Lessons Learned #29: The Dark Side of BIM

Though still a relatively new practice, Building Information Modeling (BIM) appears to have gained a permanent place in all larger contracts.  In theory, the benefits of adopting BIM technology are significant; work out all conflicts ahead of construction, avoid unnecessary surprises that cause delays, extra costs, and many disputes.  However, as many of you have already experienced, in practice, BIM can introduce many problems that could outweigh its benefits.

For starters, the cost of implementing BIM is hefty.  As a subcontractor, in order to implement BIM on a large project you need to have a full time employee dedicated to BIM.  In addition, you may need to purchase additional software (licenses) or hardware to be able to work efficiently with others on the job.  Furthermore, as problems occur that extend the time that your BIM coordinator needs to spend, you will incur added costs which you may not be able to pass on to your customer.

Let’s be realistic, we know that nearly all projects these days are being released with design documents that are incomplete to varying degrees.  This is the result of owners pushing design professionals to release documents “for construction” well ahead of being complete, despite the ramifications.  The general practice has evolved to the point that the problems of design completion are being sent down the channel to the lowest levels, where others will have to work them out (by default, or by force).  I have noted the acceleration of this change in practice in recent years with the addition of contract language that attempts to shift the risk of design to the contractor and subcontractors.

From my perspective, BIM has made the incomplete design issue worse!  In my opinion, contractors need to be very careful on projects that require BIM.  If you don’t have a design-build project, you may be taking on more risk than you think if you don’t take the necessary precautions at the time you negotiate your contract.

Additionally, since contracts are typically awarded with little time (if any) before the start of work, the likelihood of delaying the work in the field exists, while detailed BIM coordination is taking place, especially if there are complications during the submittal phase, or if issues arise at the beginning due to design or owner changes.

When the problems I’ve outlined above materialize early during the life of a project and are further complicated by protracted submittal approval issues with the design professionals, the results can be disastrous for contractors.  I happen to be involved in a project now where, rather than serving as a tool for resolving conflicts in advance of construction, the BIM process has ended up being merely a method for recording the as-built information from the field due to the problems and delays that were encountered during BIM coordination.  BIM on that project has been a very costly burden without any benefit to the project participants (or the Owner).

You should be careful not to assume design responsibilities when undertaking projects with BIM.  Those responsibilities should remain with the project designers.  You should even refrain from addressing the work in BIM as a “coordination of design” (as I’ve heard it called many times by contractors), rather than what it should be which is a “coordination of the installation” (unless you have design responsibility, as I mentioned earlier).

The advantages of BIM are best realized only when the design is fairly complete and when the contractors involved are able to start their coordination well in advance of construction in the field.  In theory, BIM can be a wonderful asset to any large project.  In practice, there is a dark side of BIM.

————- A Note to My Readers ————-

Three years ago this past March was when I published the first issue of Lessons Learned.  I’m very pleased to report that I am often approached by readers who urge me to keep on publishing.  I must say that it is both humbling and at the same time deeply satisfying to know that I am able to offer many of you free advice that you find truly worthy of your time to read it.  From my vantage point, I don’t think that I will run out of ideas for subjects to share with you.  I am also blessed that so far I haven’t suffered from writer’s block once!

This month I undertook the redesign of my website, www.farachconsultants.com.  I felt it was time for a fresh and cleaner look.  I hope you will find it easier to navigate and to get the content you want.  The new site has a search engine that allows you to retrieve prior Lessons Learned by key words.  Of course, all issues will also be available by date, or sequentially if you have the time to scroll through them.  In addition, the forms and form letters that were available through my book’s website (constructionletters.com) have been integrated into farachconsultants.com.  Access to that content is password protected and reserved for members.  You can become a member and receive the password simply by subscribing to (or following) my Lessons Learned.

To continue to receive the newsletter without interruption, please go to www.farachconsultants.com and click on “subscribe” at the bottom of the site.  I have plans to include additional free content in the future and would like all of you (my subscribers) to be able to receive the benefits.

Thanks for your continued interest in my publication.  I hope to continue to provide you interesting and relevant content for some time to come. – Paco Farach

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