Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Statement 1: All things being equal, the addition of a BIM-approach would be beneficial to any AEC project and for any party participating in it; True or False?

This statement and accompanying question originates from my observation that the majority of authors writing/talking on BIM these days spend very little time/effort in presenting robust evidence on the results of BIM , rather, they tend to jump into the ‘thick of it’, focusing on the ‘how-s’ and ‘what-with-s’.

You ask almost anyone nowadays associated with BIM about the ‘proof that BIM ‘works’’ and a high number of them will brush the question aside with the notion that it is a ‘no-question’ at all.
As if somehow – definitely unbeknown to me - it had become a universal truth, that ‘BIM – works, full stop’.
Few would even ask in return for me to define ‘works’ in the original question or offer any qualifiers starting with ‘it depends….’.
No, BIM: works.

As part of a research* project, I recently I set out to explore two highly influential BIM publications.
I’m still progressing through this process, nevertheless the first impression is that they are not much better than the rest of mainstream BIM practitioners, especially when it comes to providing evidence, that BIM ‘works’.

This of course can be explained by the facts that one (The Book**) is a Handbook to BIM, (so if you do not believe that it works, why bother reading it) while the other (The Report**) takes its terms of reference to consider the benefits of BIM, in relation to the end-client, the UK Government, literarily.
Still, I would have thought that, for their own peace of mind, they’d start with the ‘what’s and the ‘why’s.

The Report is a bit more specific when laying down the foundation to its recommendations:
“We have already demonstrated very significant savings derived from adopting the BIM approach”
The authors may have set limitations to the size they wanted their document to be and thus elected for these proofs not get into print.

Well, here is an opportunity to correct this omission; I invite them to release data that will support in a scientifically acceptable manner their claims on those ‘significant savings’.
Indisputable observations collected over a significant, large number of examples, peer-reviewed by independent experts will suffice, just saying instead, that it ‘makes sense’, will not.

In contrast to these authors I, on the other hand, am prepared to put on record that I know of no evidence available that BIM ‘universally’ works.
I will also state, that a party, however genuinely attempting to up-skill to BIM will by no means be guaranteed any more success in their endeavours than an equivalent one that chooses not to.
This applies (unfortunately) not just to individuals within the industry but companies, small and large and all construction clients, including mega-clients, like governments.

Frankly, there are still too many ‘other’ methods available for any party to achieve ‘success’ in AEC –the term ‘success’ covering rewards both of financial and non-monetary nature.
Most of the ‘other methods’ are simpler, more established and definitely less expensive than getting a ‘working BIM’ off the ground.

Be that a new building gained for less than what’s ought to cost, for a client, a not-deserved payment received for being unjustifiable late, for a contractor, or a bonus for an incomplete, cheaply done, outsourced design produced by a consultant.
Any combinations of these phenomena are happening all the time across the industry and the fact that the perpetrators will more often than not get away unharmed, gives no incentive to others to work ‘better’.

Therefore I, for example would never be heard stating that ‘BIM works’, nor that ‘Applying BIM will save you money’. Not without a lot of qualifiers and specifics explained. Those nasty little ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, of course make the subject too complicated and difficult to digest, so most BIM-authors tend to ignore them in favour of simplicity.

Apart from the quest for simplicity, those that are prepared to accept the lack of evidence of BIM’s effectiveness may argue, that it is in the interest of the ‘public good’ to do so, especially if one acts for the government. Or, that only by jumping over the ‘current messy reality’ of the industry at can we build foundations for a better future.

Nevertheless, you cannot ignore the context BIM is used-or contemplated to be used in, no matter how small or large a project is, nor the type/shape/size of the entity that is considering trialling it.
No matter how well-meaning their reasoning might be, I see those that do it acting in a patronising and dangerous manner. It can’t be neither in the public nor the industry’s interest to be deceived by those they treat as their experts. 

It is also disingenuous to ignore the fact that the global AEC industry operates by allowing widespread speculative pricing, awards jobs to those that undercut others knowingly, tolerates if not outright encourages bluffing and manipulation, makes up for losses with claims and through arbitrations.

A major emphasis must be put onto evidence when promoting BIM, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’; otherwise, as more and more industry participants jump on its bandwagon, uninformed and with inflated expectations, another statement will soon become the ‘universal truth’: BIM does not work!

I invite interested parties to comment on the statement from the title and support their stand with evidence.

Supplementary questions to Statement 1:
·         Does BIM truly ‘work’ universally and if yes, what evidence is there to support this?
·         If it does it not, are we wasting a lot of time and money trying to make it work? Is there evidence to support this viewpoint?
·         Could BIM possibly be a ‘fickle beast’ that will work for some entities at some times but not others and its effectiveness is highly influenced by myriad of external conditions?

** BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors authored by a group of experts led by Charles Eastman, the other The report for the
Government Construction Client Group Building Information Modelling (BIM) Working Party