30 October 2015

Should Owners ask for BIM?

There is this idea in the BIM evangelist community that owners, the ones who commission a facility, should specify what BIM is to be used on a project. Not just what BIM will be delivered to them, but how BIM will be used by everyone involved in the project.

To me it makes no sense. Do you tell your dentist what instruments to use, your accountant which software (or calculator) to use, your lawyer which case law to take heed of?

And I suspect owners are just as perplexed. Why are they being asked whether the structural engineer should use the BIM model for structural analysis, whether the contractor should use 4D, 5D, field BIM? Aren't they paying these experts to make those decisions?

Actually I know they are just as perplexed. I've sat in meetings and workshops where the owner's representatives are bombarded with these types of questions, and not surprisingly they don't want to answer them. They're smart people, it not that they don't understand BIM, it is that they don't see themselves as the ones responsible for it.

Yet that is how BIM evangelist see it. In their eyes the problem is owners don't understand BIM. After all the owner, as the one with the money, is the only party who has control over the whole team. Therefore, the evangelists surmise, they are the ONLY ones who can enforce BIM on a project. The fact they are unqualified, uninterested and don't see why they should take on that risk are wilfully ignored.

Besides the absurd impractically of it, what also bothers me with this approach is the idea that BIM must be enforced. That BIM is only possible if all participants are coerced to engage in it. If that is the case it suggests BIM is only beneficial to a few, that others have to be forced as they gain nothing. This is so far from the truth. BIM processes improve efficiency and effectiveness of all participants. Sure it takes money up front to invest, time to learn new ways. But after that investment you can do more with less effort. As they say, work smarter, not harder.

So if you are an owner, should you ask for BIM?


There are a number of ways an owner can approach BIM on a project. The approach used will inform what processes need to be put in place for the project to be successful (in a BIM sense).

Ignore BIM
Totally ignore BIM, assume it doesn't exist and make no concessions for it to occur.

Allow BIM
Accept BIM can occur and not stand in its way. Make concessions for it to happen.

Encourage BIM
Appreciate BIM is worthwhile and actively encourage its use, but not directly engage in BIM processes.

Participate in BIM
Integrate your own BIM processes into the BIM processes of others.

Demand BIM
Enforce BIM of your own design on all project participants.

All are valid approaches and depend on the particular circumstances of the project and the available people.  But what is critical is that there is honesty in the approach taken. Don't pretend you are encouraging BIM when in fact you are ignoring it, don't demand BIM when all you need is to participate in it.

Before deciding which approach seems right let's debunk some myths about BIM for owners.


One of the misunderstanding going around (sometimes I think wilfully) is that BIM is equivalent to facilities management. That the only thing BIM means is the use of a 3D model connected to a database to manage the maintenance of a facility.

At the extreme end of this view you have people who think that if you get the design and construction teams to use BIM you will have a fully functional BIM FM system at the end of the project.
I don't understand how anyone could think this was true. Why would a BIM model created to design, analyse, and coordinate a building, or one to cost and program it be suitable for facilities management? Yet I have had clients say they want our Revit model provided to them, complete with paint modelled, so they can use it directly for facilities management.

A lessor, but none the less just as mistaken view, is that the BIM done during design and construction is just there to provide the data for the FM system. And further, that if BIM is not used during design and construction it is not possible to have a BIM based FM system.

Lets think about this a bit. To use BIM for facilities management you need a graphical 3D model and a database of information. You could pay someone to create the model and populate the database when you set up the FM system. Or you could get the whole design and construction team to change they way they do their work just so they produce a 3D model and populated database at the completion of their work.
Does that second method really sound sensible? Why would you compromise a much bigger process (the design and construction of a facility) to reduce the effort of a smaller process (populate an FM database)? BIM evangelists go on about how much larger the cost of running a facility is compared to building it. But design and construction BIM can only ever contribute to the initial set up of the FM database, it has nothing to do with the ongoing operation.

But BIM is not just FM. It is used for much more than that. And once that is realised the benefits can be captured.
If design professionals use BIM for their processes, they will have a lot of data, including 3D graphical data. The contractor can utilize this data for their purposes and add data they use. This data won't be structured to suit FM, after all it has been created for other purposes. But there is a fair bit that can be used for FM. The cost of restructuring this data to suit FM is theoretically less than completely recreating it. That is the benefit of BIM.

So don't ask for BIM if the only reason is to provide completed data for your FM system. There may be cheaper ways of doing it.

And don't ask for BIM, or BIM deliverables, if you have a paper based rather than BIM based FM system (I know, kind of obvious, but surprisingly common).

Do ask for it if you want to access to BIM data created for other purposes for your FM system.


Of course you may not have a BIM based FM system, nor intend to implement one. That's a commercial decision for the owner.
If you don't need BIM for FM, why have BIM on the project at all?

BIM is a tool, a tool to do real world things more efficiently and effectively. It is useful for anyone who uses it properly and for the right reasons.

If your design and construction teams use BIM on your project there is an opportunity for the project to be done more efficiently and effectively. You, as the owner, benefits from a project that is less likely to suffer delays, is less likely to spring surprise additional costs, and will result in a building with a higher quality of design and workmanship.

So if you want a well run project you will want BIM to be used.

But the owner is not responsible for timing, cost overruns and building quality. The design and construction team, via their contracts, have these responsibilities. And if the owner instructs them on how to do their job, how to undertake their responsibilities, the owner takes on some of those responsibilities.


The best way an owner can ensure BIM is used is to not dictate, not enforce, but to encourage BIM. How might this be done?


The first step in encouraging BIM is to engage BIM capable professionals, to include BIM capabilities in bid requirements.
By that I don't mean a description of what BIM processes a bidder must undertake, but a request the bidders provide a description of the BIM processes they already do. In this early period of BIM take up you may extend this to include BIM processes bidders intend or are prepared to implement.
The aim is to get them to make an offer, for the use of BIM to be their responsibility.

But keep in mind BIM is but one aspect of why you select a particular bidder. Professionals are primarily engaged for their capabilities in their area of expertise, and service performance. BIM is only a tool, it won't compensate for lack of expertise or poor service.


The second step is to ensure agreements and contractual arrangements allow BIM processes to work freely. As mentioned above all BIM processes (except facilities management) are between the design and construction teams.  This is a challenge for those drawing up and approving agreements. Traditionally contracts have been designed to be between the person paying and the one doing the work. BIM capable agreements require additional clauses that set out how those being paid will interact with third parties - other project participants.

Obviously there are a whole raft of issues to consider, and the type of BIM processes undertaken will influence what specific requirements will be. Which is another complication. The owner is not a participant in these BIM processes (with the exception of facilities management), nor are the exact BIM processes known at the beginning of a project before everyone is signed up.
The BIM evangelist's answer is to ignore reality and assume the owner HAS to be a BIM participant, and that everyone HAS to be signed up at the very beginning of a project (as evidenced by the push for Integrated Project Delivery type contracts).

But it doesn't have to be this way. Contracts need do no more than ensure the free flow of information in BIM type format. That is, BIM information created by project participants must be freely available to all other project participants. Sounds simple but there is a paranoia about theft of intellectual property throughout the industry. The default position is to withhold information. Contracts need to specifically override this position.

Tied in with this is that all information in deliverables must match. That information on drawings and schedules match information in BIM models. And that recipients of BIM models can rely on the information in those models. It must also be specified this only applies to information a participant would ordinarily provide. If an architect includes some ducts in their model for context, that doesn't make them responsible for the completeness and accuracy of those ducts.

Contracts could be further extended to be BIM friendly. For example allowing for project participants to do modelling for others participants, whilst responsibility is retained by the requesting party. So the architects might model ductwork for the mechanical engineers (or sub-contractor) but the engineers or sub-contractor must check and approve that modelling work.

BIM capable agreements and contracts are in their infancy and no one can predict what their eventual form will be. But I believe if we approach them with a view to encouraging, or allowing BIM, rather than enforcing BIM, we will end up with much more useful agreements and therefore BIM workflows.


Rather than demanding direct BIM deliverables they will never use owners should look at requesting evidence of BIM. Requesting evidence also means that even if specific BIM is not defined by owners they can still influence the use of it on their project.

There is nothing wrong with requesting evidence of BIM processes as deliverables. The owner may not participate in the creation of a BIM Management Plan, but they can include it as a deliverable. They may not attend clash coordination meetings but minutes of outcomes can be requested.

However evidence of BIM should never be provided for 'approval'. Not only does this pass some responsibility back on to the approver (the owner) but has the potential to hold up the project.
The purpose is purely to ensure what has been promised (see SELECTION section above) is being done. An owner may reject a BIM Management Plan as being incomplete or inadequate, but should never 'approve' it.


BIM is often touted as 'costing more'. But research has shown overall a project using BIM processes is more cost efficient. It may be directly cheaper and/or quicker to build, or a more complex result is achievable for the same time and money.

The problem is that not all participants share these cost savings equally. Which is easy to see when you look at how BIM works. BIM models are created early in a project and passed on to participants through the term of the project. The architect models the building, the mechanical engineer uses that model to do energy calculations, the mechanical engineer's model is passed on to the mechanical sub-contractor who uses it as a basis for shop drawing and CAM, this model is passed to the facilities manager to populate their energy management system. The further up the chain the more complete the model is and greater the savings in time and effort. And of course the owner is at the top of this chain.

Another issue is some participants are required to do more than they have previously done. Engineers traditionally produce diagrammatic drawings and performance requirements for equipment. With BIM they have to model their work accurately and select specific components (otherwise you can't model them). Of course paying them extra to do this work is not the only solution. But someone has to do it, and no one is going to do it for free.

BIM also requires more work up front. The mechanical engineer can't do an energy analysis on a half modelled building. If the point of BIM is to create a complete virtual building to test its buildability then it has to be completely designed and modelled before construction starts.

BIM may 'cost more' for some, but overall it does not. So it is not necessarily about spending more (although that will certainly bolster use of BIM!). To encourage BIM there needs to be a re-think of where and when money is spent. More money is required at the pre-construction BIM model creation stage.
This may be in the form of extra for design professionals, the appointment of additional professionals, or bringing forward engagements (e.g. services sub-contractors).
And within those engagements payment schedules need to be revised. Fees are normally broken up into stages. With BIM more work is done - more hours expended - in early stages than traditional work methods.

I don't believe a similar concession is required at construction as BIM processes bring enormous cost benefits to contractors. In fact I believe owners need to be careful they are not paying for BIM efficiencies that the contractor will pocket. Any BIM from the design team should be treated as an asset that benefits the contractor.


And of course owners can directly encourage use of BIM. Not by demanding it, but by having a strong expectation that the team will use BIM processes. Owners don't need to have intimate knowledge of those processes, but they can expect their design and construction professionals do.


So what is the answer, should owners ask for BIM?
As is the case with most questions, that depends. But here are some recommendations.

Ignore BIM

Not recommended. If you don't understand BIM or don't want it don't stand in the way of those that do. The fact others use it will not cost you more, nor will it increase your workload.

Allow BIM

If you are unsure and don't really understand much about BIM this is a valid approach. It provides an opportunity to learn from others.

Encourage BIM

Encouraging BIM is the best approach if the owner does not have a BIM based FM system. It allows the design and construction team to make best use of BIM for their purposes. It also creates a wealth of BIM data. It is not structured for FM use, but can still be mined for useful FM data.

Participate in BIM

A truly BIM project has everyone participating in BIM, including the owner. Owners can participate by having their own properly set up FM system that uses BIM.
Having skin in the game, so to speak, means BIM deliverables can be properly valued as to their worth. And if everyone is a participant BIM planning can be undertaken with confidence, and result in even greater benefits than individual use of BIM brings.

Demand BIM

Not recommended. Unless you are a conglomerate with architects, engineers and contractors all under the same roof you should not be dictating what BIM is done. Even then care must be taken to ensure some participants are not working inefficiently for questionable benefits elsewhere.


  1. Anthony, it's a bit of a disservice to your readers to have this discussion and not even mention the excellent work that has been done in this area by John Messner's team at Penn State University. They have developed and released two outstanding guides for BIM implementation in projects:

    The BIM PROJECT EXECUTION PLANNING GUIDE (now in v.2.0): this publication encourages project participants to "start at the end", to decide what they want to use the BIM model(s) for, and gives a concrete methodology for developing a BIM process based on data that will be needed at each stage of the process.

    Following on the successful publication of this guide, the Penn State guys published their BIM PLANNING GUIDE FOR FACILITY OWNERS (2012). This is a strategic orientation for owners to the BIM process and gives owners the tools they need to "ask for the right stuff".

    Anyone interested can go to http://www.bim.psu.edu/ to download the two guides.

    I am not affiliated with Penn State or their BIM guides in any way, but I want to point out excellent work that has been done and is out there in the landscape.

    1. Sorry for misspelling your name Antony. I'll do better in future, I promise :)

  2. I am a big fan of Clients requesting outcomes. The outcome is the bit the client can see real value in. This approach means the process to achieve the outcomes is passed on to the project team to generate and manage. In an environment where the participants are good at what they do, this approach will work fantastically. If they are not so good, you end up with a mishmash process, and questionable outcomes. Thus there is a fine line for clients, to request quality outcomes, and let the project team do what they do best.

    Antony, I do like your section on “Evidence of BIM”. This is definitely part of the solution. I believe if the client is precious of a final outcome, they may require key intermediate deliverables along the process to guarantee quality.

    A few items to mention:
    It is common for Accountants to have to integrate with the systems their client uses, which may include using a specific software application.

    Patients may choose a dentist depending on what services/treatments they provide. Some of these services will depend on what evolving technologies the dentist has have access to, i.e. the tools they have.

    I’m sure clients often go to Solicitors with notions of precedence to assist in their case. The Solicitor in turn will give them the professional advice they are being paid for, which is (I understand) the premise of your above discussion.

    Building owners: I think the client liaison managing the project may take issue with the statement: “the owner is not responsible for timing, cost overruns and building quality”. If any of these key items fall down, the client liaison is going to have to do a lot of explaining to their boss.
    There are some really good recommendations in this post. Nice post Antony.