Did you pay me for that BIM?

“I don't want to use BIM, what I should have been doing all along, unless I get paid more.”

Believe it or not we have heard these words uttered countless times by designers often followed by as a contractor you get bigger fees, you just don't understand. Or the coup de grace, BIM has a ROI for owners and contractors but barely any ROI for designers.

First why is this important? This is one of the greatest copouts holding BIM back. Owners want design teams to create clear and concise contract documents in a short period of time. This has been going on since we have been designing and constructing buildings. If I had the choice of a gourmet burger of the same quality in 5 minutes or 30 minutes, I know what I would choose. It’s the same with BIM don't come to the table saying you are doing BIM. Then after reviewing the owner's requirements say, “Oh I didn't mean that kind of BIM. There will have to be a fee increase in order to do that.”

Second the economy sucks, yes we said it. Everyone's fees are reduced and that will not change until the economy does. Does that mean we continue the status quo until the economy changes?  We say no. As members of the AEC industry we have a duty to our clients to provide them with the best project for the best value. For those who say BIM cost more and takes more time; we'll go out on a limb and say then you are doing it wrong.

Is there a cost for doing a project in BIM? Yes, there is yet it is no different than the cost a few years ago for doing a project in CADD. Now does this mean we go all out and do every imaginable BIM item on a project? Not in the least. It does mean we use the right tools for the job and push a little further each time. Saying you do BIM is not a differentiator. The saying goes actions speak louder than words. We believe BIM should not be a standalone entity but something which has been integrated into the AEC industries' fabric of work or standard of care, if you will.

We know some are going to read this and say:

“They aren’t talking about me, I do BIM.”

“In order to do BIM I have to spend too much money.”

“Contractors always get the bigger fee and the bigger ROI with BIM, of course they want it.”

We may have touched a nerve but as we always say discourse will eventually lead to the answer. Let us hear your thoughts and together we just may be able to solve the issue. If not that we can always have a cage match like they had at Autodesk University.


  1. If interested in where I am coming from, see my own blog (http://littlebim.blogspot.com/). Post is titled "Where I Come From". It's the third post in as many years. I don't blog much.

    Whatever one calls BIM, or thinks it means, most agree that it is a process involving digital modeling (in the broadest sense), and the storage and manipulation of digital information. Consensus is a little weaker when it comes to the passing, or sharing of model data between entities to avoid duplication of effort. But most are on-board with this premise in principle, at least.

    There is little consensus on who should be responsible for what information, and when and how it should be incorporated in the model(s). That's why smart folks have been working on things like the Model Element Matrix, COBie, SPie, Model Capability Maturity Matrix, USACE M3 for years; to allow for better allocation of responsibility, authority, and reward.

    John's says that he knows what should be modeled, and how, in a model he gets from a designer. He’s not shy about saying that his ideas and theirs had better align. One thing I don't read in his commentary is whether his expectations were ever conveyed to those who did the modeling; whether there wre modeling standards in place, if they were ad hoc, or negotiated.
    Another thing that isn't clear in John's scenario is his (say ABC's) relationship with the model provider (say BCA), and whether BCA was expecting to be asked for a model when they quoted their fee to their client, or whether maybe ABC is actually BCA's client.

    I would understand John's position, and take the same stance he does if
    – The designer was able to quote their fee(s) knowing that they would be working with one or more GC's and one or more subs during design and documentation.
    – The designer knew that the service it was quoting was intended to be collaborative, to what extent, who was to lead the process, and who was expected to contribute what to the joint effort.

    On the other hand, if a designer quotes a fee, develops a billing and phasing schedule, and allots time and labor assuming one range of stipulated services, and later learn of an unanticipated expectation, I think the designer has a perfect right to adjust the terms of the original agreement, or otherwise arrange to be compensated for – yes – additional service.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I doubt that it is common for architects to beg off obligations clearly delineated in their agreements with clients. If I'm right, I have to conclude that John's concern about architects' fees for BIM is the result of clashing expectations after the architects have agreed to do A, B, and C, for $X, and are then also asked to do D, and E with no fee adjustment.

    Perhaps it should go without saying; “Nobody would expect an A/E to perform unaticipated services for free!” But, in fact it happens regularly. This sub or that wants a CAD file. We have learned to anticipate some of that, and now anticipate the time it takes to provide a few as part of our standard service. But we do not price our standard services to include every sub getting a CAD file to their specifications. The fact is, some clients don't want every sub to have a CAD file of their floor plan.

  2. A lot of great comments here, and not as much controversy as one might have anticipated.
    Yes, there are internal benefits for a design team and even the single design firm that uses BIM tools. But, aside from those, I'm not sure how BIG BIM (which includes BIM for construction and BIM for FM, and BIM for a gaggle of other purposes), inherently returns anything but good will and personal satisfaction to the design team. Not that these are valueless, just harder to work into an ROI calculation.

  3. That’s an isolated case, and also isn’t entirely accurate, as all of the independent Districts of the USACE are allowed to stipulate their own “deliverables.” I’ve seen BIM (Bentley/Triforma), BIM (Revit RVT), BIM (Bentley/Triforma built in very specific workflows and rejectable otherwise), BIM (Contractor selected platform with accompanying BIM-E delineating workflow), BIM (IFC acceptable) and of course the venerable (lol) AutoCAD requirement. In my very humble opinion, I would scoff at a mechanism as large as the USACE or the GSA even considering pressuring a company like Adsk to change the way software exports to an antiquated and fundamentally stupid deliverable. I’d much rather they double down their efforts on bringing the lagging districts up to speed, so that more ground is being covered on BIM deliverables than on exporting to old fashioned software.

    It’s hard to comment on “whomever claims to model everything to the highest LOD” without (again) seeing an actual plan that stipulates what that means. I can say with confidence that various parts of our models get completed to LOD 300, and various parts get done to LOD 400 (where LOD 300 and 400 are explained in our BIM-E, which- of course- may mean they are very different from what people assume it means). And therein is the issue: No one knows what *doing BIM* is, until they explain it.

    Anyone saying *everything is modeled* is in an interesting predicament: First- quantifying what *everything* means, and then delineating what *is modeled* means. Component Objects with no 3D geometry are very valuable in the process, although it is debatable whether or not they are *modeled.* Yet, dumbass 3D geometry imported and bypassing the component editor certainly builds a model to a high level of geometric detail, but it’s a data-wasteland of garbage.

    In the end, it’s all hot air. It’s like asking someone what they Benchpress. Once? Ten Times? 8 times? Saying *I do BIM correctly* is like saying *I benchpress*. Thanks for that, I do too. Every time I push myself off the floor after I fall down drinking. Weeeeee! =)

  4. If you pick the appropriate modeling strategy, every project can have success and not break the project budget, even with multiple disciplines. Since there are many various requirements for BIM and required strategies we have found additional value to provide to the customers that do increase the cost but these are specifically identified strategies that are not with every project. In one of my AU Un-conferences “Should we ever stop modeling in Revit”, I was astounded how everyone claimed to model everything. I don’t think it is feasible to model everything to the highest LOD, there must be value for passing data / communication downstream. Everything must be done with wisdom and prudence and part of the PxP.

    The only caveat to that is in the required deliverables, especially in the Federal / USACE market is the required AutoCAD Deliverable. Although the USACE may have requirements / standards outlined (rather late to the ball game I should add) many of the clients still require AutoCAD causing a conflict / chasm that must be crossed. We have had great success showing the BIM values but at the end of the day they require AutoCAD (2004 or later). This can be a big challenge and I think requires attention as the lower end users can't even get Revit let alone Navisworks. We have had some good successes around educating them but its slow moving. The USACE should seriously address compatibility realities or pressure Autodesk the way we have been in making the exports more compatible to the various required standards in the Federal marketplace.

  5. Excellent Points Joe. We actually spent some time trying to get actual metrics of savings, because of BIM Coordination. The results on one job (that we got the best metrics from) were staggering: The Design Team had not worked with BIM, so they documented traditionally. Recognizing the complexity of the job, it was modeled and coordinated in BIM before anyone started work. We had X number of clashes that we found, and resolved. Y was the total number of clashes that actually happened in the field (model ambiguity, whos modeling what, things that got missed had clashes). So X+Y was total issues we would have had, Y was what we actually encountered. There were costs associated with the clashes in Y. There were two major clashes, one clost 17,000 and one cost 4,000. Regardless of that (very important), we decided we could call the "average cost per class" 3,500. Why? Some clashes are free. You move something and it doesnt have a cost. For foundation work (where majority of clashes were on this job) we also had 3 days of added schedule per clash (thats our conservative estimate). We actually had three weeks for these two incidents, but we also acknowledge not every job is as complex as this one. In addition, the time factor isnt one you can multiply, since the teams learn to make up the time by staff alterations, efficiencies in rework, etc. Still, when the number X+Y was considered, an extremely conservative estimate had a 30 day schedule increase.

    When the math shook out, what we felt was our extrmeely conservative cost savings, was 200,000 dollars that would have been change orders and alterations, that we completely avoided.

    By the way, the cost to put together the BIM (including interactions with the design teams plus RFI's for design elements that were geometrical and dimensional impossibilities) was 30,000 dollars.

    Now, thats all on the construction side, of course. But as someone who spent the last 7 years working in Architecture? Ive stopped even trying to explain it to anyone who doesnt agree. After ten minutes of using a Digital Project, OR ArchiCAD, OR Revit Model… If you dont see the immediate gains and benefits to your team… You simply dont want to understand it.

  6. The biggest issue with justifying BIM on the construction side with coordination & clash detection is how to track the savings of these processes. If 50 design problems are caught in the coord./clash process, then they do not impact time, labor, or cost in the field. A value for each of these solutions must be captured and documented. The project leadership must recognize these metrics and support them.
    On the design side of things, BIM creates a design environment where the design can focus on the design, not CAD standards. They can create and allow the BIM enabled software package(s) to manage the grunt work. It still requires attention to proper code application and object definition to meet those codes, but that is the designers responsibility anyway. BIM just gives them a better more robust tools to capture this information and provide a framework to use that data in many ways. Why would anyone want to manually create a door or window schedule instead of building it dynamically from a BIM model, where the schedule is a bi-directional object connected to the model? There are so many other examples of this kind of 'build once, use many times' operation that is core to BIM.
    The more simple way to put this is, we cannot go backward. As designers and construction managers it is our responsibility to serve our clients with the best quality work we can. BIM is a very powerful tool to accomplish that charge.

  7. So much is wrong with this entire conversation, frankly. There is "doing your part in BIM," and then there is managing the BIM process for the betterment of the entire project.

    Frankly, if ANYONE out there is asking for a DESIGN team for a clash-free model at IFC, every designer/architect/engineer/consultant/(heck, even the GC) should walk away from the job immediately. Why?

    I have struggled with the job title "BIM Manager" for a number of years, with the ambiguity and the lack of definitive explanation about what it entails, but here is what ive realized: SOME Design models actually do live on through construction. Portions of your architectural model, for example. But your MEP Engineer and the Structural Engineers model? Unless theyre also producing shop drawings and fab drawings, getting to 100% class free with those models is like saying "I did my four hours of cardio before i ate 145 Hooters Wings." Its just a fail.

    As someone who works/worked in architecture (and not always for a large firm) the benefits to us as designers and architects are MASSIVE, as long as we dont end up in a BIM "process" thats being managed by (frankly) an idiot. The PROCESS definition has to make sense.

    NO ONE can talk about whether or not BIM costs more money, or more up front investment, unless were looking at a specific BIM Implementation Strategy. Who is doing what, when, and in what medium. Only then, is there even a conversation.

    • No need to put the gloves on! This is well said… and I agree with your points. I especially like when you point out the "PROCESS"… it has to make sense and is not a one size fits all.

  8. It’s not more cost. It’s a shift.

    Revit is the tool that most if not all design teams are required to use by the industry to achieve their portion of BIM and meet client’s requests. True there are investment cost involved in the start-up and development of Revit for each firm. That I see as a sunk cost. It’s the cost to play in the game. Just like was said to be true at the shift from board to CAD. But there are real production costs that differ from those previous 2D deliverables.

    In those 2D CAD days gone by the design community did coordinate in three dimensions (mentally, some sketches, and a few sections on the drawings) but only drew in two. The third dimension was fine-tuned and handled during the construction phase. It was accomplished via contractor communication, coordination drawings, change orders, etc. Those efforts were compensated for and included in the construction costs.

    Now with BIM the design community has been asked to include the third dimension….everywhere… something that takes real physical time…at no additional compensation. It really shows up with elements that don’t have set planes. For the most part that’s not the architect and structural elements. It is true for MEP. All the time. Think ceiling space coordination and routing for all ductwork, piping, cable tray, conduit, etc. No set planes and stuff everywhere.

    Can we agree that the design community is now being asked via the BIM process to prove that third dimension? If that is so, shouldn’t then the coordination at the construction phase be greatly reduced or eliminated all together? Shouldn’t then the compensation and duration for that portion of the BIM shift from the construction phase to the design phase?

    • Totally agree. And you're right, MEP guys get screwed the worst–the least-developed software and the most to prove. If the AE team is going to be required to do a bunch of stuff that the construction team used to do, then the fee needs to shift appropriately. Not necessarily more fee to the owner, just redistributed appropriately.

  9. I would have to disagree somewhat. I have studied comments of users for almost 5 years now, and coming from the Revit side, I feel that Architects are quite content with their product (easily more profitable than Autocad users)… structural engineers are comfortable (usually at least break even or show some profit)… but on the MEP side… the only way you can make money is to do it for more than 3 years with an established team AND customize Revit to make it a worthwhile product to use.
    The majority of under-30 user firms in the MEP space will go without any profit or be negative for the first year or longer…. OR produce really crappy quality models that will always have to be re-drawn by a contractor. I don't call that BIM, personally.
    So to assume that everyone should be doing it AND making money at it is a farse.
    Having to re-build the out-of-the-box library from scratch because Autodesk doesn't know why their stuff breaks and causes problems is no simple task. I am doing it for a 2nd time right now.
    There are lots of firms that are over the hump and can be profitable… but to imply that everyone can and should do it is misleading.
    I'd love to be able to charge for the extra time it takes to properly develop Revit…but like most firms will likely give it up to overhead costs and reduce profitability temporarily to have a better chance to win more projects later.

    • Revit is not BIM my friend…. Revit is a software and BIM is a process. This is why you state the struggle above and in that view it would be misleading.

      Just to be clear… "No software is BIM", I don't care what software sales people tell you.

    • Well said Dennis…. As to the mentioned RevitMEP issues, MEP has always lagged behind the Arch product but gets better with each new release. We adopted Revit as our primary BIM authoring tool back in the summer of 2011 and 2012 was the best year we have had in the company’s 28 years, this coming from a 500+ person MEP engineering firm. Take a look at your internal process and workflows, if they haven’t changed from the CADD days then start there. After all “it’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools.”

    • Dennis, although I agree with you that "Revit is not BIM", I assume you agree that if the tools to do something aren't developed, then you probably won't be able to do the job very well. It's like telling someone they're not trying hard enough when they can't drive a nail with a balloon.

      And the cost is definitely a huge factor for smaller firms, at least. Cost of software ($5,000+, as well as nearly $1,000/year subscription cost, if you're using Revit, for example), cost of hardware to run the software, cost to train the team, cost to find new consultants and develop relationships with them if your current consultants aren't on board, cost to develop new office standards and develop program content, etc. This is a huge investment of time, money, and faith, at a time when fees are down. While it's probably a good idea in the long run to get into BIM, it's silly to ignore the shorter-term burdens it imposes.

  10. Speaking as one of the people involved in the cage match at AU, the above minimization of the financial burden vs ROI experienced by designers is really a nonstarter for a frank productive conversation.

    • Cindy, I am just saying that they are "no-brainers". We seem to have a culture that fights simple solutions.

      Also, I wasn't involved in the "Cage Match" you all are referring to, I can make on reference to that.

    • I agree we need to have a productive conversation. Money aside, designers and contractors will have to find a way to work together from very early in the process to make the whole thing work. If the expected deliverable is a "clash free" model at IFC then most design firms are going to have to have contractor input before building the model. BIM is a process but there are lots of tools used to achieve the model itself, the short comings/strengths of the tools (Revit or otherwise)need to be part of the conversation so that our community can push for improvement.

  11. Oh-my friend John!… How right you are again. I am going to have to quite writing that. This is the last time.

    I laugh anymore when I hear some say that they need the owner, contractor, President of the United States to pay for "BIM". This has actually been a great qualifier for me on who is ready to do business and take their BIM PROCESS… yes PROCESS, to the next level.

    Over the years I go into firms killing it with the ROI for using BIM or VDC. I have even been involved with multiple independent studies of the ROI. Funny thing about that, most don't publish their findings. Why would they?… they know there are tons of people saying what you wrote above and they can use this to eat them alive on the next project.

    Think about this; Why do the top stay at the top? I am sure we could come up with all kinds of excuses, trust me I have heard them all. Most I cannot repeat in front of my mother. Or why have we seen these little firms blow up and take over? I have seen this a lot on the Mechanical side.

    I wonder if they are charging more for BIM? Or have they adopted the PROCESS… Yes, I said PROCESS again, which have cut into their contingency?

    We hear people say that it is the culture in this industry… I have even said that. But, is the culture beyond our industry? Look at the Federal Government (I don't care what side you are on), are we serious that we even have to have an argument over paying our bills? Not to throw a political jab in; but think, isn't this the same question? "So you are telling me that you would not want to become more profitable, have a better quality of life, and deliver better results?"

    I could go on… but enough said for now! I probably would have had more time and space if I didn't throw you that complement.

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