Building Information Modeling (BIM)

Take a Balanced Approach to Managing Building Information Modeling

27 Jun, 2012 By: Robert Green

Are you falling victim to BIM obsession? Don't let one technology overwhelm your other CAD management responsibilities — no matter how much hype surrounds it.

Have you seen the DirecTV commercials that have been airing lately? The protagonist undergoes a chain reaction of events that rapidly moves from an innocuous beginning to a far more serious situation. As a CAD manager dealing with building information modeling (BIM), you may experience something similar:

When your management hears the buzz about BIM, they’ll ask you lots of questions about it.

When you’re asked lots of questions about BIM, your conversations become all about BIM.

When your conversations are dominated by BIM, your entire CAD world starts to revolve around BIM.

When your entire CAD world revolves around BIM, you become a victim of BIM obsession.

And when you fall victim to BIM obsession, your non-BIM responsibilities spiral out of control, resulting in CAD management chaos.

Don’t make yourself — or your company — suffer because of BIM obsession. Once you put BIM in perspective, you can balance it with all your other projects and technologies.

I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the persistent hype and spin around BIM, and the resulting tendency to think that BIM is the only CAD technology that matters. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll do my best to bring a balanced perspective to this issue using plain language, common sense, and past experience. I’m sure I’ll annoy some of the BIM intelligentsia by doing so, but I welcome the chance to have an open discussion.

I hope you’ll find this article worthwhile, even if you aren’t a BIM user. Here goes.

Put BIM in Context

To determine how much attention to give BIM, you first need to gain a realistic perspective on it. Following are some BIM use scenarios that might help:

  • If you’re a CAD manager in auto design or any number of other mechanical- or product-design fields, you most likely don’t need to be concerned about BIM at all, given that BIM relates to building and infrastructure design and management. Unless your job description includes maintaining building facilities or collaborating with an outside architect, do you need to spend any time at all worrying about BIM?
  • If you’re a CAD manager in a civil engineering firm, you might already be using BIM for infrastructure projects — or at least considering it. If not, you should still keep your eye on the technology if there’s a chance that you would need to interact with an architect and combine a BIM model with your topographical model. Ditto for civil engineers who have underground infrastructure hooking up to a BIM model. In both these cases, BIM should be on your radar, but do you need to be obsessed?
  • If you’re a CAD manager in an architectural firm that has to balance BIM with legacy “stick and brick” 2D workflows, how much time should you spend thinking about BIM, as opposed to the better use of 2D methods?

I can answer each question with a single response: You need to think about BIM only enough to complete any BIM-related tasks in a smooth and error-free manner. No more, no less.

In other words, if your job entails little to no BIM, you should spend very little time worrying about BIM. If you have a job that balances BIM with other CAD tools, you should allocate your CAD management time between BIM and the other tools as your workload dictates. This advice may seem obvious, but it's important to remember when you're being bombarded with BIM buzz and you feel pressured to devote all your time and energy to BIM at the expense of other concerns.

The No-BIM Company

But what about those companies that don’t need BIM at all? If you truly believe you are in this type of company, perform your due diligence and ask yourself these questions:

  • Will we ever collaborate with an outside firm that sends us BIM models?
  • Will we ever be contractually obligated to provide BIM models?
  • Will we ever have to create BIM family-type models to those who purchase our products?

Whether you make factory equipment, produce restaurant benches, or perform landscaping outside a building, the fact is that you may have to work within or around a BIM model at some point, or send data to one. Even if you aren’t implementing it, you should be thinking about BIM to some extent if there's a chance you'll interact with it in the future.

The BIM Trap

If you spend way more time worrying about BIM than your workload would indicate, your BIM obsession will lead to BIMageddon: You’ll lose control of the non-BIM processes and tools you should be managing. And we all know what happens when you stop managing things that should be managed — they start to fall apart!

I’ve seen way too many companies pay an inordinate amount of attention to BIM while everything else is ignored, then run into real problems on non-BIM projects later. I’ve witnessed BIMageddon often enough in the past few years to realize it isn’t a passing trend, but an increasingly common problem in companies navigating their BIM transition.

So how can you avoid this trap? Bypass the hype, understand BIM for what it truly is, and react accordingly!

BIM is Just 3D CAD

First things first: A building information model, although potentially full of valuable building-related data, is essentially a 3D model of the geometry and systems required to construct and analyze that building and its internal systems. So instead of having wall data in 2D CAD files, ducting calculations in a spreadsheet, and solar analysis in yet another external file, you’ll coordinate a singular BIM project that combines all this data.

That is the technology-specific side of BIM. The other side is the changes that BIM will bring to your workflow. Managing a BIM project — rather than a drafting project and a ducting project and a solar analysis project — means that your work processes will be very different. And that difference in process management, much more so than the software itself, is what makes switching over to BIM so vexing for those companies undergoing the transition process.

Now I’ll incur the wrath of all architects by saying that BIM is really nothing new in the historical context of CAD. It is a fact, however, that many mechanical engineers have been combining 3D design and analysis information for years. I used 3D design and analysis tools from SDRC in 1986–1987 and have used products from Autodesk, CALMA, and SolidWorks to design mechanical systems as well. And as these tools took over from 2D CAD — and the drafting board before that — the changes in process were the hard part to manage, just as we observe in BIM transitions today.

My point is that the design concept behind BIM is not new. It only seems new because the architectural market is in the early stages of adopting the mainstream 3D design philosophy that mechanical and aerospace engineers have been using for decades.

BIM Problems Are Not Unique

If BIM is essentially the same as any other 3D design system, why should managing the process be any different? Why should we all be wringing our hands worrying about how to manage BIM? It isn’t — and we shouldn’t.

Like any other 3D CAD tool you attempt to manage, BIM should be thought of in these terms:

  • How can my users learn the software?
  • What standards and procedures will we have to change?
  • How quickly can we get staff up to speed?
  • How will we manage all the new file types (viewers, document control, etc.)?
  • How will we collaborate with outside clients/vendors?

The more you think about BIM in these terms, the more clearly you will realize that moving to BIM is just like moving to any other new software platform and that training, coordination, and standards are the truly difficult part of the process.

BIM Balance is Key

The firms that balance all their CAD tools best are those that realize BIM is simply one facet of their overall CAD implementation. The characteristics of these firms that I’ve observed often include the following:

  • Projects are completed using the best tool for the job.
  • BIM isn’t viewed as a magical solution that fixes all CAD problems.
  • BIM is planned for and adopted methodically.
  • Other CAD tools are still aggressively supported.

Not surprisingly, the CAD managers who embrace these methods seem to be the ones doing the best job of integrating BIM into their companies.

Summing Up

I’m sure that I’ll now receive a lot of e-mail from readers on all sides of the BIM debate, and that is as it should be. My desire was to bring the BIM discussion back to reality and save you from becoming a victim of BIM obsession.

I hope to feature the feedback in the next issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter as an indicator of how CAD managers expect BIM to impact their future. So please do take a few minutes to send me your thoughts; you may see your nuggets of wisdom in an upcoming issue.

Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment

Note: Comments are moderated and will appear live after approval by the site moderator.


Re: Take a Balanced Approach to Managing Building Info...
by: Scott MacKenzie
June 27, 2012 - 2:27pm
Well said Robert. I love the way you laid all this out. It helps bring us back down to reality. Thanks. Frankly I wish we never had to deal with the term "BIM". It has gained this aura or mystique about it that has been blown way out of proportion. I'm sick of hearing and reading about it, as if it is some wonderful new technology. But, with that being said, I would choose ArchiCAD or Revit before I went back to AutoCAD for any project, no matter how small or large. The management of stories, plans, sections, elevations, details and sheets in these BIM programs is far superior to what you have in CAD (AutoCAD anyway). Even if I had a project that was very 2D intensive, I would choose ArchiCAD before AutoCAD, even though its layer manangement is a chore. If I could not use ArchiCAD on a 2D intensive project, then I would probably use AutoCAD. (The 2D drafting environment in ArchiCAD is much better than Revit). 2D drafting in Revit is so poor, it feels like you are using a free CAD program you picked up at the checkout line at The Home Depot. Best regards,
Re: Take a Balanced Approach to Managing Building Info...
by: Sharp Pencil
June 27, 2012 - 3:25pm
I must not be totally immune to the BIM hype -- this article containing "Building Information Modeling" in the title caught my eye... That said, I'm tiring (rapidly) of the [insert name of big software company here] marketing machine and their relentless promotion of BIM as the only way to get work done. I manage the drawings for a building-intensive environment with over 150 buidlings and 6 million square feet of space. We've been doing CAD since before the personal computer, so we have THOUSANDS of legacy 2-D drawings and I don't foresee making the leap to BIM anytime soon. So, you have early-adopting architects and engineering firms who want to proclaim in their services brochure that they are up on the latest technology. Their clients, (us!) aren't quite ready to adopt and haven't made provisions in our standards and workflow to deal with the content. We need to prepare to live in a hybrid environment much as we did when transitioning from paper drafting (remember that!) to CAD in the first place.

Download Cadalyst Magazine Special Edition