Buying BIM Software is about more than the Box

I have been hard on BIM software vendors in my previous posts and I think its time to throw them a bone. I have made some broad sweeping statements that are aimed at the BIM software industry at large but there are many software vendors that stand out as exceptions. These are software companies that are working hard to bring new and interesting products and tools that are going to solve the problems of tomorrow and they all have one thing in common: they listen and adjust.

The software vendors that really listen to what I tell them and adjust their products accordingly are the ones I want to work with. The Contractor-Vendor relationship is a two way street that when done correctly ends up doing a substantial amount of good for both parties. Software vendors get products that are better because when they listen to feedback from actual users they end up creating products that solve actual problems their clients face. Contractors get products that actually solve their problems and usually get it a little earlier than their competitors. And the Industry just gets better. With almost no down side I can't figure out why, in the construction industry, we are so bad at this.

Contractors still think that buying their software should be no different than going to Best Buy and picking it off the shelf. The only considerations given to the software are "Does it do what I want it to?", "Does it fit my budget?", and "Does it work on my network?". This is reflected in the ridiculously small amount of money spent by construction companies on R&D. Why spend time and money on unknown results when you have such a small criteria for what you need?

This type of thinking is what holds this industry back. I am writing this to help inform people that contractors relationships with their software vendors is much more valuable then the software itself. Don't get me wrong, I want good, functioning software. But we spend so much time trying to make software products work for us that don't quite match our needs. With a little bit of effort we can stop wasting enormous amounts of time with workarounds and start making sure the products we buy work for us. And that is just the start. I have gained so much from regular contact with software vendors that I really don't know where to start. But I think making a comparison would help explain it best.

One example of something similar is the contractor relationship with engineered forming system vendors. I have heard many stories of success and failure with choosing the right formwork system. In the last century construction companies have been made or broken based on the decision to use one forming system over another. I would bet that for the most part the companies that succeeded treated their vendors as more than just suppliers of a commodity. Many construction companies poured money into the research and development of these systems. This was done because contractors understood that advancements in the technology that we use to build is a necessity.

I would like to propose the idea that contractors relationships with software vendors at this stage is very similar. The choices we make in software and how we integrate them with our processes will make or break construction companies in the next century. Those that want to come out on top will need to make the proper relationships with their software vendors in order to really understand how to make informed decisions.

And that brings me back to the software vendors. ALL SOFTWARE VENDORS PLEASE TAKE NOTE. In the last paragraph, I wrote "integrate them with our processes". Construction has been around for a very long time. Individuals that are good at it are good for a reason. Our processes work. With BIM there have been many software companies that think up "better" processes in construction that (amazingly) happen to work perfectly with their software. I'm going to make this clear right now. You don't know how to build. You need to listen and adjust. Because there are many formwork systems that are not around any more either.

4 Comments

  1. Keith I'll say you are a bit misguided in saying 3D models are not compatible with traditional processes. First, that is the same line of BS software providers feed everyone when they don't understand fully the problems they are solving. Second, let us take the low hanging fruit of 3D coordination; do you mean to tell me this is a large divergence from 2D coordination? The tools changed sure but the process is pretty much the same. Thirdly, yes every job changes with BIM it gains efficiencies and reduces waste but the process generally remain the same because that was not where the inefficiencies lie. The inefficiencies result from tools, for example I can frame a house with a finishing hammer but it is not as efficient as a framing hammer. Once you understand the process then you can apply the tools that work best or if need be modify or create new tools.

  2. Knowing what problems you have, identifying potential solutions, developing the concepts & supporting technology and being able to implement different ways of working are all different things.
    Nobody develops an industry specific solution without the deep involvement with members of that industry.
    Contractors never dreamed of BIM – it came as a consequence of 3D modelling and required a departure from traditional processes. It also required much risky & speculative work by committed software developers.
    Besides, nobody argues that contractors have been doing it wrong, only that the industry way has been wasteful inefficient.
    3D models are not compatible with traditional processes, nor is Location Based Flowline Scheduling compatible with task-based CPM.
    You have said it yourself – every job changes with BIM.
    Keith James UK

  3. I am not against new processes in construction. Nor am I against new processes that use or are biased around new software. What I take issue with is software companies and academics coming up with new processes, building a software to fit, and then telling contractors they've been doing it wrong. The ones that will drive a paradigm shift will be contractors themselves because they are they only ones that understand the problems that need to be solved. Everyone else is just slowing things down.

  4. Anonymous

    Connor.
    There are usually 2 sides to arguments. Allow me to put the alternate:
    The processes that the Construction Industry operates are in place because they have been developed & proven over time … BUT they are also a product of a manual, fragmented, information poor & grossly inefficient industry.

    Making new systems backwards compatible with existing ones is a burden but it is also, of course, essential.
    However there are instances where a paradigm shift is the only way and the people that are brave enough to drive this type of efficiency improvement should be applauded as they have an uphill, but sometimes very worthy, battle.
    Keith James, UK

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