Closer look: BIM users report 300 percent-500 percent ROI

Sahely Mukerji
December 13, 2008

A majority of the numerous workshops and seminars at this year’s Ecobuild & AEC-ST Fall conference centered around Building Information Modeling. The conference took place at the Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., Dec. 8-11. The exhibit ran Dec. 10-11.

 "BIM is a dynamic architectural model as a database," said Ryan Ghere, Onuma Inc., Los Angeles. "And the database is great to predict, control and calculate costs. Building owners, architects and contractors are the main stakeholders."

According to McGraw-Hill Construction's Building Information Modeling SmartMarket Report released Dec. 2, 2008, 45 percent of users in 2008 reported that they are utilizing BIM tools at moderate levels or higher. This year, 62 percent of BIM users will use it on more than 30 percent of their projects; and 45 percent of all current adopters will advance to become heavy BIM users, using it on at least 60 percent of projects, up from 35 percent in 2008.

The report also shows that companies tracking BIM value metrics are reporting 300 percent to 500 percent returns on investment through improved project outcomes, better communication, enhanced productivity, and a positive impact on winning projects.

Solving conflicts at the front end
BIM is a frontloaded process, said Dianne Davis, president, AEC Infosystems Inc., Baltimore, and a speaker at Ecobuild. "Right at the beginning of a project, you can capture the specs. Knowledge about the outcome of a project is at the front end; the schematic information to build that outcome follows."

There is 57 percent waste in the current construction, amounting to nearly $400 billion annually, said Deke Smith, executive director, buildingSMART alliance, during the Greenbelt, Md.-based National Fenestration Rating Council's Fall Meeting in November 2008. "This is the result of people doing things that simply don’t need to be done. BIM software can find potential conflicts before any building actually starts, saving time and money."

The buildingSMART alliance is a council of the National Institute of Building Science. Its goal is to get the business' processes in place to support BIM. Smith noted a project that was slated to take 15 months but was completed in seven months using BIM.

BIM is lean thinking, eco-centric and project-centric, Davis said. "In the BIM process, there's rapid prototyping to get decisional models," she said. "Construction drawings come out of these decisional models. "In a paper-centric world, constructions drawings happen at the end of the information capture. In BIM, 30 percent waste factor in designing is eliminated."

A project team finished 35 jobs in six months with BIM. Each one of those 35 jobs would take 10 months to complete without BIM, said Kimon G. Onuma, president, Onuma Inc., and a speaker at Ecobuild.

Self-documenting decision process
The BIM process is similar to the travel Web site Expedia's self-documenting decision process, Davis said. "I input my destination, dates of travel and how much I'm willing to pay, and bam, I have a ticket. I don't need to know the complex system that works behind."
Onuma agreed. "In Expedia, you're not asked how much fuel you'd like in the plane. You're only asked for information relevant to you.”

"Create simple Web-based interface for easy use, give each employee her own interface and ask them to fill in their own data,” Onuma said. “The complex model building will happen behind the interfaces." Each employee in an organization has her own niche and the BIM process is an enabler to each employee and their own data, he said.

BIM allows collaboration within the model environment, Davis said. "You can go into a model and input your information, there's no need to share files representative of information," she said. "There are tools now that allow multiple people to go into a BIM model, check in, check out, much like a Google doc."

Open standard format in BIM allows users to open it from their level of expertise and need with different tools, Onuma said. "A data set needs to be independent and verifiable by various sources," he said. "The information is not owned by any one person; the collaborators can own their own data."

Lifecycle decision tool
BIM can be used for facility life cycle. Blueprints of a building are often tossed out after it's built, Ghere said. "So, if something goes wrong with that building, somebody needs to come back in and do an as-built assessment."

"As an architect/engineer, you want your specs to be inventoried," Onuma said. "Enter data once, use it many times. Re-purpose data, don't re-create." Information about a building should be accessible to everyone: facility managers, emergency services, engineers, architects, contractors, the public. "COBIE's [Construction Operations Building Information Exchange] goal is to flow the data from the early stages of a building down to facility management."

Glazing side
According to the McGraw-Hill report, architects are the heaviest users of BIM with 43 percent using it on more than 60 percent of their projects, and contractors are the lightest users with 45 percent using it on less than 15 percent of projects and 23 percent on more than 60 percent of projects.

Glazing contractors are not an exception. Other than a few big names, such as Kawneer, not many glass companies are using BIM. That could be because nobody in the industry quite knows what to do with BIM, said Valerie Block, senior marketing specialist, DuPont Building Innovations, Wilmington, Del., at a BIM session in Glassbuild America 2008. "We need to be told what steps to take to embrace BIM. They listen to the presentation and leave not knowing what to do. They understand this is coming, but they don’t know what to do next.

It’s not that hard, Smith said, anyone can purchase BIM software and probably be reasonably successful. The key to success, however, is learning more about what NFRC does and then implement that into BIM, he said.

"The fenestration industry needs to work together to ensure that all the performance characteristics--energy, security, structural--are categorized and communicated in a standardized manner to the architectural community,” said Kerry Haglund, research fellow, Center for Sustainable Building Research, University of Minnesota, and a speaker at Ecobuild. “How NFRC and other organizations gather and document the performance information that is necessary to make BIM modelers effective relative to glazing is a key issue.”

The glazing community will need to learn about BIM and get on the ball real soon because "[BIM's] implementation into this industry is not a question of if, but when," said Richard Vories, CEO, Consulting Collaborative, Dallas, during a BIM session during GlassBuild America 2008.


E-mail Sahely Mukerji, senior editor, at