The most striking transformation to the AEC landscape in the aftermath of the ’08 recession is the business consolidation that witnessed giant AEC firms swallow up their wounded and limping competitors and then spread their wings around the world, ready to offer AEC services to anyone anywhere with an infrastructure project. There has been so much acquisition and mergers in some cases that we have lost track of who cannibalized whom. To make matters more confusing, some takers preserved the names of the taken to leverage their brand and expertise.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) companies, emerging out of a difficult recession that left no one unscathed, smelled blood—lots of it—and pounced by offering a one-stop software shop to handle any infrastructure BIM and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) solution giant AEC firms need to complete their projects and get distant teams to work in the same virtual office. This match made in even, quite a recent phenomenon unfolding right in front of our eyes, is a big part of what is driving BIM today.
When big AEC firms secure a mega-infrastructure project such as those found in the Middle East or China, they turn to the software companies that authored the BIM and IPD programs they use to help them implement their workflow for the project. Once the implementation services are completed, the BIM companies then recycle their BIM business model based on the services they provided to the large AEC firm, and turn around and tell the rest of the AEC world that the package that they just designed for a large client that provides architecture, structural, mechanical, and electrical services is what BIM really is, and that we have to accept their word for it because they are the experts and know better.
This is the genesis of the bundled BIM business model that some companies are peddling, and they swear by it and consider it as the future of BIM as they have imaged it for our sake and that of BIM. It is something that the large majority of design firms have very little use for. Most design firms are neither big, nor provide engineering much less construction services. What most design firms want first and foremost is a good BIM program that responds to their design needs and improves their workflow. This has to be the absolute starting point where BIM companies should concentrate all their energy before anything else. If design firms need to exchange BIM models with their consultants, they can rely on IFC and not on bundled programs. This means also all BIM companies should embrace interoperability as a must. Of course, there are design firms that provide both architecture and engineering services in house and would benefit from bundled BIM programs, but should a business love affair with those firms, small in numbers, be the principal driver of BIM today and tomorrow? We do not think so.
BIM bundling is a major impediment to the future of BIM, especially in the US, where in the last few years, major software players have increasingly been pursuing a business model of diversifying their software portfolio to be all things to anyone who has any type of infrastructure project anywhere on earth. We argue in this blog, as we alluded to in a previous one (See Why SYLLA International Switched to Archicad), that it is not in the best interest of BIM and its future, nor is it for the design profession, whether architecture or engineering.
Here is another gimmick: The design and construction industry used to be described by the acronym of AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction), but increasingly AEC is now giving way for a more high-minded expression called “Sustainable Infrastructure.” That is the only thing you now hear from BIM companies, because infrastructure is an all-encompassing word that makes it possible for them to bundle together everything related to architecture, engineering, and construction, including buildings, roads, bridges, railroad, site civil, energy, dams, transportation, environmental, information technology, and everything else in between that sustains the human species in modern cities.
The sustainability aspect of infrastructure is tethered to the understandable argument that cities, which are complex and dynamic living organisms, need sustainable infrastructure to thrive and support their population growth, particularly in the age of climate change. It is from this business angle that sustainable infrastructure provides the rationale and premise upon which BIM companies build firmly the business legitimacy of BIM bundling as a natural, some would even argue organic, response to what cities are yearning for to solve their problems.
Backed by a crafty and powerful marketing map with a clever compass, they gradually chart a course to make all design professionals involved in the AEC industry believe that there is only one way to make infrastructure sustainable, and that is to see the “big picture” of how all infrastructure in cities are connected as one system and therefore requiring an all-encompassing software package bundled to offer a solution to every infrastructure problem faced by cities.
While the argument that cities are centers where inter-related infrastructure coalesce is spot on, the planning, design, engineering, and construction response does not necessarily have to come from bundled packages of BIM programs. Whether we are aware of it or not, conscious of it or not, a big part of the direction BIM and IPD is taking today and tomorrow, including software development, diversification, and bundling, is driven by the sustainable infrastructure business model culled by big AEC players and their BIM business allies.
If large AEC firms become the principal drivers of BIM software development, their unwieldy size will constrains the flexibility BIM needs to truly find its natural voice and become a powerful design tool for all project types and not just the big ones. In fact, we were surprised to learn that even some management consulting firms, who traditionally find their calling in the pure world of business management, now offer BIM consulting services related to sustainable infrastructure. By virtue of that business alliance, BIM companies become big enablers, shaping their business model to respond to how the giants in the AEC and management consulting industries define sustainable infrastructure and the form BIM and IPD should take in response to it. This creates the misconception that BIM is only for large projects, and that if you are a small architectural practice, BIM is not for you, which is not the case. BIM is size-neutral and fits any project type and size.
We are not arguing against AEC and BIM companies pursuing the business models that suits them in the context of the free market system. Instead, we are arguing that if BIM companies cater mostly to big firms and their needs, they will not spend sufficient time and resources to develop smart and powerful BIM tools that the majority of design firms need. If design professionals outside the circle of AEC giants do not have an appropriate place at the table with its own BIM check list and seek to impact its direction, then we risk letting giant firms define for the rest of us what BIM is in the image of their own big business model that is not fitting for most firms. The clamor for BIM will get louder, but the reality will disappoint most firms because we are provided with BIMINO™ (BIM In Name Only) tools and not BIM tools.
In Part 2 of this blog, we will argue why BIM companies that focus on just one or two related BIM programs provide more powerful BIM functionalities than BIM companies that offer bundled programs. Please keep an eye for it, it is an editorial piece we hope you will enjoy it.