Thursday, July 16, 2015

An open request to the author of the article: ’How Building Information Modeling Saved One University $10 Million’ – Please substantiate your claim!

There’s been a great little ‘article’ circling the web recently, claiming ‘How Building Information Modeling Saved One University $10 Million’.

I managed to ignore the item for a while – must have subconsciously filtered out the headline with dozens of others, on how one person became rich by… or lost a lot of weight by… and other types of ‘easy magic news’ that I’m bombarded with on a daily basis.

For some time I refrained from reading it even as it kept tenaciously popping up on ‘serious’ industry forums and news – though by this stage I could see that it was not a ‘spoof’ but pretending to be a ‘real’ news.
When it started reaching me attached to personal messages – sent by people I know have reasonably sound experience in the field, noting how it validated ‘my work’ as well, I finally felt the need to read it properly and comment on it.

Let me make it clear, I do not question the ability and capability of BIM to save money, time or other resources.
If anything, a well applied BIM could ‘save’ funds for construction clients, contractors or consultants much higher than the 3% quoted here.

I also have no intention to question that everyone involved on the project has done a great job either; we are talking Portland, Oregon, after all.

However, in spite of its scientific look, this writing is nothing but an infomercial for a series of BIM related tools and consultants. And not that great at that, either.

The tools and processes are described in a clumsy, exaggerated and superficial way, staying at a pretty safe ‘high level’ definitions, while the end results of the same processes quoted are surprisingly specific, sometimes down to two decimals.
The author uses ‘design’ and ‘construction related documentation’ interchangeably, mixes up tools with approaches and vice versa, ‘confidently’ summarizes what BIM ‘is’ in a couple of sentences, gives us a no-fail ‘How to save millions’ recipe and tops it all off, with the ‘Lesson learned: The machines have won’.

‘C’mon – no harm done really’ – tell me my friends and fellow BIM enthusiasts.
‘Hold back the vitriol, all publicity is good publicity for BIM. Good for the cause’.
But is it really?

Is there no danger in letting unchallenged articles like this spread over the global BIM networks?
Quantifying supposed ‘Realized savings with BIM’ packaged under sensational headlines?
Junky Data on BIM to feed the BIM junkie in you?

One can say it could be funny if it was not quite sad – and dangerous – today it is a shallow article, tomorrow it turns into a ‘proven’ case-study in a BIM Handbook, the day after, it morphs into something a mandated requirement is based for everyone. (UKBIM anyone?)

I ask the author to expand on the story. Apart from expecting a thoroughly explained conclusion on the savings as well as the statement, that the machines had won, here are some further questions that could be raised to make this effort of redoing the article worthwhile:

Who ‘pocketed’ the supposed savings? The client? Did it go back to their Building-funds to be used on their subsequent projects? Or was it not a ‘real’ saving after all – i.e. it would have been additional cost, had the super-duper BIM not been implemented? How would that additional cost been justified then? Especially if ‘normal’ approaches were used.
The architects talk ‘billable hours’ – were these hours already quoted for (and contracted to do) or left for change orders to claim later?
Were the savings shared across the board of all participants? Equally or based on a particular key?
Had the consultants been selected on the basis of this, projected saving and their capability to deliver on it?
Was the budget set ‘realistically’ in the first place or overinflated?
Were the savings part of the contingencies, that by their nature could be spent or saved?
Were there NO variations claimed by the contractor due to poor, inadequate documentation or had they been already deducted from the ‘savings’?

I also have hundreds of ‘what if’ scenarios I could throw in the pot… what if different procurement method was used, could the savings had grown? Or would they have shrunk?
If not Autodesk was the main supplier of the tools but a competing company with their own (possibly better) products? If there was more (or less rain) that year? If the team was more or less competent?

These are all ‘guesswork’ questions, some pure speculation.
After all, most building projects are speculative endeavors. A budget is guessed – lots of processes, scientific, technical and less so, take place over some time (months, years, decades), wheeling and dealing sets the tone of the project and keeps it throughout – some people do some pretend work and others some real, some companies come out of it in black, others end up in red.
The process concludes in a building that more or less fulfills the needs and requirements set up at the beginning.

BIM has a place in the process described above and if used well, can benefit one, two or more (but rarely all) the parties involved.
Exploring its impact on a project is a worthwhile exercise from whatever angle it is done from.
But making off-hand claims that are dubious to say the least, is reckless and can potentially hurt the entire industry.