Getting a BIM Rap: Why Implementations Fail, and What You Can Do About It

This Viewpoint article is by Josh Oakley, a BIM consultant, who argues that BIM is not just about software, but rather about organizational change that is  wrenching and disruptive, which means that people and processes are far more important than technology. It is sure to resonate with many AEC professionals who are attempting to implement BIM in their firms.


11 thoughts on “Getting a BIM Rap: Why Implementations Fail, and What You Can Do About It

  1. Given the pervasive change implicit in a BIM implementation, and the many shadings of BIM, it only stands to reason that phased and selective application of BIM stands a better chance for success. It is good to see that emphasized from time to time, as this article does. It is little “soft” about how to deal with the “soft” issues during the transition period, but its message is no less valid for that. Thanks to Mr. Oakley for his insights.

  2. Decades ago, I came into construction from implementing IT systems. Josh’s article rings very true. Software companies always emphasize the cost of the software and typically ignore the (usually significant) cost of implementation. I would only add that on the design side a good BIM may require more detail (or rather, finer detail) than is customarily included in a “drawing”. The graphic was excellent, worth at least 2.5k words.

  3. What would you say if in an organization trying to implement BIM, the culture is such that people are frequently switching from project to project?

  4. Francis:

    That’s a great question. A culture of people frequently switching projects is the norm in our industry. This is why it’s so important to approach BIM implementation as a Change Management exercise, not just software and training. We must prepare and plan for the people and process changes that come with BIM technology to truly tap it’s full value. After all software is easy. It (usually) does what you tell it to do. People are difficult. People have feelings, fears, hopes, habits, personalities, etc. For example, an organization might create initiatives to address these changes such as Education, Operations, Marketing, Pilot Projects, etc. Each of these initiatives would create strategy and planning for different aspects of BIM at the organizational level. Drilling down further, the Education initiative might address how to create a baseline level of BIM knowledge throughout the organization. Not just for power users, for the executives, the project managers, the business development group, even the office managers. Only then, when BIM becomes a part of the cultural DNA of an organization does it transcend project personnel and assignments. People and process – first and most.

  5. I’m going to be direct. As a student that has researched “new advances” in the construction industry, such as BIM, IPD, and the like, why have these seemingly innovative means failed? What is the real problem they are trying to solve? Also, if “people are first,” how can their needs be met/taken care of?

  6. I had to have a laugh at the opening paragraphs which reminded me of our 1st foray into the North American market in 2003. I was parachuted into a high rise project in Toronto by the client to oversee the advanced use of 3D (it wasn’t called BIM then) on the project. The main contractors superintendant had exactly the same reaction, but when we didn’t go away it got to the stage where he advised me he would stick me in the concrete unless I showed him some benefit. That we did by doing all his concrete pour take-offs down to the extra strength balconies including all the voids for a slab HVAC system. It saved around 15% waste in concrete, which went to the bottom line and his bonus, one way to get a guy on your side. Josh makes some good points about ownership and education, which are key to any management implementation strategy and BIM is no different, just another tool to improve on project delivery in a world where everyone wants more for less!

  7. Your characterization of a site super is a pure fiction, a simple-minded charicature.

    Successful supers are savvy enough to understand the value of technical advances, and are ALWAYS willing to save time, money, and hassle (else they would not be successful)- but if you surprise one like your fiction proposes, in a room full of stakeholders, you will have been deeply disrespectful of his mountain of responsibility, and he will be right to stop you. If on the other hand, you make an appointment to meet with him one-on-one, (and you bring the coffee), then you show him some of the benefits of using Navisworks to coordinate the trades, he will be far more likely to listen and think about a new process. Also, if you have him speak with another site super who has already adopted a new process with your product, he will be much more amenable to giving it a try.

    It’s the same with selling any technical advance in construction – act respectful of the status quo (even if you don’t feel that respect), be accommodating (schedule the demo for after hours), and give references. Just because you have slick new software doesn’t mean you can dismiss years of practical experience.

    I’ve been using Revit MEP for 4 years full time, and the truth is that this slick new software is written by some very flawed people, whose main offense is that they have completely ignored many years of practical experience, built up by over two decades of AutoCAD development, experience that we the customers paid for (“It’ll work in the next release, just send us another $2,500 per seat!”)

    Successful supers don’t get that way by jumping on every new hotness that wanders onto the site – and if you want to be successful in selling your concept, your software, or your services, you will take that under advisement.

  8. When we talk about challenges of organisational changes concerning BIM implementation, we realize that with so much of confusion regarding the scope and conceptualization of BIM, doesn’t it become necessary first to clarify what BIM is actually? What can be the scope of BIM that will defines our requirements to achieve the functionality needed in developing the BIM model? As Josh mentioned, BIM is much more than a technology, the question arises what we want from BIM to do for us? Are we considering BIM to model our building information or we want it to achieve seamless integration of our projects lifecycles, supply chains, disciplines, processes and tools? BIM scope and vision, therefore, can prove to be quite expandable. As Josh pointed out, we need to stop for a bit, take a breath and then move forward in a measurable manner.

  9. plawton:

    Thanks for your honest feedback. I can see how that opening paragraph may have gotten under your skin. I’ve had the privilege to work closely with some amazing superintendents. My intent, though it may have been poorly executed, was in fact to “stick up” for the superintendent. You see that scenario actually happened, I was there. And I’ve seen similar stories play out in organizations all over the country. When I say “The superintendent isn’t to blame; in fact most of us would have had the same reaction” I’m agreeing with several comments you make. I’m arguing that we shouldn’t jump on BIM like some “new hotness” but rather leadership should create and implement a change management strategy that allows the organization to bring everyone (including the superintendent) on board the right way. Possibly even using some of the tactics you suggest.

    I hope you take a moment to re-read the article. The main idea of the article, “that people and process are far more important that technology,” supports almost every frustration you mention above.

  10. Not in practice yet. We are still wrapping up some of the details. I will say that there is no dynamic link yet and the group all agrees that we don’t see the technology capable of doing that at this point. What we’re talking about at this point is simply how to get the data to transfer with the least amount of effort possible. We are focusing on coordinates, units, site plan, surfaces and utilities. Essentially, the coordinates work out as long as REVIT uses shared coordinates with the site survey. Units take care of themselves so no more scaling by 12 when I bring in a building model. Building comes in right into place using the import site model in C3D. The site plan is an issue. REVIT does not have the capabilities or tools to design a site plan. Architects that insist on designing the site plan still use AutoCAD and then send that to the Civil Engineer. We then build our site model and then export to AutoCAD for them then to bring into REVIT to verify grade. This works well for what it’s worth. Utilities are kinda nice. We bring in a REVIT MEP model using the site model import and then we can tie our pipe network directly to it using snaps. The MEP pipe has a centerline through the pipe that is snappable. We then export to AutoCAD and then REVIT can see our pipe network. After talking with my Autodesk rep for our region (David Kubala), there is no better workflow than that right now. If you have any suggestions that we can try, I’m open to trying it and discussing with the group.

  11. Josh Oakley doesn’t mention what age the superintendent was but I’m assuming he was earning a living before computers came on the scene and, having lived without them, perhaps felt that the new software wasn’t necessary to getting the job done. I’m not defending him here, merely trying to work out why he was so resistant to the idea of using the software in the first place. If a single person can have so much control over the uptake of new procedures, then people, certainly, are more important than technology and processes even.

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