Everyone knows about the benefits of building information modeling (BIM): the ability to see problems before they occur, associated time and money savings, long-term intelligence on maintenance and operations. From the media coverage on the topic, and even recent research studies, it would seem that BIM is nearing mainstream adoption.

Although that may be true for the private sector, the public sector is a different story.

Keith Warren, BIM manager for Las Vegas-based VTN Consulting, has been working with the city on a downtown development project for more than two years. Although he has presented the benefits of BIM to other large municipalities – Los Angeles and Chicago, to name two – it hasn’t exactly taken off.

“We haven’t been able to … facilitate that knowledge base and grow it,” he said. “With the economy being in such poor shape, especially for governments, there’s not a lot of extra money to do (these types of) projects.”

However, Warren said it won’t be long before that mindset changes. Although the initial cost of BIM remains high, the return on investment is worth the price tag. The ability to create a living document that can be shared across many different municipal departments is a huge cost-saver, Warren said.

“At the crux of the whole BIM (idea), it’s all about the arrows between the different disciplines: the file sharing,” he said. “As long as you can share those files, make them useable and live, dynamic data, that’s what BIM is for on the infrastructure side.”

A recent report produced by McGraw-Hill Construction, “The Business Value of BIM in North America: Multi-Year Trend Analysis and User Ratings (2007–2012),” said BIM adoption has expanded from 17 percent in 2007 to 71 percent in 2012. That’s significant growth amid an economic downturn. The report found that 67 percent of the high-level users reported “very positive” return on investment and 52 percent of those users experienced increased profits by deploying BIM.

And that has Patrick MacLeamy, CEO of buildingSMART International, a nonprofit organization that advocates for BIM use, making a bold prediction.

“I think there’s going to be a huge shake out. Those who practice the old way are soon going to find themselves without work,” he told the authors of the McGraw-Hill report. “Either change, get with this program, or go out of business.”

Warren said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is at the forefront of BIM adoption. The USACE is using BIM – what it calls CIM, for city infrastructure modeling – to plan, design and analyze military bases. A report from the USACE on CIM is expected in about a year. The General Services Administration (GSA) has also been an advocate of BIM.

The rollout of MAP-21, the federal government’s Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, could provide an additional driver for BIM adoption in the public sector. MAP-21 funds surface transportation programs at more than $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

“Maybe then some other cities will see the value of it too,” Warren said.

One of BIM’s major advantages is its ability to be used by many different industries, professions and municipal departments. Warren predicted that BIM will become more dynamic, as software from different companies is integrated.

Indeed, the McGraw-Hill Construction report cited improved interoperability and functionality of BIM software as the top two BIM improvements all users see as increasing its value.

“I’m hoping that this technology takes off and starts to grow,” Warren said. “There’s a lot of value that we haven’t even tapped into. I know that Autodesk is working really, really hard with some of their products to tie it to databases like Maximum and Oracle. As soon as those things start to plug in together, then the sky’s the limit for what this could be in the future.”