May 24, 2012


What should a client look for when considering a collaborative BIM team project? And what risks could lie ahead that you can mitigate early in your project setup.

A developer considering using BIM technology on their upcoming project is doing so much more than just adopting new technology in their design process. They are fundamentally changing the way their design team will work together, and therefore must select their team in this knowledge, choosing those who will drive the most out of every stage of the BIM process.

As with all new technology, an unrealistically high expectation of what it can do may lead to disappointment, so the following suggestions should assist in ‘keeping it real’:

Firstly, be clear what you want the BIM model for.

BIM can enhance and streamline many of the steps in the development cycle. It can speed authority approvals when they review a design in 3D and understand how it works. It can quickly produce renders and images for sales and marketing relatively effortlessly. It can streamline the costing and feasibility calculations for a project if the building is correctly elementally modeled. It can deliver a set of coordinated consultant’s documents without clashes for reduced time and cost during construction. And it can provide a comprehensive model for Facilities Management that can be used by the asset owners and managers over the whole lifecycle of a building to manage the building (although this is still rare). But you simply might not require all of these outputs. Remember that increasingly sophisticated modeling represents greater time commitment and therefore greater costs – which may not be warranted for your project.

Is your team adequate for your project?

If your BIM project expectations are moderate – perhaps not requiring a fully coordinated architectural / structural / services model, it may be that members of your current consultant team are suitable. However, if your design is partially progressed or your consultant team is already appointed without BIM collaboration in their scope, you will find it difficult and ineffective to try and restructure the delivery. There seems little point coaxing a team of already-engaged consultants to use technology that they are unfamiliar with or struggling to implement.

Whilst 3D modeling is easy – collaborative BIM is hard.

Consultants that have fully implemented BIM within their own discipline are aware of the efficiency benefits to their own business, and will need no encouragement. However, be aware that BIM collaboration between consultants is more difficult to achieve, as it requires the open transfer of valuable Intellectual Property between consultants, and trusting that the other team member’s organization is up to scratch. Good consultants working closely together will bring efficiencies to the client, but a poorly-performing consultant in the mix will cost everyone time and money.

Select your collaborative team carefully.

If intelligent 3D modeling is a part of your design and delivery criteria, the selection of your design and construction team will be more important than ever. As with conventional projects, your team’s skillsets establish the framework for the project workflow. Look for those that understand how BIM is executed, collaboration managed, and data exchanged. Those with actual collaborative BIM experience are rarer than you might expect, and remember that the leaders in the field will look after your interests as well.

Check individual consultant competence.

Each player on your team needs to be selected for their experience in design as well as their in-house implementation of intelligent 3D modeling. It is important to look below the surface of the “We can do BIM” statement. Do they start 3D modeling from the earliest concept design stage? How long has their company been fully 3D, and how compatible is their software with industry partners? What levels of training and auditing of models does their organization engage in, and who do they collaborate with regularly?

Get 3rd party consultant references.

We strongly suggest clients should speak with others that have engaged or managed consultants in a collaborative BIM team environment to understand their experience. Get up-to-date information, as an individual consultant’s skill level can alter quickly.

Get a consultant’s BIM Model checked

Don’t just trust what someone says – be aware that a consultant’s model can be quickly checked and audited by a competent Quantity Surveyor (using CostX), who in less than 10 minutes will know whether it has been built correctly and is useful for cost estimating purposes.

Check that your consultant team is compatible.

Without laboring the point, the compatibility of your team is absolutely critical to ensure you are one of the developers that reap the benefits of BIM, and are not funding an inexperienced teams’ learning curve. A good team already has protocols for collaboration and most will have worked together previously. Seek this information out by interviewing key players.

Who will be the Lead Consultant or Model Manager?

We hear much discussion through the industry about the growing need for a BIM Manager for collaborative projects using BIM. This makes sense. The lead designer or principal architect often has the key role of setting up the model, and can then work with the client to decide if there is a need for a specifically appointed model manager.

One integrated model or many?

Fully integrated projects where all consultants are working from the one model are still rare. The more usual arrangement is a series of ‘2-way collaborations’ between team members where they transfer models for coordination, but retain ownership. In some teams there has been debate over who ends up owning the project models that are developed by a number of different parties. This is a question of intellectual property and data ownership. The copyright and IP laws surrounding BIM are still being debated and new contractual arrangements are emerging from legal advisers.

A client who requires a single integrated model will need to have addressed all these issues so they can advise and lead the consultant team.

Setting the BIM Project into Action

Then, once you have appointed your team, your project needs to be mobilized with the commitment from all parties in hand. We recommend the development of a project strategy document that outlines the vision, purpose and objectives of the project, the goals of the BIM application, and the benefits this project will strive to achieve using BIM.

As a client, you have a key role to play in encouraging and adopting BIM on construction projects. By understanding the things you should know above, we hope it gives you greater confidence to take the steps towards realizing BIM’s benefits on your projects.

Next week’s blog will look at where we believe the future drivers and direction of this technology revolution will be.