Using Business Technology + Data to Drive Efficiency + Profit | Q+A with Tim Beckman

This is one of a series of Q&As with architects, builders, consultants and software providers that explore what builders need to do to take advantage of BIM or other advanced software programs, as well as how to choose the right ones for their needs.

Tim Beckman
CG Visions

This Q&A is with Tim Beckman, Director of Business Development at CG Visions in Lafayette, Indiana. The company offers BIM consulting services as well as its own software products—BIM Pipeline for estimation, and eHome for on-line client experience, among others—that will integrate with many leading industry design and management programs. The company has the flexibility to host all of a builder’s BIM activities, or to help the builder take it in-house.

CG’s clients represent a cross-section of the industry, from 150-unit-per-year operations to the nation’s largest homebuilder.

Alliance: What kinds of BIM benefits are your builder clients looking for?

TB: Although some come to us looking for full 3D modeling capability, most start with one or two less comprehensive functions then build from there. For instance if a company wants to move to panelization we might start by building a framing model for them. If they aren’t interested in moving in that direction we will build something else, such as a price model or a takeoff model.

A lot of our clients want to unpack their bids in order to split the material and labor out of turnkey prices.

Whatever the focus we always work to eliminate repetitive tasks. With one builder, for instance, we created a design model that linked to the cost management system. They were spending five days doing takeoffs from plans but can now do it in a day.

Alliance: What might the roadmap look like for a builder moving down this path?

TB: It’s different for every builder but let’s imagine one starting with little to no software sophistication. A hypothetical set of steps might look like this:

  1. Assume they don’t want to enter their existing plans into a full BIM file but do want to generate more detailed Purchase Orders from those plans. We can start by creating either a data model or a “lightweight” 3D BIM file that provides the inputs needed to drive those P.O.’s.
  2. As they develop new floor plans, we could provide them with the necessary BIM files. These new files will provide the compulsory construction documents, as well as the inputs needed for those detailed P.O.’s
  3. Next they could use this data as the basis of an online sales presence. That could include the ability for customers to choose options in the sales center and to see in real time—on the web using a computer, iPad interface, or a touchpad table—how the options will look and what they will cost.
  4. The completed options data can then be included in the sales contract with images of the customers’ selections. The selections, and the materials needed for those selections, can also be communicated to the purchasing group.
  5. Then we can move to the operational side. The information from the Building Information Model we created for sales and estimating can be used to populate start requests. We can set the system up so that it automatically solves for site-specific conditions and generates site-specific plans.
  6. This information can then be handed off to the scheduling system, which will communicate the appropriate job details and timetables to the each trade.

The above is just one hypothetical example. These steps can all be taken one at a time, at whatever pace and in whatever order the builder wants.

Alliance: What advice would you offer builders who want to prepare their companies to get the most out of a BIM implementation?

TB: Five things come to mind:

  1. If they’re a portfolio builder they should start by looking at their options and performing a frequency analysis. Even if elevation N has 20 options it doesn’t make sense to invest in that elevation if 80% of their business is in elevations A, B, C and D. That doesn’t mean they can’t sell and execute elevation N, as well as the relevant options, but the system might be set up so it takes 2 clicks to get A, B, C and D and 30 clicks for N.
  2. Be clear on how they want to want to derive construction costs. If the builder hasn’t gotten their trade base on board with going to a unitized pricing model that could make it hard to adopt a BIM process. It could also waste time and money: we don’t want to provide BIM for drywall screws, mud and tape if the drywaller won’t do business at that level of detail.
  3. Have a process in place to control what’s being sold. If they don’t want salespeople selling last year’s plans then they need a way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
  4. Have interdisciplinary discussions not just about architecture, but about sales, purchasing and operations. Make sure the leaders of each part of the organization understand this new way of doing business. These discussions can be eye opening for companies where sales hasn’t talked with purchasing or construction for a long time, but it’s important that each part of the company understand how its work affects the other parts. It’s a good idea to repeat this process with the trades, as well. The point is that you can solve a lot with BIM but it will be for naught if you have poor communication among your internal groups or if your framer doesn’t look at plans because their attitude is “we’ve been framing 20 years and don’t need you to tell us how to do our job.”
  5. Nominate an internal champion. It doesn’t have to be an outside consultant but needs to be someone who has the ability to step away from the tree and see the forest.

Alliance: Any other thoughts?

TB: At this year’s (2018) Alliance Innovation Summit one of the speakers made the point that BIM is not just software; it’s a process. You really need to look at it through that lens.

Also, I remind people that while BIM can bring great benefits to their company, it’s not a panacea. It won’t solve all their business issues.

Read more in this series: