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Analysis

If BIM consultants are charging so much where’s my yacht?

23 June 2016 | By Nigel Davies, Evolve

Nigel Davies, director of Evolve Consultancy, responds to the claim that BIM consultants charge too much for their services.

Twitter is an excellent media, and much underrated sometimes, for exchange of ideas. Yes, you’re limited by 140 characters, but often that helps get the point across in a much more succinct manner. Yet there are times when a passing comment sparks a response that requires more than 140 characters will allow.

A BIM+ article, “Is BIM worth paying a premium for?” triggered a series of comments which included one from @StewartGH1970 (well worth a follow, dear readers) claiming that “the whole system is screwed up as consultants can charge more for BIM management than the design fee”. I have to question that statement.

 

Before I delve into a whole pile of opinions, let’s get any potential conflict of interest out of the way. Yes, I’m a BIM consultant. I run a successful BIM consultancy (www.evolve-consultancy.com), and yes, we work on many aspects of BIM management, both as company advisers and project delivery and support. No, we do not rip our clients off with extortionate fees. Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s look at this objectively…

BIM introduces new working methods into a project. That’s a fact. It can be argued that BIM is nothing more than a series of processes which should always have been employed on projects, and that is also arguably true.

But there are additions that BIM brings which have not traditionally been specified before. “It’s all about the data” springs to mind, and the fact that much of that data needs to be part of an integrated delivery adds expectations which would not be included in a non-BIM project.

Fees, particularly design fees, have been dramatically reduced – and continue to be. As an example, architects’ fees have reduced by 7% over the 10 years between 2005 and 2015 (The Fees Bureau via architecture.com). That’s a fact. Many are afraid to submit sensible costs on the often justified fear that they will lose work purely on fee alone.

So, we have an increased project demand yet reduced design fees.

I guess the first question to address is whether BIM justifies an additional fee. Some would argue that no, BIM is part of what you should be doing, and how you deliver against the project brief is irrelevant. I suspect the typical supporters of that argument are either the holder of the project purse strings or those working for larger companies, who can warrant a “you get it all from us for no extra cost” competitive approach.

Regardless of BIM, and put in basic terms, if you’re being asked for something extra, you should expect to be paid extra for it. The problems start because many design firms don’t understand BIM, and do not clearly define what they deliver for their usual fee.

Project bids have not been adjusted for additional expectations, either in the preparation phases (BEP definition anyone?) or the design and construction phases when additional requirements often creep in without a hand raised in question. It’s often a case of saying “yes of course we can do that” before understanding what the implications are and then having to do so at your own cost. Not every project can be excused as a lost leader.

The second question is whether BIM management services warrant higher fees than the design. Well, actually, that question should be whether it is the case at all. I’ve not seen any evidence to support this outcry. Certainly from our own point of view, either for the role of information manager or for BIM coordination, our fees are a small fraction of the design fee.

How can we offer such value for money, yet provide such a quality service? I hear you ask. The simple fact of the matter is the amount of work required to manage the information flow and coordination processes can’t possibly be as high as the act of designing and constructing the same project.

A BIM coordinator is not coordinating anything. They’re processing the information to highlight areas where the parties responsible for coordination, the designers, haven’t completed, or may have missed, their duties. They are checkers who should not have coordination responsibility.

Take a project that needed five to 10 architects and two to six structural engineering staff across one project stage, there is no way the BIM management, no matter how in-depth a need it merits, could justify more than one person, who would more than likely be part-time, even if they had to define, implement and manage the CDE, maintain the federated Project Information Model, facilitate coordination meetings, or perform every other aspect of PAS 1192’s responsibilities.

Of course, there will be differences in the required resources depending on a lot more than just staff numbers: the BIM skills and capabilities or a team, the project timeframe, the complexity of the design, changes in scope, and other requirements beyond the design and construction stages. Is there a pre-contract need to define Employer’s Information Requirements, or a post-completion Asset Information Management aspect to the BIM management services? That could explain a perceived imbalance in the fee structures.

In the end, decent service is always about value for money. Spending more on the BIM/information management aspects does not guarantee you a better project. But spending any money (as opposed to none) on the information management aspects will.

The role of information manager is to enable a better project delivery, to manage the flow of data, to check that the verification and validation of the design is being achieved. You don’t have to employ a project manager, and employing a project manager won’t guarantee a successful project, but there is a higher risk if you don’t.

You can argue all you want that BIM responsibilities should be included in a fee, but as with any other aspect of design, paying an experienced and reliable expert to manage the process will always result in improved returns and the removal of risk. Then it becomes less about whether the BIM management fee is greater than the design fee and more a negotiation as to whether either fee is appropriate to the agreed scope of works.

Truth be told, it’s a good job I’m objective about fees – I’m not a sailing fan anyway. Now, pass me the keys to my Bugatti, I’m off to work.