9 Tips for Making Your Firm’s Transition to BIM as Smooth as Possible

Building information modeling (BIM) is becoming increasingly popular, but deciding to make the switch is only the first step toward effective BIM use.

Over the past decade, global BIM adoption rates have skyrocketed. In 2007, about 17% of North American contractors were utilizing BIM software in their construction projects — by 2012, that number had risen to 70%. In the UK, recent survey findings suggest that 97% of firms will be using BIM within the next five years.

However, as more firms recognize BIM’s value and move to integrate it into their workflows, they’re discovering it’s not always an easy transition. BIM’s capabilities are wide ranging and the software is incredibly powerful and complex; however, without a proper understanding of the technology and how to implement it correctly, you run the risk of missing out on potential value and even hindering operational efficiency. At VIATechnik, we emphasize the importance of a tripartite approach in which people, process, and technology are all valued equally.

Without these three vital pillars in place, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to realize BIM’s true potential. Here are a few tips that can help guide you down the path to successful adoption, implementation, and ultimately, real value.

1. Do Your Homework

More likely than not, your decision to embrace BIM stems from a fair amount of research, but that research shouldn’t end now that the decision’s been made. It’s important to know what your firm is getting into before your transition begins, especially with respect to how BIM will impact your team’s existing workflows. For instance, certain details have to be worked out much earlier in BIM designs than in many traditionally 2D models. Accommodating these kinds of workflow adjustments requires a shift in employee mindset, and as a key decision-maker, it’s your responsibility to lay the groundwork for these adjustments early on.

2. Encourage Employee Buy

People tend to be wary of what they don’t know or understand, so it’s essential to communicate the value of BIM to each member of your team from the get-go. Furthermore, a successful transition to BIM depends as much on their enthusiasm and personal investment as it does on their general awareness. As such, you should make a point of emphasizing how BIM will positively impact each employee, in addition to how it will benefit the firm as a whole.

3. Expanding Your Team and Capabilities

Of course, a successful BIM program depends in large part upon your team’s comfort with your chosen solution. Many companies believe that they’ll be able to implement a BIM program by simply hiring a single BIM engineer; unfortunately, it’s not that simple. BIM software is incredibly versatile and, therefore, requires a wide variety of skillsets in order for its value to become fully realized. For example, the skills involved in leading BIM coordination are different than those that go into creating a 3D model; the person who is doing an on-site laser scan will likely have a different set of skills than the person registering the point cloud, as will the person translating the point cloud into a BIM environment. If you hire one person thinking they’ll be able to do it all, the reality is that you’re setting that person up for failure. Your team will need to grow to support your BIM program, and you may need to augment your capabilities with external resources and partners.

4. Accept the Need for Technical Upgrades

BIM software is capable of remarkable things, but compared to standard CAD platforms, its baseline operating requirements are much more demanding. As a result, it’s likely that your firm will need to invest in some significant hardware upgrades in order to accommodate the new software. What’s more, BIM is still a fairly young design approach, meaning it will continue to develop in the near future. Consequently, it’s probably a good idea to spring for hardware that is a step above “sufficient” so that you’ll be prepared when BIM software becomes more powerful — and even more demanding.

5. Develop a Game Plan for Implementation

Once you’ve built the foundation of an effective BIM protocol, getting your team on board, preparing your staff, and upgrading your equipment, it’s helpful to draw up a plan for how your firm is actually going to put BIM into action. Not unlike constructing a building, a BIM implementation plan involves a good deal of precise scheduling and attention to detail. Each firm has its own contingencies that impact the character of its rollout, but regardless of your specifics, every step of your BIM implementation should be carefully planned out ahead of time. At its core, BIM is about increasing efficiency, and an ad hoc, “let’s see what happens” rollout will likely undermine its ability to generate value.

6. Experiment with a Pilot Project

For most firms, full-scale BIM implementation is probably not an optimal first step. Instead, consider creating a pilot project that will enable your team to work out the kinks that come with adopting a new design approach. By expanding BIM utilization over time, you minimize the risk of technical-hiccups and growing pains derailing your ability to deliver for existing and new clients while you get your program up to speed.

7. Track Performance to Increase Value Over Time

In order to generate a solid ROI on your BIM strategy in the long term, you’ll need to set some concrete goals and then build an analytical framework to measure your progress towards achieving those objectives. Pick a few key metrics (e.g. impact on project timelines, downstream rework reduction, etc.) that will truly distinguish a successful strategy from one that falls short and then make sure your team is tracking against those throughout the lifespan of a project.

8. Emphasize Collaboration

BIM is widely recognized as a powerful rendering, scheduling, and estimating tool, but people often forget about — or at least underemphasize — its capacity to facilitate collaboration and integrative design processes. The full value of BIM isn’t realized unless architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and any other project stakeholders actively collaborate on a single model.

9. Strive for Innovation (But Walk, Don’t Run)

Since BIM is still an evolving technology, there are plenty of opportunities to get creative and discover new ways to deliver more value and capabilities to your clients. That said, make sure you adopt new technologies at a manageable pace, and in such a way that serves the ultimate goals of your business. Sure, everyone is excited about VDC tech, but if you’re still struggling with MEP coordination, you probably shouldn’t be pouring all of your resources into augmented reality. Strive for innovation, but understand where you are on the technology adoption curve and make smart investments that are helpful, not harmful to your BIM program’s maturation.

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