Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Blog: Extreme Collaboration

Promoting BIM and the Dangers of Overselling
by Andy MacPhillimy
Morris Architects, Houston

Does you firm need more work, more backlog? Are your markets more competitive than ever before?

In the various markets for architectural and engineering consulting services, competition has gotten very tight. Many firm qualifications and selling points look very similar. To achieve a competitive advantage, firms continue to seek unique ways to differentiate themselves and stand out. The advent of Building Information Modeling, for those firms who are early adopters, has given these firms just such an opportunity.
About 10 years ago, the growing interest and awareness of sustainable design and the LEED rating system gave firms a similar opportunity. Many firms geared up by getting their staff LEED accredited and by developing their “green design” knowledge and skills. When they took this to their clients, they were disappointed to find a very skeptical reception. Selling clients on sustainability was difficult as most saw green design as too touchy-feely and too costly, with benefits difficult to validate or appreciate. It has taken a while to reach that tipping point where clients and building owners recognized the market benefits and understood the economics of sustainable design. Now there is wide acceptance and adoption of green and sustainable design across many markets. Sustainable design knowledge and skills are fairly widespread and no longer serve as a strong differentiator for firms.

Selling BIM to clients in this early stage of adoption has met similar skepticism and produces comments like: “OK, as long as it doesn’t cost me more” or “I don’t care how you do it, I still want my record drawings in DWG files!” But with the benefits being easy to understand-- and it is fairly straightforward to demonstrate economic benefit to the client-- willingness to accept BIM’s use will likely be much swifter… and herein lies the danger to the consultants and contractors sharing their BIM knowledge and skills with clients – the potential to unduly raise expectations and oversell BIM.

For those enlightened firms and individuals who have gained knowledge of BIM (and a clear vision of where BIM will lead the consulting professions and the AEC industry), it is easy to want to share that knowledge with each other and with our perspective clients. In an earlier blog, we discussed “lonely BIM” and “social BIM.” Though BIM benefits the lone adopter, the benefits multiply tremendously as we begin to share the models, completing class detections, allowing real-time coordination, the opportunity for continuous tack-offs and estimating, constructability reviews, early visualizations and more….

When you reach that magical moment and see the future that BIM will create, you want it to be here now. But that day is not here yet. There are many technical gaps, legal canyons, or huge entrenched processes that will challenge this ultimate BIM world of our future. When we share our own firm's capabilities and paint this marvelous future that BIM will bring, we need to control client expectations. Once our clients hear of the great successes- or claims of successes by comrades or competitors on other projects - such as zero field changes due to mechanical equipment clashes, or a dramatic reduction in RFI’s, or reduced schedule and costs of change orders due to both the previous items….clients are going to rapidly move from skeptic to believer and expect…or maybe demand these same results.

There are also software vendors selling their product capabilities to not only the consultant world; they are also selling BIM’s capabilities to major clients in an effort to get them to demand that their consultant teams ramp up and produce their projects in BIM. Their desire to sell product similarly leads to the tendency to sell the strong points and leave out the remaining challenges facing full and effective adoption.

The potential challenge is that they are not familiar with impact of BIM on the design process, as well as implications on timing for decision making. They have heard the promise of BIM from each hopeful consultant. Yet, they have not yet begun to change their own internal thinking to relate to the current state of capability in the industry in general, and the particular group of consultants and contractors that serve them.

If you are lucky enough to be an early adopter and have now developed great internal BIM skills, have an increasing community of consultants and contractors that share these skills - it will only benefit you and the industry to go out and tout BIM and its great promise to clients and the AEC industry. But remember to take time to properly frame the status of the industries’ adoption and properly set expectations. Take time to let the client know the current state of capabilities, the challenges ahead, what the industry is doing to meet those challenges, and most importantly, help the client understand how BIM can ultimately help them better meet their business goals and what particular steps and approach are appropriate for them to participate in the continuing adoption of Building Information Modeling!

Look for our future posts: we're working on upcoming installments, including:

· BIM coordination with Subcontractors
· Model Ownership
· BIM and Architecture Schools
· The Pain of your First BIM Project

We'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts. If we get some good stories, we'll add them to our posts. If you have topic ideas, we can address those. Contact Andy MacPhillimy or Christof Spieler at: or

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