BIM for the Terrified Contractor

BIM-for-terrified_imageWith recent technological advancements over the past decade, especially regarding Building Information Modelling (BIM), many companies globally have acknowledged this trend and have joined the radical paradigm shift of adopting BIM.

For the Contractor, BIM presents huge challenges and opportunities, particularly in the area of estimating and quantity take-off. We have already observed the many capabilities of BIM tools automatically generating quantity take-offs and measurements directly from a digital drawing of a building, a process that, traditionally, is very time consuming for quantity surveyors and is often referred to as the ‘brain drain’ in measuring. Even so, there are still many contractors out there who are unaware of what BIM really is and what it has to offer the industry.

I am of the opinion that much of the automated quantification effort is worthless if the third party data on the working project is inadequate. Day-to-day monitoring of quantities and costs is useless without the actual knowledge of what is important at a given moment. This is often the fundamental responsibility of a quantity surveyor in a contractors environment who needs hands-on knowledge of how the forecasted quantities were achieved in order to have an accurate anticipation of actual versus allowable quantities.

According to a recent report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).A number of key challenges globally in BIM estimating have been identified with the Standard Method of Measurement (SMM) and when applying the New Rules of Measurement (NRM) when preparing cost estimates. Even though NRM1 was developed as the standard measurement rule to guide the quantification of building works for preparation of order of cost estimates and elemental cost plans (BCIS, 2009; RICS, 2012), it does not specify a standard pricing format when extracting quantities from a digital plan.

From my recent research on BIM in South Africa, it was interesting to learn that Group Five Engineering and Construction are one of the contractors that have started to invest heavily with BIM tools and processes available on the market. But what has happened to the rest? Can we point fingers at the software vendors in South Africa who are not implementing BIM tools or are contractors too busy to research BIM and understand new ways of working? Personally I think it is the latter and all too often hear from contractors, “Why fix something that’s not broken.”

Group Five Engineering and Construction are one of the contractors that have started to invest heavily with BIM tools and processes available on the market But what has happened to the rest?

For all the noise and mandates on BIM around the world, nobody is going to force a person or company to adopt Building Information Modelling (BIM) locally – not yet anyway. If they want to, they can just carry on as usual and tune out from all the jargon, but what will happen if BIM is not embraced and how will processes affect contractors who are not staying ahead of their game?

When others around the workplace start to talk about or adopt BIM in certain ways, only then will those slow to adopt sit up and take note. Much like the smartphone market today, while everybody talks about downloading new apps and using extended smartphone features, one might feel comfortable in being part of that discourse, even though one does not own a smartphone, because one feels sufficiently abreast of technology by being able to make calls and send text messages. But this is a comfortable illusion. The same will happen with BIM; competitors will start producing notably better tenders, doing faster take-offs, more accurate tenders and managing information more quickly and efficiently.

Many contractor employees tend to be shielded or controlled by the organisations they work for and often the software they use is outdated or is not BIM compliant. Unfortunately, the consequences of failing to embrace BIM could well be more dire for the organisation than for the individual.

Construction estimating software is designed to help estimators and quantity surveyors to engineer bills of quantities and to manage and track the costs related to a project regardless of BIM being used or not. All too often we tend to find contractors operating on different estimating software packages to professional quantity surveyors firms, which sometimes makes it difficult to compare apples with apples. Data is all too often then shared among various parties on the project using either Excel spreadsheets or formats such as .csv or XML files. Typically, all estimating applications focus on helping create accurate bills of quantities and tender proposals, but also help users track the actual monthly valuation quantities and costs associated with resources used on the projects, i.e. materials, labour, overheads and sub-contractors. Some systems go even further by assisting in managing other aspects of the job, like barchart scheduling, cash flow, budget forecasting and materials breakdown.

All too often we tend to find contractor firms operating on different estimating software packages to professional quantity surveyors firms, which sometimes makes it difficult to compare apples with apples.

The transition for most companies to adopt BIM processes or even to attempt to select the correct software solutions is a difficult task, especially when many companies are not aware of the various industry systems available on the market today.  All too often the choice of software for the company is made either by executives only interested in the reporting side or by influential individuals who are ardent fans of a particular software tool and who may fear losing control by advancing onto new and improved technology. These individuals are often responsible for a lack of progress towards new processes like BIM.

The option for deployment of new alternative software systems can also be due to the substantial increase in software and hardware costs. Companies have also refrained from looking at upgrading to improved solutions during the downturn in the economy.


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2 replies
  1. Henk says:

    Thank you Vaughan!
    Great description of terrifying circumstances with perfect opportunity for the brave.

    I could just add that the local construction industry is running next to this “bicycle”, that is called BIM, and the first construction company that learns to ride the bike will take the market like Samsung took the market from Nokia!

    Nokia CEO saying:
    “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”


    Henk Booysen

  2. Vaughan Harris says:

    Thanks Henk, cant agree with you more. That bicycle is better descibed as a treadmill. By the time these laggards understand and try to jump on at full pace, they will inevitably see an embarassing face plant or another just another great case study where traditional versus advanced.

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