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Do clients know what they want from BIM?

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Clients may want BIM, but do they know how to get it, asks Joel Martineau, BIM operations manager at architectural practice Stantec.

From architects to contractors, the construction industry has become increasingly frustrated that clients ask for BIM, but don’t seem to understand what it is, or what exactly they want.

The problem is that, while most clients understand what BIM is in general terms – if they’ve read any construction-related press or online content for the past decade it would be hard not to – they don’t understand the value it will offer during the design and construction phases and throughout the management of the lifecycle of their building.

It’s not that there isn’t plenty of information out there, the problem is that the focus has been very geared towards reducing cost, construction schedules and the number of RFIs, rather than the end value it can deliver to the client.

Much of the reason for this is that value is subjective. We can only communicate the benefits of utilising BIM to clients if we understand their bespoke value indicators and engage with them effectively to communicate how BIM can improve the delivery process. For example, the benefit of BIM for one client may be improvements to the design and coordination of building services in a particularly complex scheme.

Conversely, another may see greater accuracy in cost validation of specific building systems and components based on model data, and another might derive most value from the operation and maintenance data contained within the model.

Whatever their value criteria, it is the architect and delivery partners’ job to help clients understand how working in BIM will help them realise their goals and help them articulate the requirements that will help them accomplish their objectives.

Early client engagement must include all parties: owner representatives, end users and facilities management. Each has a critical role to play in formulating the goals to determine how the BIM process will be developed and managed by the delivery team.

The architects, consultants and contractors driving the BIM project must also take responsibility for addressing any misconceptions about BIM so that required deliverables meet the client’s objectives. BIM is not an off-the-shelf solution, nor does a single approach work for every project.

While one client may be interested in objects embedded with data, another may be more interested in using virtual reality as a marketing tool. If they’ve established these goals from the outset, it enables the design team to take an appropriate approach to meet these objectives. Indeed, how the potential model uses are implemented to realise client expectations should be the key measurement of success.

The dilemma for the architect is that clients often don’t know their needs, which is why early engagement is so vital for interrogating the brief and developing an understanding of value criteria.  Only then can the model uses be tailored to meet the needs of the client during the delivery phase and, ultimately, throughout the lifecycle of the building. 

After all, implementing BIM is about much more than delivering a data-rich model that will impress the client; it should be about providing added value to the client. It’s our job as architects to empower the client to achieve that.

The architects, consultants and contractors driving the BIM project must also take responsibility for addressing any misconceptions about BIM so that required deliverables meet the client’s objectives.– Joel Martineau, Stantec