"I've seen a lot of homebuilding teams declare that they were going to 'do BIM,' but after investing significant time, money and effort too many of them failed," says Clark Ellis of Continuum Advisory Group in Raleigh, NC. In most cases, the builder wasn't properly prepared.
Here are some common mistakes builders make, as well as some advice on what to do instead.
Buying Too Quickly
BIM is actually a business process enabled by software. Some builders forget this. They assume that BIM is just software, and that buying the right software package will make their business run better. It won't.
"I've seen builders talk with a vendor at IBS, then buy before working out their internal issues," says Joe Stoddard of Mountain Consulting Group in Corning, NY. "The software becomes a solution looking for a problem and in the end doesn't help."
Consultants like Ellis and Stoddard insist that builders need to spend time, money and effort making their businesses BIM-ready by cleaning up their operational side. "There's no technology that that will go into a dysfunctional organization and fix bloated and bad processes," warns Stoddard.
Software vendors don't make the situation easier. While most really want their products to help customers, salespeople by nature don't want to risk a potential sale. Most aren't going to dig for reasons why their product might not be the best fit, or advise you that you need to do some work before being ready to take advantage of it. The digging has to be done, but it's the builder's job.
That means asking probing questions. For instance if the vendor claims that updating the model will update your scheduling program you need to find out exactly how the data will get from the model to your specific scheduling program. The same goes for feeding data to the estimating program. "The more hard-headed you can be about your particular business needs, the more likely you will be to make a good decision," says Salisbury, Md. architect Finith Jernigan, author of the book Big BIM Little BIM.
Jernigan advises against watching a canned demo before asking these questions, as doing so will bias you toward the product too early and could easily lead to a bad decision.
Of course asking hard-headed questions assumes that you know exactly what you want the software to do. Not everyone does.
"You need to have a very honest conversation about your goals with the internal management team," advises Joe Buysse of BIMAire, a vendor and consultant that helps builders navigate this process. For example if you want to make a big push to raise production you need to attach numbers to that goal. "Do you want to increase annual volume from 200 to 800 homes without increasing budget? You need to make that clear."
You might also want to think through exactly what choices to give customers. "It's very helpful to have clarity on how you want to option your plans," says Kansas City builder Todd Lipschutz.
And don't forget to define the terminating factors. These are the non negotiables, things the software must do before you will even consider it. For instance you would probably want the software to be able to work with AutoCAD files if that's what you use for home design.
The best way to get clarity on these issues is to write everything down. This means taking the time to create a "Requirements" document before approaching vendors with clear, measurable goals.
Being Too Ambitious
Lipschutz calls this "biting off so much that you choke."
He should know. "I spent three years struggling with BIM implementation on a start up homebuilding business while we pursued an aggressive vertical integration business model," he recalls. All plans would be created in BIM. They would be their own foundation contractor. They would move quickly to off-site, including the purchase of a trusses and wall panel plant.
It was too much at once. The business eventually stalled and scaled way back. Lipschutz went elsewhere.
Now he wants to grow his new company's volume before even considering BIM. "My engineer creates plans in BIM but I'm not using it at this point," he says. This type of experience is why most BIM providers advise the builder to start with one plan and to take time to work out the glitches before trying to go further.
Lack of Plan Control
During our 2018 Builder Benchmark study, Alliance researchers had in-depth phone conversations with production builders across the U.S. on a variety of topics. One question we asked was whether they used BIM and if not, why.
Many builders not on board said the problem was that their architects owned the plans.
That may be an excuse. In fact BIM providers tell us that their builders have good luck getting architects either to sell ownership (either all or in part) or to agree to a licensed use arrangement.
If you can't negotiate such an arrangement, then it might be better to find a new architect and to start the BIM initiative with a new plan. "Plugging existing products into BIM can be very difficult. I've seen BIM initiatives fail because the builder tried to make it work and couldn't," says Ellis. "It's often better to start with a new product."
Hedging Your Design Bets
Builders love to complain about homeowners who don't make decisions on time, but some builders are just as guilty. If you're one of them, BIM will frustrate you.
"Where you get into trouble is when you're 50% or 80% into a design and the builder wants to make a change," says Hans Bentzon of Forefront, a full-service architectural and engineering service provider in Orlando. "There have been instances where I had two elevations and 10 options drawn and modeled. Estimates were going out and the marketing materials were being created. Then the builder decided to go to 6 in. walls to get an energy rating. The problem is that if you're modeling in BIM, this is a major change that affects everything else."
With BIM, everything has to be modeled as it will be built before construction starts. This might require the builder to make decisions earlier in the process than they're be used to, but doing so will prevent expensive re-work. "With AutoCAD you can fudge a lot of changes. Small things like a bigger door size can be compensated for in the field," says Bentzon. "But BIM is not forgiving."
One reason new technologies like BIM are slow to catch on at first is that people tend to have internal conflicts between the drive to seize new opportunities, and the fear of letting go of old habits. Individuals and organizations that successfully reconcile these conflicts are the ones that dominate their markets, while those unable to do so fade into irrelevance.
In the case of BIM, one inevitable conflict is that some people will perceive it as a threat to their jobs. "If the purchasing manager isn't going to need as many estimators, that manager's fiefdom is suddenly at risk," says Bentzon.
Overcoming resistance takes leadership. When D Logan of Logan Homes, a 250-unit per year builder in Wilmington, SC, fully implemented BIM into his company a few years ago, he had to spend a lot of time addressing staff objections. For instance the new system would pay vendors from purchase orders rather than invoices, something his accounting department pushed back on. "They insisted that vendors wouldn't be willing to get paid off of purchase orders, but the truth was that the accounting people just didn't want to adapt to a different way of doing things," he recalls.
His salespeople also needed to make some adjustments when he determined that getting the most from the BIM model would mean limiting structural options. "This change caused an initial uproar with the sales staff, but it ended up streamlining everything from sales to design and construction," he says.
The bottom line is that while Logan listened to everyone's concerns, the discussions focused on how to make these changes happen, not whether to make them. Basically he didn't take no for an answer. "In the end the company is more profitable and we all benefit."
A BIM implementation is a marathon. The prep work will take at least six months, and probably longer, to get up and running with a fully integrated system. A lot of builders give up because they're only prepared for a sprint.
The exact time required will depend in part on how many plans you want to model. Matt Robbins of Allen Edwin Homes in Portage, Mich. says it took a year and a full time staffer to set up the company's system and model all the company's plans, and another year to get it running smoothly. Logan reports a similar timeline.
Consultants say that sounds about right. "I know a 200-unit builder that spent a year getting their house in order before ever talking to software vendors," says Stoddard. "Then they took another year to do the implementation. But the software is working great for their business."
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