Lessons in Building Information Modeling Adoption
February 25, 2010

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been the topic of many presentations, articles and discussions over the past few years. While the concept saw much interest and excitement early on, some of that soon waned as critics and skeptics saw the technology as, perhaps, ahead of its time. However, for Scott Simpson, FAIA, LEED AP, senior director of architectural firm Kling-Stubbins, BIM is not a way of business; it is the way of business. Simpson, whose firm began using BIM in 2003, lead a discussion this afternoon about the subject and used his firm's experiences and actual projects as the basis of the discussion.

"We've used BIM in all its manifestations," Simpson said, this includes visualization, simulation, coordination of the documents and quantification of what's inside the building. "We remain convinced that this is a fundamentally different way of doing business, a fundamentally way of doing design, and, most importantly, a way of linking up all the brainpower of all the team members it takes to do a job successfully."

Simpson described BIM as the connective tissue that allows everybody to communicate his or her information and input from a common platform.

"It's everyone working together … developing ideas on a common project. This changes the sociology of design," said Simpson. "From design to documentation to fabrication and installation, the BIM system allows us to do all these things from one platform of information."

One advantage of BIM, according to Simpson, is that it helps improve communication. He explained that for many years architects and engineers "tortured their clients and tortured the construction industry by asking them to interpret our intent through the means of plans, section, and elevations … in our abstract, mystical language of how we communicate design intent." However, with BIM, "we can show the 3-D implications of the design decisions-the colors, the surfaces, the materials, the light … we can simulate how the acoustics will perform … how much things will cost, how they will look, feel behave, etc.," said Simpson. "This is an incredibly powerful tool for us to make our clients true partners in the design process. I am a big believer that the more brainpower you get involved in the design process the better it's going to be."

Working with BIM requires a new way of behaving and approaching design, so there are some behavioral barriers that must be overcome.

"When we get successful at doing something we get comfortable doing things the same way over and over," said Simpson. "BIM challenges that because it gives us ways of doing things differently."

Likewise, he pointed out that with any new process or technology there are always early adopters and skeptics; both are important.

"You need the early adopters to try new things out, but you need the skeptics to push back and say 'Wait a minute. Maybe not so fast. It isn't working quite right.' So, you need a very active dialogue and you have to be brave enough to have those dialogues between the early adopters and the skeptics. If the whole industry is going to move in this direction we have to pay attention to the skeptics and help them understand the value of it."

He continued, "With BIM we have the opportunity to behave differently; to share ideas and be less concerned about authorship, less concerned about ownership and more concerned about collaborative effort, and about outcome; less concerned about protecting our backsides and be more open to different ways of risk management."

Simpson explained that when the project team is working to make decisions together and everyone is working collaboratively to make those decisions it's very hard later on to blame someone for their mistakes because everyone is making the same mistake at the same time.

There are also some technical barriers that have to be accounted for. These can include the cost of the equipment, hardware and software, as well as training.

"It takes time and energy to learn this stuff. It took our firm about seven to ten months for everyone to get into it and have everyone trained and then another year or so before everyone was fully conversant," said Simpson. "But then, everyone was really excited about it. After a short amount of time, once we all became converts, BIM became like breathing to us. It's what we do and how we do business."

Simpson also shared some of what he views as "the brave new world of BIM." This includes seeing every project [industry wide] being done on BIM; the whole process becoming like a video game design with everyone together working around one work space for a true collaborative effort; all documentation being done in 3-D and 4-D formats; all projects being done in a year or less; a world with no change orders.

"I can see a lot of exciting things happening," Simpson said.

Looking ahead, he added, "As we come out of this recession, tomorrow's success will not look like yesterday's success. It will be a different way of doing business and the smart firms will take these new tools and procedures and come out of this recession with a whole new business model."

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