INFOCUS – September 2009

In this issue:  An introduction to BIMM

bimM: A practical look at Building Information Model Management

It’s no secret that the construction industry is currently experiencing change on an unprecedented scale. This is the industry that has defied the odds to actually decline in productivity over recent decades1. It is changing more than many of us realize, and for some of us, more than we are comfortable with. Many A/E (architecture and engineering) firms claim to ‘do BIM’, while if you dig a little deeper you’ll find it’s nothing more than lip service. Creating a building project in three dimensions or just using ‘BIM software’ does not mean that you ‘practise BIM’ any more than wearing a black skivvy or bow tie (and carrying large rolls of paper) makes you an architect.

Many offices have yet to complete their transition from CAD to BIM as their prime method of project delivery. Change of this magnitude takes time, and the change must be allowed to run deep, to properly take root within the culture of an organization.

Many BIM converts will talk with enthusiasm about the project models, but what of the processes used to generate them. What about the ways in which they ensure their models satisfy project criteria? Furthermore, what are these criteria? For many inexperienced BIM adopters, these criteria may only consist of producing their usual design or construction documents using the new software. That’s about as much as they’re willing to envision.

The title of ‘BIM Manager’ is sometimes assigned to the person regarded as the most technically proficient, or the existing CAD Manager (who in turn, may already be serving in that role ‘by default’). Decisions about roles and responsibilities are made by high-level management within firms, and where processes are new, the decision makers are often unaware of key issues that should be considered central to those decisions.

Sometimes, CAD Managers (or other CAD experts) can turn out to be poor candidates for BIM Management, as they fear change, largely based on a presumption that they’ll lose all of the value in their skills they’ve accumulated over many years. It’s not always an easy thing to take that leap of faith.

Rather than simply assuming that BIM Management is just ‘next-generation’ CAD Management, we should start with a blank canvas, assessing what is required at an organizational level when BIM (as a process) is implemented well, i.e. ‘integrated’ into the way an organization goes about its business. This means that oversights or obstructions resident in the existing structure should not be carried forward.

Keeping It Real

First of all, let us acknowledge that across the globe, we are coming to grips with exponentially greater amounts of information, and doing so on a day-to-day basis. We must all find ways to improve our own personal information processing efficiency. Whether the impact of this is positive or negative is something we’ll leave beyond the scope of this paper. However, is it reasonable to expect each member of future AEC teams to be capable of doing everything that the processes or software permits? Frequently, firms struggle to find a perfect blend of skills within individuals. Job candidates may know how to construct, but not how to use the firm’s design software – or they may be a young ‘techspert’, but not have a clue how to put a building together. There is a balance to be found, but do we contribute to the solution (by providing necessary skills development), or to the problem (simply complaining that we can’t find the perfect blend of skills in the ‘recruitment pool’)?

Acknowledging this predicament leads to the next point: If, as it is touted, BIM provides for projects to go from concept design all the way through to finished construction (and beyond), with energy, 4D and 5D design and analysis along the way, how do we expect our staff to be able to do this? Do individuals need to know everything (and is this possible), or do we separate roles across a team, and allow people to specialize? If we follow the latter, we could nominate other roles that should be formally defined. And if others think alike, job advertisements will feature more of the following roles as BIM adoption matures within the industry:

  • BIM Presenters (visualization)
  • BIM Modellers/Documenters (it can be difficult to separate these roles)
  • BIM Content Creators/Managers
  • BIM Coordinators (project management, clash detection and multi-discipline coordinators)
  • BIM Estimators (scheduling and estimation)
  • BIM Simulators
  • BIM Data Managers (database experts)
  • BIM Programmers (API customisation experts)
  • BIM Teachers/Trainers

Not every role listed above may exist exclusively, and there may be more that aren’t identified here. Often, particularly in smaller firms, individual staff members may operate in multiple roles, but what of BIM Management? At present, particularly while change is afoot, BIM Management (which for the purposes of this paper is abbreviated to BIMM) is required at multiple levels:

  1. Project level (micro-level)
  2. Office level (macro-level)
  3. Organizational level (macro-level)

In practice, there will likely need to be some overlap or exchange of characteristics, skills or responsibilities across each of these three nominated positions. For the purposes of this paper, each role has been described individually, and may therefore be applied directly to some large organizations. However, in smaller organizations, it is likely that some individuals may serve in the role of one or more of those above. Some adjustment of these may be required to match your organization.

For reference, the term ‘BIMmer’ has been used to describe someone who uses BIM software but is not a ‘BIM Manager’ (BIMM) per se.

BIM Management Responsibility Levels
BIM Management Responsibility Levels

If we are to be able to select the best person for the job (i.e. of BIM Management), we should take a closer look at each level of responsibility or role to better understand what is required. Then we can begin to see which people best fit each role.
In the next edition of INFOCUS, we’ll begin this process by exploring in some detail what it means to be a Project Level BIM Manager.

Stay tuned!


1. Construction & Non-Farm Labor Productivity Index (1964-2003), US Dept. Of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics