BIM & Design: From Architects to Subcontractors – Who Does What?

February 10, 2017

BIM & Design: From Architects to Subcontractors – Who does what?

We’re often told how BIM will revolutionize the design and build process and that collaboration is key. We’re also frequently reminded that BIM is less about technology than it is about people and processes. What isn’t always immediately clear is where each of us sits, and where our responsibilities lie, in the BIM process.

One of the most valuable additions BIM offers the AEC industry is an opportunity to work together more closely and concurrently than ever before. Historically, there has all too often been a perceived divide between architects, contractors, engineers and subcontractors. Experts are adamant that BIM can play a significant role in promoting collaboration between all project stakeholders, improving efficiency and profitability for all concerned, including clients. However, not every contractor and subcontractor feels overly inclined to assume responsibility for championing BIM and extolling its virtues to their peers.


"There’s also a concern among subcontractors about their role within the BIM process, particularly when it comes to design. For example, MEP designers face a number of unique challenges when it comes to BIM adoption."

Instead, there’s a degree of buck-passing among major stakeholders with each tending to view BIM implementation as the responsibility of someone else in the supply chain. Indeed, despite a global rise in BIM projects, there’s still a widely-held feeling that Building Information Modelling remains, principally, the cosseted baby of architects and major contractors. While we might be prepared to hold it briefly so as not to put their noses out of joint, taking responsibility for it is a bridge too far. Expecting someone else to take responsibility for something only you planned and only you wanted is a bit of an ask.

However, handled well, BIM offers a great deal to subcontractors, not least the opportunity to win newer and bigger contracts by offering a broader portfolio of skills and expertise. That said, there’s still a decision to be made about whether any investment made is going to achieve ROI. For subcontractors, who often feel they have little influence in determining project strategy and outcomes. Instead, they often feel at the whim of the Architect, Contractor and/or Project Manager.

There’s also a concern among subcontractors about their role within the BIM process, particularly when it comes to design. For example, MEP designers face a number of unique challenges when it comes to BIM adoption.

While architects usually work in building models they’ve created themselves, MEP designers typically need to work on an existing model created by a third party. One of the biggest challenges they face are changes made to the model in response to the requirements of clients. Sometimes it’s just a door stop that has changed but sometimes entire installation voids are modified. As a result, whether the MEP designers need to rework their designs or not is also subject to change and the workload associated with it is variable. As a result, a request to do BIM can appear to make matters more complex than they already are.

Once again, these issues can be resolved by the incorporation of properly standardized and collaborative BIM at an early stage in the project. Far from proving an inconvenience, a proper BIM strategy, strategically implemented should help prevent a situation whereby contractors are able to pass risk down the supply chain.  

With all that in mind, can subcontractors carry on not holding the BIM baby or should they embrace adoption with open arms?

To learn more, download our whitepaper, The Ultimate Guide to BIM & Design to take a deep dive into BIM design for everyone involved in the process.


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