Have the BIM Truth Talk with Your Boss

24 May, 2011 By: Robert Green

Despite what your management team may have heard, implementing BIM isn't cheap or easy — so set them straight as soon as possible.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you've heard the acronym BIM (short for building information modeling) quite often. And like other buzzwords before it, such as collaboration and paradigm shift, BIM has become so overused and overhyped that the term is losing its meaning — particularly among senior managers who don't really understand the technology.

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I want to start an honest conversation about what BIM means from a managerial standpoint so you, the CAD manager, can understand all sides of the BIM debate. More importantly, I want to enable you to communicate with your management team clearly so that everyone knows what BIM is, what it isn't, and what to expect. Here goes.

Marketing Hype

Let's confront the irrefutable truth: Software companies want to sell you software, so they strive to create splashy advertising campaigns for their BIM products in hopes of piquing your interest. Another fact is that software companies know that CAD managers, while influential in the process, don't actually buy software — senior management teams do. Therefore, software companies create their advertising with those senior management members in mind. This is simply Marketing 101, and nobody should be surprised that it works. In fact, much of the reason that your boss is talking to you about BIM is precisely because these types of advertising campaigns are effective.

Realistic Expectations

Much of the marketing that BIM software vendors bombard us with revolves around concepts that senior management teams love, like "ease of use" and "higher productivity" — making it appear that adopting BIM will be an easy process. In reality, implementing BIM takes a substantial amount of time, money, and training, and the investment typically doesn't start returning a profit for years. Have you ever seen a BIM software ad that spells out the reality of what it'll take to get BIM working in your company's design environment? Me neither.

In that case, who will deliver the news to senior management that BIM — while a valid and worthwhile tool in the design and engineering of buildings — isn't magic, and won't be up and running in a matter of weeks? Who will establish realistic expectations about what BIM can do and how much it'll cost? The answer must be the CAD manager, simply because nobody else is qualified to do the job.

How should you begin the discussion about BIM realities and expectations? Let's start at the beginning by talking realistically about what BIM can and can't do.

Implementing BIM is stressful enough as it is — don't let unrealistic expectations among your management team make it even worse.

What BIM Isn't

The following statements counter the misconceptions you're likely to encounter when initiating "the BIM truth talk" with your boss:

  • BIM isn't a 2D CAD upgrade. You won't install BIM tools on your AutoCAD users' desktops and have them working in BIM right afterward. BIM is a different way of working that requires 3D modeling and building systems knowledge. BIM is not drafting; BIM is electronic architecture and engineering.
  • BIM doesn't design buildings. Architects and engineers design buildings. BIM tools merely assist them in doing so. There is no magic "Design" button!
  • BIM doesn't eliminate the need for AutoCAD or Microstation. It's very likely that BIM will change the way you design buildings, but for at least the next several years much of the industry will still be using 2D drawings, so you'll need to maintain your AutoCAD/Microstation infrastructure.
  • BIM tools don't manage themselves. BIM tools typically function in workgroup environments where everyone in the team is accessing the building model. This means you can't have everyone keep their own version of the project; the building models must be networked and managed, and this does not happen automatically. To use a 2D CAD analogy, think about a team managing a project with an extensive amount of networked shared xref files, and you begin to get the picture of how a BIM project works.
  • BIM isn't learned over a weekend. Using BIM tools is very different than 2D CAD, in terms of both learning the commands and adjusting to a different way of working. BIM is a culture shock to team members who've been using 2D CAD tools for years, and the reality is that the learning curves are measured in months, not days.

Reality Check

Many CAD managers who deliver the above information to senior management staffs get a reaction along the lines of "Really?" or "This doesn't sound as easy as we were led to believe!" These reactions are exactly the reason you need to have this conversation with your senior managers, even if it is a little awkward at first. Your goals are to:

  • Make management see reality. It isn't as easy, cheap, or fast as the advertising implies.
  • Get management aligned with scheduling requirements. BIM will require training, test projects, and months or years of effort to implement.
  • Get management prepared financially. Software and training costs money — money that must be budgeted and approved by senior management.

Basic BIM Requirements

Now that management is prepared to talk about what BIM will require, you can start laying out the requirements. I've found that any good BIM implementation requires the following building blocks:

  • More software. Software that costs more than AutoCAD or Microstation.
  • Better hardware. Don't expect to perform transient energy balance computations for a multistory office building on a 4-year-old single-core computer.
  • Training. Your company didn't replace the drafting board with 2D CAD overnight, and you won't make the leap to BIM overnight either.
  • Standards management. Getting BIM implemented will require you to reinvent the standards and procedures you use today with new processes that work in BIM environments. This will take work and planning; it won't just happen automatically.
  • A new attitude. To make BIM a success, everyone — from CAD operator to chief architect — will have to change how they work. It will require learning, patience, and a can-do attitude from everyone for BIM to work.

Summing Up

If you haven't yet had a discussion like the one I've outlined here with your senior management team, the time to do so is now. The longer senior management holds on to their misconceptions about BIM, the less chance you'll have of managing the transition successfully.

I welcome your feedback and stories about how this conversation has gone at your company. You can reach me at

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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