Digital transformation

Biggest Challenges of Implementing BIM for the AEC Industry

Building information modelling (BIM) holds great promise for everyone in the AEC industry. Being able to visualise a building with all its elements and systems can reduce waste, improve the accuracy of cost estimations, mitigate risks, and maximise project efficiency. But with all these benefits, why isn't BIM more popular in the industry? The truth is that BIM still faces significant challenges in adoption. Even though the AEC industry has traditionally been slow to adopt technology, some legitimate challenges of implementing BIM must be overcome.

What Is Building Information Modelling?

Building information modelling (BIM) uses intelligent software and data to create a digital representation of an asset (such as a building). The process runs through the entire lifecycle of the asset, from conception to design, construction, and operation.

Architects, engineers, and contractors in the AEC industry can use BIM models to collaborate on a building project. Virtualisation allows everyone, from architects to subcontractors, to work on the same model simultaneously. This is possible because, in technical terms, BIM relies on trusted cloud computing infrastructure to build a coherent system of computer models.

By enabling collaboration, BIM has quickly become one of the most influential trends in construction today. BIM and its revolutionary benefits are better understood when contrasted with CAD.


Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is the use of computer systems in drafting and design. Tools such as AutoCAD and ArchiCAD are some of the popular drafting programs used to create lines and arcs to form geometric representations of buildings.

On the other hand, BIM software such as Revit uses actual elements to represent physical components. For example, a CAD program would use lines to represent a wall; however, a BIM system would have an actual "wall" element with attached doors and windows.

If you move a wall in a BIM model, the whole room will resize. The door would also move with the wall. That's because software developers specifically programmed BIM elements that way; they are actual elements that you can place in a building design to create a detailed model.

CAD drawings can be generated later from the model, thus saving time and increasing efficiency. You can also include tags and parameters encoded into the elements. They can then stay fixed if you update building components, export to other programs, or perform analyses.

Advantages of BIM Over CAD

BIM enables advanced, hyperrealistic visualisation of building designs. In addition to pretty rendering, BIM also offers many functional advantages, including:

  • A chance to catch errors even before the project starts
  • The ability to make changes easily, such as increasing the size of windows
  • Every user can see how their changes affect the rest of the building.
  • The construction team can optimise processes using 3D models.

- Professionals can also use BIM software to automate some functions.

The building information model created in BIM software is an actual representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a model.

However, the challenges of implementing BIM are complex; moving to BIM is a bigger shift than just switching to new software. BIM requires a change in project delivery processes, data-sharing policies, and technical design skills.

Why Is BIM Needed in the AEC Industry?

The biggest benefit of a building information model lies in how accurately it represents the parts of a building. It provides innovative solutions to problems in the construction and engineering industry, such as wastage and cost overruns, giving it a wide range of applications.

We can view BIM as a virtual process that combines all of a facility's systems and disciplines into a single virtual model. This centralisation of multidisciplinary data allows everyone in the AEC industry (architects, engineers, and contractors, including subcontractors and suppliers) to work together. Team members can constantly make changes to refine their part of the model. This ensures a previously unseen level of harmony in the industry.

Collaboration on intelligent 3D models has the distinct advantage of reducing incompatibilities and conflicts before the project ever breaks ground. One paper estimates that using BIM software for information modelling can reduce unbudgeted changes by up to 40%; ultimately, this can save up to 10% of the contract value and 7% of project time. These savings are well worth overcoming the challenges of implementing BIM.

BIM Use Saves Money and Time: Case Studies

In one case study, the Aquarium Hilton Garden Inn construction project saved over $200,000 against a $90,000 price tag for the BIM services. These savings were in estimated conflict costs alone, assuming a conservative 25% of avoided conflicts were directly attributable to the use of BIM.

Better still, BIM ensures highly accurate cost estimations, usually within 3% of the actual project cost. In a second case study, Savannah State University (Georgia) saved $1,995,000 against a cost of $5,000 for the BIM model. Such examples make it easy to see that more BIM use in the AEC industry is sorely needed.

What Is the Main Barrier to BIM Implementation in the Construction Industry?

Several studies have been carried out to investigate why BIM adoption has been so slow. One such study done in Kuwait listed the lack of skilled personnel and failure to understand the concept behind BIM as the main barriers to BIM adoption.

It's true that BIM requires high levels of technical IT skills and experience in the construction industry. But the bigger challenges of implementing BIM have more to do with the collaboration process than with the BIM technology itself.

BIM requires immense amounts of multidisciplinary data, which causes several legal and technical challenges of implementing BIM.

The single biggest barrier to BIM implementation is the sourcing of accurate, consistent data from multiple stakeholders. Part of this problem is the risks that arise from diffusing responsibility for the data's accuracy and precision.

Who Owns the Data Once the BIM Model Is Complete?

BIM requires the collaboration of architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, and more. For example, engineers put in the specifications of cables and equipment, manufacturers provide price data, and the general contractor adds their own proprietary information.

This is a huge risk for all the parties involved. As a result, it significantly hinders the level of collaboration required in BIM implementation. If the data used is proprietary, who owns it? Is it the contractor, the contractor who supplies it, or the owner who pays for the project?

Current copyright protections for BIM data are inadequate, which means protections have to be worded into complex contracts. The question of data ownership is a complex one, and it requires a different approach for every project. The wrong attitude could discourage building information modelling from ever achieving its full potential.

**Data *Accuracy***

By definition, BIM relies on accurate and consistent information to generate accurate models. For example, the products, materials, and assemblies used in the building require up-to-date libraries of product information throughout the building's design, construction, and operation.

We aren't just talking about dimensional or price data. Performance data on structural and thermal properties, acoustics, and even recyclability will be needed. The impact of such critical data extends into the construction and operation phases.

Luckily, BIM can now be supported with technologies such as scan-to-BIM; this function can collect information on the as-built conditions of a building. Although this information can be collected manually or semi-automatically, data availability and precision remain critical challenges of implementing BIM.

Diffusion of Responsibility

In a fully open and collaborative BIM process, each party sources and enters data into the design. Who takes responsibility for the risks arising from any inaccuracies and inconsistencies?

BIM data requires regular screening and updating, so this is a significant responsibility. Will each party be responsible for their part of the design, or will the general contractor take up the significant risk of data collection and entry?

Suppose a design error leads to a lawsuit in the future. In that case, the collaborative nature of the BIM process means that the level of responsibility for each party is blurred between the architect, engineers, contractors, and other contributors.

If there is disagreement about who was responsible for certain designs or inaccuracies, it can be difficult to prove fault, leaving the lead professional exposed.

Overcoming the Barriers to BIM Adoption in the AEC Industry

The use of BIM for building design is the biggest paradigm shift the AEC industry has experienced yet. It is imperative that all stakeholders involved push on to overcome the barriers to BIM adoption if we're to reap the amazing benefits this technology has to offer.

One could argue that the sociotechnical and financial constraints that hinder BIM's use in the construction industry are tied to the size of AEC firms. The bulk of AEC organisations is made up of SMEs, which, for many reasons, often lag behind in adopting new technology.

However, one paper disagrees with the claim that the size of firms has to do with BIM adoption. The so-called digital divide at the heart of legal and technical data challenges of implementing BIM can be overcome with enough motivation and commitment from stakeholders in the AEC industry.

What Can Stakeholders Do About BIM Adoption?

Serious action and commitment are required to push BIM adoption past the critical point. Already, the UK government requires the use of BIM in all public works projects, but what about the private sector?

Despite clear benefits, the private sector needs a push to help AEC firms overcome their initial hesitance. That requires incentives to motivate stakeholders and help them find the right approach for BIM adoption.

A different paper explored the BIM divide from a multi-faceted perspective and underscored the need for policymakers and stakeholders to be context-conscious. In other words, we have to change how we think about BIM modelling to make it work.

Consider these changes:

  • Stakeholders need to learn more about the whole concept of BIM, not just the technology.
  • The industry needs to develop practical strategies for the integration and exchange of information for BIM components.
  • There is a need to standardise BIM as a process with a well-defined BIM implementation guide, making it easier for smaller firms to adopt the process.
  • Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers need to resolve pertinent challenges of implementing BIM, such as the issues of data interoperability and data ownership.
  • Software firms cashing in on the BIM hype need to reduce the learning curve and focus on the process as a whole, not just as a technology to sell.

As the use of building information modelling increases, collaboration will increase as more firms rush to keep up. BIM returns for the projects highlighted in studies was 634%, a clear pointer towards the economic potential the AEC industry can achieve with BIM.

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