Using Business Technology + Data to Drive Efficiency + Profit | Q&A with Finith Jernigan, AIA

One lesson we have learned by looking at innovation is that digital technology isn’t a silver bullet. Good technologies can be real force multipliers, but only if you choose the right ones for your company and apply them in the right ways. And of course no technology will correct bad business processes. You really need to get those ironed out before talking with vendors.

With that in mind, we have decided to do a series of Q&As with architects, builders, consultants and software providers. These Q&As will explore what a builder needs to do to take advantage of BIM or other advanced software programs, as well as how to choose the right ones for their needs.

Eventually, we plan to assemble these into a roadmap that builders can use to assess and address their technology needs.








Finith Jernigan, AIA
​Design Atlantic, Ltd.

This Q&A is with Finith Jernigan, President of Design Atlantic Ltd., an architectural, management and consulting firm in Salisbury, Maryland. Jernigan is a well-known proponent of Building Information Modeling and has written two books on the subject: BIG BIM little bim (1997) and BIG BIM 4.0 (2017).

Alliance: What steps does a builder need to get ready to take full advantage of BIM?

FJ: The first and most important thing you need to is to take whatever time is needed to understand what BIM is and what your needs are. Lots of people confuse BIM with 3D, 4D or whatever design. They’re not the same. Vendors aren’t immune to this confusion, either; in fact I see a lot of BIM Washing going on in the industry. That’s where a vendor makes an implication or unwarranted claim about its product’s BIM capabilities.

Alliance: How do you avoid falling for that?

FJ: You need to make sure the vendor’s product actually delivers the capabilities that your company needs. That means asking a lot of questions.

Alliance: How do you define BIM?

FJ: One way to look at BIM is as a business ecosystem. Individual programs form part of that system but no one program by itself is the system. For instance an architectural BIMs [like AutoCAD or Revit] may not do the design and modeling you need for the structural framing. You need other software programs if you want those capabilities, and you will need to make sure that the various programs are able to work together.

Alliance: How do you determine if the products you’re looking at will meet your needs?

FJ: You have to be a little hard-nosed. Too many builders aren’t.

For instance I suggest that you refuse to watch a canned demo. If the salesperson can’t sit down with you and show you exactly how the software will deliver the results your company is looking for, then you’re wasting your time.

I also suggest not getting into a discussion about D’s. If the vendor starts talking about D’s throw them out of your office.

Alliance: What if I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the software?

FJ: You don’t need software knowledge. What you need is an understanding your own processes and of what you want to accomplish.

With this in mind, the meeting with the vendor can be a real learning opportunity. But as I said, you have to ask a lot of questions.

Say for instance that you use Primavera for scheduling. How, exactly, will the vendor’s product feed the data from the BIM model to Primavera in a way that every time you update the model the schedule automatically updates? And how do you get the quantities from the BIM model to my estimators?

There are a hundred other possible questions but the point is that you really need to have thought through your needs before that meeting. Those needs can be simple at first.

Alliance: So you can start small?

FJ: Yes. I’ve used BIM for everything from porch additions to hospital complexes. You can get into it at whatever level meets your needs then grow from there. The important thing is to start.

Read more in this series: