Taking the BIM plunge pays off for small practice

25 January 2017

Anthony Harte, director from architectural consultant James & Ward, explains how getting on board with BIM has driven efficiencies, increased productivity and generated more profits for the practice.

Anthony Harte

Our entrance into the world of BIM came in 2008. It was initially driven by a private sector client, Walmart’s UK subsidiary Asda, who specified we convert existing 2D AutoCAD drawings into 3D using Autodesk’s Revit.

As a small practice we were able to act quickly, gaining approval from all directors within days along with authorisation to invest the £16,000 necessary on licenses, kit and training.

Adopting BIM is a huge financial commitment, especially for small practices. Although it’s been made slightly more affordable with the introduction of software subscription packages, it’s still a large chunk of money to come off the bottom line.

We decided the investment should be part of our longer-term business strategy. We therefore don’t add a premium when pitching for new contracts to offset the costs, which is something a lot of companies large and small tend to do to recoup some of the investment.

Having taken the plunge, we invested a good deal of time getting to grips with BIM, initially developing the knowledge of myself and one other team member.

Taking this approach has enabled our business to grow organically, increasing our output and expanding our customer base. We are 70% more efficient than before, make more profit and get a better return on all our projects. Our client base is also more diverse as a result.

One of the clearest advantages of using BIM (aside from the financial benefits on contracted projects) was that it enabled us to identify inefficiencies within our own practice.

For example, we developed a standardised approach for all our filing structures and project management procedures, ensuring company standards and branding were consistent, both internally and for external clients. This in turn was fundamental in us achieving ISO 9001, which again has helped us to win more business.

As a firm we boast a 100% success rate in delivering projects on time and within budget, which is something else we attribute to BIM use.

Although BIM is much more widespread than it was in 2008, it’s a minefield for firms attempting to get on board today. There’s an abundance of resources, websites, training events and conferences available.

The challenge is knowing which ones provide value for money and credibility. Based on our experience, it is important to have a clear understanding of the benefits BIM can bring to your business, and identifying the additional services and opportunities it can open up for business growth will help inform which resources will be of most benefit.

BIM was used on James & Ward’s Asda scheme in Mosborough, Sheffield

When we started using BIM there was no government mandate, no rules on certification, validation and verification and nowhere near the amount of hot air that surrounds the subject today. As such we had to develop our own procedures and policies.

We began by focusing on the front-end visual capabilities of BIM, such as 3D drawings, rendering and walk-throughs, as we’d never been able to offer these “value added” services to clients.

However, over time we realised that these are really only the by-products of the real benefits of BIM. Focusing on the data available within the software, the collaborative opportunities, and the capability for continued development of information is where BIM really comes into its own.

As our expertise and knowledge increased we could look at multiple factors on behalf of contractors – such as availability of materials, construction methods, transportation issues, site limitations or restrictions and timing of waste generation – and identify the most cost-effective and sustainable options for them.

This meant we were able to offer a really competitive service to our clients, including reducing the design phase and producing tender drawings at speed.

Contractor knowledge and understanding of BIM still varies quite extensively. There is a common belief that BIM software will flag up potential problems regardless. However, we have found that the manual checking remains an essential part of projects until, at least, BIM use is universal and communication glitches between different software systems are fully resolved.

“In addition to saving our clients more than £4m in development costs through BIM, in a recent care home development we were able to identify a number of potential building errors, which would have cost the client an additional £330,000 to make good.”

Anthony Harte, James & Ward

As an example, through manually checking drawings we were able to highlight a structural issue with the positioning of the columns on a retail build for Asda that had opted to skip the steelwork design phase and went straight to the fabrication stage.

A software glitch could have resulted in a potentially costly mistake on the project that would not have been picked up if we hadn’t double checked the drawings manually.

Another example involves a contractor on one of our projects that chose to skip a site survey, instead stipulating the use of an architectural glazing schedule, because “BIM is accurate”. We had built in sufficient tolerances into the details (as a result of close liaison with the curtain walling subcontractor) and, aside from a single section having to be remanufactured, due to the steelwork sagging, our specifications were spot on.

In addition to saving our clients more than £4m in development costs through BIM, in a recent care home development we were able to identify a number of potential building errors, which would have cost the client an additional £330,000 to make good.

Organically growing our expertise has enabled us to capitalise on the wider benefits, focusing on the long-term operational savings that can be achieved through better specification and management of assets throughout a facility. This, in turn, has had a big impact on repeat business and winning new work.

As a small practice we have had to develop our skills over time, adapting our focus to meet a shifting client base. 2016 has been a pivotal year for BIM with the introduction of the central government mandate for Level 2. This is an encouraging move, but it has also introduced a level of complexity across the industry which confuses the majority.

The explosion of standards must be incredibly complex for those beginning their BIM journey, and keeping up with the changes is a task in itself. Just make sure that you see the benefits within your own business, and if you’re having to charge more just for carrying out the same services in BIM ask yourself why you’ve not found the benefits internally.

After all, there will be somebody waiting to value engineer that additional cost out without realising the benefits it brings.

For more information about James & Ward and its projects follow @jamesWARDltd or visit:

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