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Model behaviour

The BIM revolution: it'¬ôs technology, so it'll save money, right? It depends on when you start counting, says Steven Gosling

Posted by Dave Higgitt | March 04, 2014 | Technology

When it comes to building information modelling (BIM), there’s one question that we've heard time and again: “Will it save money? And if it does, how do I get my investment back?” It’s a good point. After all, any company implementing BIM will have to spend heavily on IT and training. Money that needs to earn its keep. So will BIM drive down costs and save money across the design and construction lifecycle?

Well, yes and no. These benefits in cash terms can be substantial, but they come at the cost of increased upfront work. The ‘traditional’ levels of detail we are all accustomed to working with will not deliver full value throughout the lifespan of the project and architects will have to ensure that the models they create are exceptionally detailed to ensure that the quantity surveyor can generate the best data. BIM isn’t a magic bullet, it needs base data to work on and every aspect of the model needs to be as detailed as possible, from the foundations up to the door jambs.

However, with 5D BIM properly deployed, the benefits will far outweigh those costs and could in fact continue to pay back throughout the lifecycle of the building. Of course it’s entirely possible to produce workable models within BIM without this level of detail, but it does illustrate the changes in practice that we will require as the BIM model evolves. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this will involve additional work at various stages, particularly for architects.

So the reality is that initial design fees will probably rise because the level of detail needed to create an accurate and effective BIM model is greater than the tolerances that the industry generally works to today. For some, especially architects, this means more time spent during the design phase with correspondingly greater costs. Further down the line the QS may well also have a greater involvement in the verification and refinement of the bill of quantities and cost plans.

However, when clients return for repeat projects of similar buildings the templated and standardised elements that form part of a BIM model will mean that costs may be lower. More importantly, the frequently significant charges associated with amends or issues that need to be rectified on-site will be much lower. At the same time there will also be less waste and potentially faster construction schedules as any major issues will have been resolved ahead of the build phase.

This gives the contractor the opportunity to protect their margin and avoid costly disputes whilst also preserving the valuable good will of the client. If the client experiences a relatively smooth and trouble-free project that ran to time and budget, they’ll be much more willing to engage with the same contractor as they will see it as a low-risk option.

Hence we can see that, although BIM will indeed save money, it's not as simple as many of the savings traditionally seen through technological change. This will require careful selling to ensure that what may look like a significant uplift in initial fees is actually an investment that will pay dividends (with savings that could far outweigh the costs) further down the line. For consultants and contractors this provides the opportunity to be seen as a trustworthy partner able to deliver on its promises – a powerful selling point in today’s cut-throat industry where loyalty is hard to buy at any price.

Steven Gosling is managing director of DSG Quantity Surveyors W: www.dsgquantitysurveyors.co.uk/

 

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