What’s the true ROI on BIM?

September 07, 2012 |
Rob Cassidy

Our article “BIM finally starting to pay off for AEC firms” (July) and the accompanying Giants 300 rankings of the Top Architecture, Engineering, and Construction firms by BIM revenue drew some skeptical responses from readers. As one commentator said, “Would like to see some hard figures on ROI.”

We knew going in that there would be problems with this question.

For one thing, defining exactly what is meant by a “BIM project” left the door wide open for interpretation. If a firm merely did some preliminary visualization models for presentation purposes and never used the model to complete the project, would that count as a “BIM project”? Or did the whole project have to be modeled from start to finish to qualify?

We left the decision of what constituted BIM-related revenue up to each firm. For general contractor, CM at risk, and design-build firms, this was pretty straightforward since theoretically all the money for their projects flows through their books.

But some architecture and engineering firms took our instructions to mean the “total construction cost of projects” in which they used BIM, rather than their fees, so the amount was greatly inflated. We did our best to correct these inconsistencies in the Giants 300 BIM charts.

Finally, many firms left the question blank, which raised the question as to how pervasively BIM is being used by even the 300 or so “gigantic” AEC firms in our Giants rankings.

Some firms may have assumed the question was optional, or just didn’t want to go through all the calculations to determine their revenues that could be attributed to BIM projects. We’re not the IRS: We can’t force people to answer.

In our article, we took at face value firms’ assertions that their investment in BIM was indeed paying off, even though some firms admitted that implementing BIM was not easy to implement - which we can assume meant that, for awhile at least, it was not paying off.

The closest we got to any hardcore data was a statement by Brad Perkins, CEO of Perkins Eastman, to the effect that an in-house analysis showed his firm’s project labor costs to be “more favorable” for BIM projects than for CAD projects. Since this analysis was proprietary, we could not report any further details.

A more wide-reaching critique of our article came in a post from Ron E. Allen, Co-chair of  the Orlando (Fla.) Revit Uses Group. “I would like to know to what extent these firms are using BIM,” he wrote. “Too many times I have seen firms use Revit, ADT, Bentley, or ArchiCAD for plans and (occasionally) elevations and sections and mistake this as BIM.

“It isn’t the tool that makes BIM, it is the information attached to the model and how it is assessed,” said Allen. He called BIM a misnomer: “What clients are asking for from [the] ‘benefits of BIM’ [is] actually derived from VDC”—virtual design and construction. Allen concluded by saying that it’s “time to dig into the data.”

We couldn’t agree more. But there also needs to be an appreciation that disruptive technologies like BIM/VDC take a lot longer to fully implement than people think. CAD just didn’t pop up full-blown in the 1980s: It took years for even the “giant” AEC firms to fully integrate it into their work flow.

The same process seems to be happening with BIM/VDC. Some firms are forging full speed ahead, others are experimenting cautiously, and many are sticking with what they know. +

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Robert Cassidy is Executive Editor of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

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