DProfiler's Place in the BIM Industry

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The topic of technological advances has been a prominent player in discussions about the direction of the AEC industry. Building information modeling (BIM) in particular has dominated these conversations for the past couple of years. At a time when our industry is characterized as highly fragmented and wasteful and fueled by interdisciplinary tension, high risks with low returns, and few, if any, economies of scale, many look to BIM as the silver bullet to save us all. But in order to act as that silver bullet, BIM must serve a dual purpose:

  1. It must enable providers to better serve clients.
  2. It must present clients with better solutions earlier in the process-a real value proposition that clients will be willing to pay.
Currently, our industry is fraught with risks, guaranteed prices, and end products that last a lifetime, not a few years like other commodities. As service providers, we are not paid for the problems we mitigate, and as more and more players enter the industry, our fees are being eroded. Each building we build is unique-we have no economies of scale, nor can we invest large sums of money into prototypes; prototypes are those same unique buildings.

The Case for Change

We at The Beck Group believe that many of the changes we are seeing within the industry result from owners' changing demands. Demand for higher quality and more complex projects, delivered at lower costs and in shorter amounts of time, has caused a proliferation of changes within our own AEC industry. Many architecture firms in the U.S. have tried to outsource or are outsourcing the production work once performed by architects within their firms to lower-priced labor pools, such as India and China. All of these changes are themselves commoditizing the traditional roles and responsibilities within the AEC industry and leading to tremendous changes in the fee structures of AEC participants.

Our industry has not experienced the major process and technological transformations seen in other industries like manufacturing and telecommunications. Within our industry, "design, bid, build" is still the most common delivery model. This delivery model requires the owner to make huge financial commitments based on guesses as to the project scope, design, cost, and construction schedule. After obtaining funding and hiring the A/E and GC, the project team spends a long period of time designing and documenting the project before it is bid by the subcontractor community, where the true project costs are realized. Obviously this process is flawed, and many believe that BIM has the potential to offer more effective strategies for practitioners in terms of designing and constructing buildings.

BIM is hardly a new phenomenon; products like RUCAPS and SONATA emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. However, new software and improved hardware have made BIM a reality. To date, many of the large CAD vendors have BIM products. Unfortunately for the AEC industry, the marketing departments within many of these organizations have been on overdrive and have added confusion to the market regarding what BIM is and what it does.

The Micro View

There are some tremendous BIM products on the market today, such as Autodesk's Revit, Bentley's Microstation, Graphisoft's Archicad, and Gehry Technologies' Digital Project. These products enable practitioners to answer some fundamental questions-namely, "What is the design of the project, and how can we create a coordinated set of documents to convey the design so that it can be constructed?" To date, many architectural firms are in the process of adopting BIM, and those that are using BIM are starting to see tremendous productivity gains in the production of construction documents and improvements in the quality of these deliverables. It makes sense that architecture firms would purchase such technology since this is where they spend 60-70% of their fees. One wonders, however, how long it will take owners to figure out that the architectural costs of production have dramatically been reduced and start to pay less for architectural services. If BIM is simply a tool to improve documentation and productivity, the role of the architect will become further commoditized.

The micro model does have other potential downstream benefits that can enable improvements in the entire project deliverable. These potential benefits include using the model as a method of defining quantities for cost estimating and scheduling, the contract documents from which the contractor and subcontractor build, the starting point for facilities management, etc. Although these and many other benefits are possible, there are also many barriers, including legal and cultural barriers, that prevent the AEC industry from leveraging BIM.

The Macro View

A helpful analogy to the macro view is to consider the book-writing process. When an author writes a book, he or she does not start with the detail; an outline is the starting point. The same is true of macro-model use of BIM. The macro model serves as an outline for looking at the project holistically, including the concept, the scope, the hard costs, and the overall projected costs, including financing with a pro forma. The macro model allows the project parameters to be established with very little effort, enabling multiple concepts to be evaluated, drawing as little detail as possible to get as much data as possible associated with the project. The macro model affords owners the luxury of a decision to proceed to the design phase if the project fits within financial expectations. BIM, as defined by Beck Technology, at the macro level provides AEC firms and owners with simple images, geo-referenced models, a cost estimate, design criteria, numerical analysis, and a project pro forma. Value engineering occurs where it has the greatest opportunity to impact cost: early in the process before the project leaves the conceptual phase.

The Beck Technology Story

The Beck Group became involved in the development of BIM technology a decade ago. At the heart has been the goal of creating the technical foundation of Beck's dedication to innovation and increased efficiencies. We have developed a tool designed to create the full story of real-time cost analysis combined with 3-D visualization. This tool is called DProfiler, and it can graphically describe a building project from which project quantities and costs are simultaneously derived. DProfiler is a simple-to-use BIM tool which integrates real-time cost estimating into the rapid evaluation of multiple building and site alternatives.
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