What to Look for in a BIM Partner

  • September 29, 2020

The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) among architects, engineers, contractors, and now owners (AECOs) has been steadily rising over the last couple of decades and the market for BIM is anticipated to double to upwards of $9 billion by 2024. There are a number of forces driving this –– labor shortages, pressures to compress timelines, rising concerns over job site health and safety, and now, the need to accommodate virtual teams. Additionally, as owners look to create more efficient, sustainable and profitable buildings, the use of BIM will prove a necessary part of the equation. 

However, the investment and time required to build out an in-house BIM team is often out-of-reach. For this reason, outsourcing the work to an experienced BIM service provider has become a more common practice. In fact, for general contractors specifically, roughly 45% of firms surveyed said they outsource BIM on a regular basis –– and that number has continued to grow year over year. 

Outsourcing BIM allows you to quickly scale up or down, and bring in expertise quickly without the massive overhead associated with an in-house team. But, this strategy comes with a serious responsibility as the results you deliver are only going to be as good as the quality and reliability of the BIM partner you choose. 

Because BIM is a collaborative method that brings together nearly every component of the planning, design, construction and management of a building, it’s imperative to find a partner who not only brings technical expertise, but also has a keen understanding of the construction process, and prioritizes stakeholder alignment. When searching for the right BIM partner, consider the following qualities:  

Demonstrable experience and expertise. This may seem like an obvious one, but we run into it all too often –– BIM managers and technologists who claim BIM and VDC expertise, but don’t have the chops to back it up. Make sure they are able to show you past project successes that go beyond 2D and 3D models, and match the size and scope of your project. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for references and talk to those references about their experience. Also, ask for case studies, review their social channels, and conduct an online search. Approach this as you would if you were hiring someone in-house. 

Big-picture thinking. Because BIM is more than just a 3D model or MEP coordination –– encompassing 4D (time), 5D (cost), 6D (sustainability), and 7D (facility management applications), you want a partner who understands how BIM fits into the big picture and the value it can deliver to all stakeholders involved: architects, engineers, contractors, and owners. 

High emotional intelligence (EQ). Empathy and problem solving are part of our core values and they are two key traits we look for when hiring new talent. You want a partner who brings EQ to the equation –– who can empathize with all stakeholders and understands what they need in their roles. A partner who takes the time to understand your business and your processes to create alignment rather than simply implement their own way of doing things. Additionally, because issues will always arise in the construction process, a partner with a high EQ is more likely to focus on problem solving versus placing blame. When talking to the references, ask how the potential partner handled issues. 

Clear communications. The role of BIM is ultimately to bring more cohesion and alignment to projects, and so it’s imperative a partner is transparent and in frequent communication. It’s not uncommon for data collected during the BIM process to reveal necessary changes to the scope or plans, and a good partner will have established a good chain of communication with you and your team. Consider asking what systems they have in place regarding regular check-ins and project updates. 

Accountability. With an overwhelming majority of large-scale construction projects missing their project deadlines by 40%, it’s more important than ever for all involved parties, including BIM partners, to be deadline-driven. Investigate their history of meeting schedule deadlines. Ask them if they’ve ever completed a project that was on a compressed timeline and how they executed it.  

Industry, not just book smarts. Being technologically proficient is table stakes. Your partner should also understand the unique nuances of the construction industry rather than be myopically focused on modeling or project coordination. Look at the diversity of their team. Do they offer a range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences? 

Change management proficiency. Effective BIM should bring greater efficiency to the project and thus often requires some process change. You want a partner who strikes the right balance between melding to your existing processes and diplomatically introduces changes that will ultimately help the team work more efficiently and effectively. It’s not about disrupting –– it’s about finding what works for all stakeholders involved.   

Relentlessly driven toward excellence. This is another one of our core values and a trait we cherish in anyone we bring on our team. A partner should have that same quality, and that will be evident in their commitment to growth, continuous education, involvement in the AECO community, and their business philosophies. 

Finally, consider that a BIM service provider’s success often comes down to the thoroughness and effectiveness of how they hire, organize, and manage their teams. Minimal industry experience, fragmented responsibilities, and lack of managerial attention will all hinder a potential partner’s ability to effectively meet your project needs. Ultimately, find a BIM partner who vets their internal team as rigorously as you are vetting them.