What prevents us from achieving the benefits of BIM?

The benefits of BIM are well known in construction industry. Yet, the use of BIM is not as widely spread as the benefits could entail. Finland has been active in the deployment of BIM during the past few years and recognized in many studies as one of the leading countries. Hence, I feel that it is necessary to take a closer look at the levels of BIM implementation and to identify, study and understand the possible barriers that prevent us from reaching the known benefits. In addition to a thorough review of the literature available, I wanted to approach the topic in the field. With the help of focus group sessions, it was possible to first, observe each benefit of BIM and then identify the real-life barriers preventing a successful BIM implementation. The focus groups were formed with around 80 Finnish BIM specialists coming from design, construction, maintenance, research and public organizations.

A brief introduction to BIM and its maturity stages

The first concept that we today know as BIM (Building Information Modelling) was described already forty years ago. The actual use of BIM started out of the use of new software technologies for building designs. The acronym BIM refers to both “building information modelling” as well as “building information models”. Modelling means the process of creating the actual BIM model with the help of different modelling software. A BIM model is the result of the modelling work, which includes the design, construction and maintenance data as well as related information on how these objects behave in different situations. BIM models are considered useful for all stakeholders contributing to a construction project. The use of models is known to deliver a number of benefits such as improved quality of designs and information management, enhanced collaboration, sustainable construction and improved construction sequencing, measurable cost savings, shortened project timelines, efficient model-based maintenance and faster commissioning.

The implementation of BIM can be divided into three different maturity stages (originally introduced by Succar in 2009). Stage one is object-based modelling; stage two is model-based collaboration and stage three is network-based integration.

At stage one, BIM is deployed by individual engineers and collaboration between the project stakeholders remains on the same level as with traditional pre-BIM 2D/3D designs. At stage two, several project parties use BIM systems and can exchange data, and collaboration models are produced from different design sub-models for clash detection, but also to be used as input data for building automation systems. At stage three, all software tools enable the use of integrated models at every phase of the project, and all of the applications support the exchange of data.

It’s important for contractors and designers to understand these three maturity stages as national authorities in various countries are often referring to them when looking to improve quality and productivity of public construction. For instance, in the UK it is already required by law that all of the public construction projects should apply BIM at stage two.

Known benefits to owners of infrastructure projects

Based on literature, the benefits of BIM for infrastructure projects include:
• Increased project productivity and quality;
• Faster and better management of processes;
• Efficient electronic tendering;
• Improved data management during operation and
• Improved information flow throughout the project phases.

BIM allows project stakeholders to evaluate whether the construction of a design is economically feasible and how well different alternatives fulfil the functional and sustainable requirements. Information modelling also enables estimation of whole-life costs and environmental performance of the constructed site.

In 2007, the Stanford University Center for Integrated Facilities Engineering (CIFE) studied the benefits of BIM in 32 major projects. According to the study, there were 40% less unbudgeted changes, 10% cost savings in construction due to fewer clashes and 7% shorter project timelines (Azhar et al., 2008). Norwegian Road Authorities have reported an approximate 5% cost savings in some of the construction projects where project stakeholders used collaboration models to detect clashes between design sub-models (Berg, 2012). The use of BIM decreases the number of change orders and also shortens the project timeline (Barlish & Sullivan, 2012).

Also other studies have shown similar 5 % savings in construction as in the reported experiences in Norway. Interestingly, for Grilo & Jardim-Goncalves (2010), BIM is rather a dynamic process than just a data model. In fact, BIM-based engineering involves a creation of a 3D model that stores information across the entire project life cycle. This way BIM enhances collaboration at each phase of the project delivery.

Known benefits to designers and contractors

Based on literature, the benefits of BIM for designers and contractors include:
• Internationally compatible process models;
• Emphasized role of the designer and improved design accuracy;
• Reduced defects and improved efficiency;
• Improved building automation and
• Improved management of construction processes.

A major advantage of BIM is that it enables the use of same data for several purposes. It is also commonly agreed that the use of BIM can significantly enhance a construction process when integrated with lean construction technologies.

Use of BIM in civil and architectural projects allows us to reduce design and construction defects. In large projects where there are several design organisations involved, one common collaboration model created out of sub-models can help the team to find defects that would be hard to find using conventional processes.

When combining a project schedule with a 3D information model, we can in fact say that we have a 4D system in place. With the time being the fourth dimension, 4D systems allow simulations of the construction process and detection of clashes in the context of time – which is particularly useful, if the project includes temporary construction objects (Eastman et al., 2011). Design analysis and simulations are also known to increase the quality of design and enable innovative end results (e.g. Azhar et al. 2008).

So what are the barriers?

No categorization of barriers was applied ahead of the study. Instead, the idea was to allow the comments of the selected 10 focus groups to lead the research work. The barriers identified by the focus groups were finally divided to the following five groups:

  • ICT related barriers;
  • Change resistance related barriers;
  • Interoperability or similar problems;
  • Organisational and common process-based barriers and
  • Training and knowledge-based barriers.

Figure 1: The different barrier types reported by the focus groups (Halttula et al. 2015)

The biggest barrier: obstacles in project organization and business processes

Based on the study, a majority of the barriers reported by the focus groups (i.e. 47%) were due to a lack of adequate processes in BIM-based projects and of adequate roles in the project organization that would enable the management of BIM data. The change resistance seems to be a greater barrier to the owners of infrastructure projects than it is for the studied design and construction businesses.

It appears as if there was not enough information available on the use of BIM and its requirements in common processes. Procurement methods rely on document-based processes and therefore, they do not support BIM-based processes. Common modelling instructions are either insufficient or not put into practice. BIM implementation plans seem to be missing, especially when considering what to model, what accuracy to use, what kind of models are needed, who owns the data stored in the models and who has the legal responsibility. No one seems to be in charge of the collaboration model.

These are all questions that need to be clarified before starting a design and construction project and ideally, should be outlined in a separate BIM implementation plan.

It can be concluded that the greatest barrier is the lack of organization-wide practical guidelines for BIM implementation. A successful BIM implementation requires that technology, people and processes are all aligned for a common goal.

Literature on the topic

Azhar, S., Hein, M., & Sketo, B. (2008). Building Information Modeling (BIM): Benefits, Risks, and Challenges. Auburn, AL: Auburn University McWhorter School of Building Science.

Barlish, K, and Sullivan, K. (2012). How to measure the benefits of BIM — A case study approach, Automation in Construction. 24 149–159.

Berg, H. (2012, May). How 4% was saved of construction cost, and can we save even more? Paper presented at the seminar The Possibilities of BIM in the removal of Waste and in Value Creation, Espoo, Finland.

Eastman, C., Teicholz, P., Sacks, R., & Liston, K. (2011). BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Grilo, A., & Jardim-Goncalves, R. (2010). Value proposition on interoperability of BIM and collaborative working environments. Automation in Construction, 19, 522-530.

Halttula, H., Haapasalo, H., & Herva, M. (2015). Barriers to Achieving the Benefits of BIM. International Journal of 3-D Information Modelling. 4(4), 16-33, October-December 2015.
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Succar, B. (2009). Building information modelling framework: A research and delivery foundation for industry stakeholders. Automation in Construction, 18, 357-375.


About the author

Heikki Halttula (M.Sc.), President and CEO of Viasys VDC, has for over 30 years of experience in civil engineering including GIS and CAD software development as well as BIM and lean implementation projects. He is an active member of RIL Finnish Association of Civil Engineers, a member of Building Smart Finland Infra committee  as well as a member of Finnish Transport and Communication Minister’s advisory group. His PhD research at the University of Oulu is focusing on the simultaneous use of BIM and lean methods in construction projects.

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