Eighty-six percent of U.S. and Canadian construction contractors have been using building information modeling (BIM) for three or more years, with almost half of contractors from large and mid-sized companies claiming highly advanced BIM skills.

In facilities-laden sectors like education, it isn’t hard to develop use cases that pay for the investment into BIM, and to plug the return on investment (ROI) calculations that are developed in budget meetings into immediate practice.

Consider, for instance, BIM modeling that is able to simulate buildings before they are built, and circumvent drawerfuls of old facilities drawings that maintenance technicians must reference when they effect repairs or make building modifications. At the click of a mouse, BIM can display a proposed building project by providing detailed views of spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, and quantities and properties of building components. These simulations can factor in energy savings and green or sustainability initiatives that will contribute to future operating cost savings. And for the maintenance technicians who work on these resulting structures, BIM can reveal other maintenance issues in the same building, enabling all service requests to be completed in a single trip,which again saves time and money.

Nevertheless, adopting BIM in your shop so you can take full advantage of its benefits is not an overnight phenomenon.

Most firms begin without resident BIM experts—either on their construction or their IT sides of the house. They make an expensive investment into a BIM system, and then realize that they still have to figure out how to integrate this new way of construction visualization and project execution with old and entrenched building design and execution methodologies and older “legacy” systems of information that must also be integrated with the new BIM software so that BIM gets all of the informational inputs it requires.

In very large projects, hundreds of suppliers and subcontractors can be involved. If BIM is to provide a single and holistic view of the end to end project, all of these different entities (and their project-related information) must also be on-boarded into the BIM system.

Finally, there is inevitable resistance to change. The decision to adopt BIM must come from the top of the organization, and the executive and middle management teams must continually promote BIM internally as well as in the field, where project managers operate more independently and could prefer other methods of project management and execution.

For these reasons, the BIM implementations that are most successful, far-reaching and profitable for firms feature gradual BIM adoption that starts with small and controllable projects first--with plenty of attention to employee training and interpersonal dynamics and acceptance of revised work processes. These same organizations use a change management methodology to assist their employees in making transitions to new ways of doing things, and they might even resort to some organizational restructuring if that is what is required for the new collaborative construction visualization and execution processes that cut across operational units which formerly functioned more independently of each other.

Is the effort and investment worth it?

Skanska USA Building and Turner Construction Company built the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and the new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey using BIM.
“I think we build very well, but there’s a lot of great stuff going on innovation-wise that we have to look at and we are,” said James Barett, Regional Manager of Virtual Construction Technologies for Turner Construction. “There’s just an explosion of interest in BIM and we’ve tried to cut through some of the hype and say ‘what can we do right now? What’s tangible? What’s real? What can we do that will produce a measurable result?” We’re still trying to separate the wheat from the chafe so to speak. We consider Yankee Stadium one of our “first-generation” BIM projects. This is first generation in the sense that we had all trades working from the model.”

Both Turner and Skanska acknowledged that there were many project “pain points” as subcontractors struggled to work with the BIM system—but that the long term benefits of BIM in cost and effort savings were worth it.

“It’s definitely easier to see the efficiencies that are gained by BIM because everything is on such a bigger scale,” said Brian Tigue, Director of Project Controls for Skanska. “So if you tweak something just a little bit times X number of square feet, that’s where you really see the benefits….We always use the analogy of missing a washer on one of the seats – just one little detail. Well, that’s 82,500 seats that you missed this detail on. That turns into a big problem. The scale of a big job like a stadium really allows you to see those measurables.”