have 2-D properties. When quantities are extracted and an extensive validation process is required, it reduces efficiency and accuracy.

The major challenge that we face moving forward is getting the industry to embrace BIM and understand that some investment is required to realize the future potential. Everyone must contribute, but the benefits may not be recognized until later.

The challenges associated with BIM are similar to the challenges the process engineering industry experienced in the '90s when using Plant Design Management Systems (PDMS). Information from the model will only be useful if it is complete and entered correctly and consistently. Currently, most objects in 3-D models are designed but have no information attached. This reduces the model's value and requires added effort by others to populate the information, and use it to develop their own deliverables.

What are the liabilities associated with using BIM technology?

The contractual process surrounding BIM includes a minefield of terms and conditions that prevents many commercially-aware businesses from engaging in the process. The intellectual property invested in the model and sharing that with others can have significant liability implications for future model use. This differs in each state, and some statute changes will most likely be required to cover liability transfer when contract terms break state law. We anticipate that roles and liabilities will be clarified, allowing the changed transfer of information to proceed.

Who is responsible for model management?

All designers are responsible for their design input (like traditional design).

The whole team is either coordinated through the architect as lead designer or separately contracted directly by the owner.

In an integrated project environment, it is still likely that the lead designer (architect of record) will be responsible for model management, but this could be done by the construction manager or a designated design manager, depending on specific project needs. However, the design responsibility cannot be passed on.


Disciplined designers have historically avoided the issue of model management and coordination. Owners typically assign responsibility to the lead consultant, who is usually the architect by default.

This can also be assigned to the construction manager who provides impartiality in the process and undoubtedly establishes a better understanding of the model prior to engaging with the trade contractors and moving the project into the field.

Who owns the final integrated design?

Ownership, or at least unlimited beneficial use of the model, should ultimately reside with the owner on the basis that he has purchased the product under the designer consultancy agreements. But this is a complicated process.

If the total benefit of the model process surpasses the involvement of the designers and becomes a beneficial tool for the owner, his or her right to unlimited use is essential.


Design ownership for the individual components of the coordinated model (later managed by a central party) would remain with the creator to avoid misuse and liability issues beyond the specific designer's control. A liability waiver usually accompanies this process. The construction manager may retain the coordinated model for further development, trade input and supplementary data import.

The entire processes relating to liability, beneficial use and ownership continues to be a topic of debate during contractual negotiations.

Who has control over the project?

All parties need to develop their deliverables for use by the project manager to advance the work. However, some versions of an IPD anticipate a shared liability for project control, but this will most likely not be embraced fully until the first wave of projects are complete and operational.

Project control is an issue that probably resides outside of the BIM process. The same issue is relevant to any traditional contractual construction agreement. As market sectors and geographical regions gravitate toward implementing the IPD philosophy, the potential exists for shared liability ownership and control.

What is the future of BIM?

The future use of BIM is almost limitless in scope if the whole industry embraces the concept and invests in developing the product's full potential. If a common language (standard coding structure) can be agreed upon that references model objects consistently across all project teams, then learning from one project to the next will be significantly enhanced. This will also generate endless possibilities for information transfer that can be used for other purposes, such as estimating, parametric scheduling, life cycle cost analysis and asset management and depreciation.


Construction Business Owner, September 2011