Until many projects are completed and studied, it’s hard to answer questions on payback for BIM in projects

The progress of BIM is slowed by the learning curve it imposes on everyone. Designers and builders both see the advantages of it and have shouldered their own costs. But many still ask their clients for more money, to cover their learning but also to deliver the additional services that BIM makes possible. For clients, this is a challenge. They can stand pat, allowing their team to use BIM as it sees fit, but paying nothing extra. Or they can dive in, asking for more than the pre-BIM service. That inevitably raises the question: what’s the menu? What can we do and how does it pay back? Until many projects are completed and studied, its hard to answer the second question. But a recent tool offers to try.

The Scottish Futures Trust provides a web-based calculator that aims to demonstrate the financial as well as qualitative benefits of BIM. The tool first asks for project facts, including capital cost, intended life-span, design and preliminaries cost percentages. It then goes through each RIBA Stage listing benefits and asking which apply and to what extent. Then it looks at quantitative measures, suggesting savings possible and asking how likely they are to be realised. Finally, it spits out a cost-benefit table.

The results will, of course, vary between projects. What is evident however is the extra cost to the briefing and design stages coming from the use of a Common Data Environment, possible consultancy and training help to the team and effort required to frame the Employers Information Requirements. This term includes any needed work on Organisational Information and Asset Information Requirements.

The procure and construct stages show substantial payback, from time saved and risk reduced, paying for the front-end investment several times over. The biggest payback comes during handover and the operational life, however. After modest investment in improved Facility Management systems, the Asset Information Model drives major economies in building performance and maintenance. Ongoing upkeep of the asset model as the building is modified doesn’t cut into savings unduly.

The SFT tool is aimed at public clients who will retain and manage their buildings. Commercial developers will be most interested in the capital project payback. They will fret that the front-loading of costs occurs before certainty that the project can proceed. They will also point out that investors and tenants do not yet perceive the value of the asset model and won’t pay for it. These are real objections but are only teething troubles. Front end costs will fall as everyone adjusts to the new terms of briefmaking and technology set-up. The investor and tenant markets will wake up to the potential, once it is made clearer and coupled with the ‘smart building’ concept which they already like the sound of.