Explainers

Five ways for SMEs to take the plunge with BIM

10 December 2013 | By Matt Wheelis, Autodesk

An old adage tells us: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This pearl of wisdom certainly applies to any small contracting firm embarking on their first BIM implementation as well.– Matt Wheelis

Making the move to your first BIM-based project workflow is always going to be a challenge, especially for smaller construction firms. However, that doesn’t mean it is impossible, or that the process can’t be made easier. While there are a number of steps on the way to commencing and carrying out a project using BIM-based workflows, there’s a range of things that can be done to make the process much simpler.

Here are Autodesk’s top five tips for smaller construction businesses getting started with BIM:

1. Know your purchase options
When it comes to purchasing a BIM solution, small firms have several options available to them. Gone are the days when you had to buy tens of thousands of pounds worth of software and hardware to get started. The playing field has been levelled by purchase models with much lower upfront costs, such as desktop software rental or licensing a cloud solution. 

These purchase models make a lot of sense for a smaller firm. Let’s say that a contractor has landed a spate of new jobs, but they’re not certain if the burst of activity is just an anomaly.

Instead of equipping their business for an imagined future business level by buying perpetual desktop software licenses, they can keep their upfront costs – and their risk – low by paying for BIM software rental or cloud licensing on a month-to-month basis. If work starts tailing off, they can stop renting or licensing until business recovers, enabling them to better match their costs with their opportunities.

2. Find a solution that encourages cloud and mobile accessibility
Contracting firms are nothing if not mobile entities, hopping from job site to job site, and from the field to the office. Being able to access models, blueprints, and other job data anytime and anywhere is a must. Accordingly, customers should look for a BIM solution with as many pathways to the cloud and mobile devices as possible.

Where customers have made their data mobile and accessible, we’ve seen a greater than 50% increase in site management productivity – which significantly improves the ratio of productive work to non-productive “looking for data” work.

3. Eat the elephant one bite at a time
An old adage tells us: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This pearl of wisdom certainly applies to any small contracting firm embarking on their first BIM implementation as well.

Firms shouldn’t worry about being able to use all the features of a BIM solution at first. Instead, they should focus on learning a process that solves a particular problem, and then tackle subsequent problems one by one.

BIM has proven over and over again to have huge value in helping firms win new work and coordinate projects, as well as supporting desk-based, labour intensive processes like quantity surveying (QS). These workflows provide excellent starting points for any small firms using BIM for the first time.

4. Executive sponsorship is key
Using BIM to knock down problems one at a time and prove success is good advice for a number of reasons, not the least of which is securing buy-in from the top. Executive support is absolutely critical: if the owner of the firm is not supportive, then the BIM implementation will not be successful.

On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve seen small firms with an internal BIM champion drive rapid changes in the business almost overnight, adopting a BIM-based workflow that transforms the firm’s day-to-day operations. If the owner mandates, it shall happen. 

5. Remember that small can be beautiful
Smaller firms have fewer ingrained workflows and internal policies than larger firms, which, in many ways, makes it easier for them to adopt and implement a BIM-based solution than “the big guys”. By following the advice above, they can make the process easier still, and start exploring the benefits of BIM for themselves.