B.I.M. Who Picks Up The Tab? By Michael Avramides, A.I.A


Michael Avramides, A. I . A. 1. 2011

Three colleagues walk into a bar: an Owner, a Contractor and an Architect. The Owner orders something quick and practical as time is of the essence.  The Contractor negotiates separately with two different bartenders to gets the best drink for the cheapest price.  And the Architect is worried about the design firm’s liability in the event that the other two end up incapacitated.

Of course I’m only kidding.  We are not like these fictitious stereotypes in a cheap joke.  But in real life, how expensive is Building information Modeling (BIM) for the design and construction industry and who should pay for BIM?  As with most things in life, it depends on how each player benefits.  If there is value, say in saving dollars, or demonstrable efficiency.

Let’s look deeper into each group realizing that we all fit in somewhere between the optimist and the pragmatist; the person running with that “gut feeling” or like our sister state Missouri would insist, having the “show-me” approach.

At one end we have Owners who have decided that BIM is the way to move forward, knowing that BIM is not a panacea and they may even encounter other acronyms along the way, such as COLs (Curves of Learning) or even LOMs (Law of Murphy’s). Meanwhile their colleagues, the “second-mover” strategists, are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how the numbers really add up.  Who’s right?  They both are.  The optimistic Owner may be paying a premium to have a new project BIM’ed (adding a virtual notch on his virtual belt) but will see the design/construction cycle compressed, and the skeptics can learn on, clearly ignoring inflation, someone else’s nickel.  They, too, will (eventually) benefit.

Architects are similarly disposed to sometimes accept and sometimes avoid risk.  The more adventuresome have already made the investment, and in fact, there is evidence to suggest that hardware, software, training and other BIM requisites are not the imposing costs associated with BIM projects.  BIM is a tool that requires skill and talent in order to be used successfully, however the real costs are not for gearing up a design office.  Historically, managing the design process ate up the design fee.  This has not changed, and similarly the expense is not in creating electronic data, but managing the data.

As designers we’d also like to assume that you can charge a premium for providing this service.  For now we

probably can, but the marketplace has a way of taking perceived premiums, turning them into competitive advantages and finally settling on what we will all consider normal (and expected) business practices.  Regardless, take comfort in the indisputable fact that efficiency will generate profit.  It may happen right away or it may take time, but that’s why Architects are sometimes referred to as planners.  So Architect, plan thyself.  And for those design professionals who are techno-phobes, remember: your like-minded kindred spirits of a couple of decades ago, fearing and never adapting to Computer Aided Design (CAD), were able to push their mechanical pencils (and sometimes their offices) into oblivion.  For the record, no one is asking you to change your thinking, what’s changing is how your thinking gets transformed.  Love it or hate it, in order to be shared, thoughts – even the most brilliant ones — must become digitized.

CONTRACTORS see the fastest return on their BIM investment.  It is not always a given that the designer will provide a BIM model, and even if provided, it may not be everything that a Contractor needs in order to comprehend and undertake the construction process.  Even starting “cold” and using BIM for its fundamental clash detection — previewing physical conflicts between trades — BIM is worth the price of admission.   It then becomes easier to realize how we can adapt these new tools from the old methods and integrate others, like suppliers and subcontractors into an increasingly efficient team.

Now, what goes around comes around.  Not to sound like a Buddhist convert but the BIM model has a reincarnation of sorts for the Owner (please, no hate-mail from Buddhists).  This database, this encyclopedia of the project, can make Ownership easier to manage.  The Facilitates Management discipline can distill highly relevant data from the BIM model.  Did we give Owners another reason to pick up part of the tab?  Yes, and after a few drinks you can try to explain in the best pub tradition of quoting Olde English:  “Ye who benefitith, payeth,” and hope he remembers the next day.

And  by the way if  you do happen to catch me bellying up to the bar, remember, drinks are on me! (really of course, I’m only kidding!).

Michael Avramides is an Architect / BIM Consultant in New York. Please send comments to MCA@Avramides.com

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