Moderator Scott Shuster debates BIM's strengths and weaknesses with panelists at
Construction for Technology conference
(Photo by Elaine Silver ENR)
Starting in October, when fiscal year 2006 begins, all AEC firms dealing with theGeneral Services Administration

The event, chaired by ENR consulting editor and event moderator Scott Shuster, began with a nine-person panel discussion mining the realities and challenges of BIM–the 3 and 4D building models embedded with detailed specific information about a construction project. It is, arguably, a technology that is poised to change the way projects are built and the way the project players related to each other. The panel included representatives from three of the major BIM vendors, Autodesk, Bentley Systems and Graphisoft as well as successful BIM users and BIM skeptics.

Hagen threw out his challenge to the construction industry by saying that his organization is not looking for new a technology, but rather for an efficient way to solve a serious business problem. GSA has $12 billion in active projects. "Too many are not on time and not on budget," Hagen said. Mark Dietrich, an architect with Burt Hill Kosar Rittleman Associates, Inc. said that BIM addresses the business issue by allowing him to anticipate problems that need to be solved ahead of time.

But Ray Barnard, chief information officer with Fluor Corp. is not quite ready to embrace BIM. Recalling what he calls the "ERP fiasco," Barnard says that without any quantifiable return on investment and without customers saying that they are willing to pay for it, he doesn’t see BIM really taking hold for another six or seven years.

The panel agreed that interoperability loomed large in BIM’s long term success. Huw Roberts, Bentley Systems Director of Global Marketing said that "You’re never going to have our project on any one platform but that the access to the information is the fundamental factor to the long term success of BIM." A recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) put annual inadequate interoperability costs at $15.8 billion per year in the United States capital facility industry.

The other major factor is the interaction between the team members. Amar Hanspal, vice-president of building collaboration systems at Autodesk predicts that BIM will follow project collaboration systems which, he says "Is growing 40-50% each year."

The real value of BIM, says contractor Jim Bedrick, director of systems integration at Webcor Builders is the ability to collaborate between architect, builder and major subcontractors, leading to better value for the owner. He sees the BIM model as having long term implications for the owner’s ability to operate and maintain the facility after the construction hand-off. Detailed modeling gives the owner easy access to critical building information. Hagan would like to see the AEC community create added value for the owner by specifically building a BIM model just for operations and maintenance purposes.

Following the BIM panel, construction industry research Martin Fischer, director of Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) confirmed with hard data that utilizing 3D and 4D modeling at the appropriate early stages in the design and construction process results in significant building efficiencies and cost savings. For example, he cited in one project, "usable square footage increased 20% in the same building footprint because of better modeling.

In the final session, three chief information officers talked about their placed in their company’s hierarchies and how they get their jobs done under the microscope of cost conscious directors and low construction profit margins. Each of the three works for very different types of companies yet had similar philosophies that concentrated on finding value for their companies using technology.

"Our use of technology is now viewed as strategic to growth," said Patrick Thompson, CIO of the Shaw Group. Thompson was brought into Shaw three years ago to help align and consolidate Shaw’s many new acquisitions’ technologies. He succeeded in reducing costs by $60 million dollars. At the EMCOR Group, CIO Joe Puglisi said he balances new technology needs and costs by requiring the users to provide data that the new acquisition will reduce costs and create more business. Angelo Privetera, CIO of HDR Inc. says he is careful to put a project management system in place to train the people who will support a new IT project. He says, "People still don’t know how to fully use Outlook, something that’s been on their desks for years."

will have to include a building information model (BIM) as part of their work proposal. Stephen Hagan, who heads�GSA's Project Knowledge Center,�said, as he started off the provocative first topic, "To BIM or not to BIM: Owners, Contractors, Engineers and Architects Discuss the Software That Could Change Our Industry" at Hanley-Wood�s new Technology for Construction Executive Forum in Las Vegas on January 18, 2005.