The following is taken from Chapter 3 of Achieving Spatial Coordination Through BIM: A Guide for Specialty Contractors, published by the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association and the National Electrical Contractors Association.

As senior executive of an MEP (mechanical-electrical-plumbing) contractor, the responsibility for building a BIM spatial coordination program falls to you. The BIM (building information modeling) implementation plan is the foundation.

This plan identifies the skills, processes and technologies you need to have to do the work successfully and a schedule for filling the gaps between what you have and what you need. This chapter focuses on the considerations for evaluating the skills and processes of your current operations.

Building an effective spatial coordination program

Do not wait until you have been awarded a BIM and 3-D modeling spatial coordination project to establish within your company the capabilities that you will need to perform the job accurately and effectively. Spatial coordination with 3-D modeling is a valued capability of many MEP contracting firms and should be instrumental to your estimating and negotiating process for any project. When you find a requirement for spatial coordination, 3-D modeling, or BIM in a request for proposal (RFP), you want to be prepared to add to the proposal a description of your company’s unique capabilities to complete the job and fulfill the BIM special requirements of the project.

It is important to carefully review the spatial coordination or BIM requirements before your firm bids on any project. Your estimators should evaluate the costs of meeting the specification requirements, your operational personnel should review coordination and related construction schedules, your detailing or modeling manager should identify the special requirements and procedures related to this custom project, and your executives should analyze the contract terms and associated risk that might apply.

Do you have the trained personnel available to do this? Unfortunately, most contractors discover that they do not only after they have won the bid. They assume that the project requires a high-level detailing process, only to find that the BIM requirements demand much more time, resources, and expense than anyone had anticipated.

Once burned, smart MEP contractors are quick to adjust to the needs and demands of their clients and the industry in general. It takes a concerted effort to understand all the dynamic aspects of spatial coordination and building information modeling and to recognize how owners, general contractors and construction managers, architects and design professionals are positioned to address technology’s new influence in the construction process.

Preparing your BIM implementation plan

Projects vary in size, composition and complexity, but your processes, protocols, and metrics should not. If you were to bid on a project that requires BIM coordination, do you know which aspects of your business can function as they do now? Or which departments or processes must transform to meet the new demands and expectations? Have your project teams identified and staffed all the functional areas required for a BIM project?

If you cannot answer these questions in the affirmative or you simply do not know, you need to begin work on a BIM implementation plan.

A BIM implementation plan is a business strategy document that outlines the resources your company needs to buy and to hire, and identifies the changes to current internal processes that are required to fully support BIM projects. The first step in preparing this plan is to inventory the skills and equipment your firm currently has and analyze how your business data flows within the firm. The second step is to identify any gaps between what you have and what you need to meet the demands of current and future BIM projects. The third step is to prepare a schedule for your organization to evaluate, select and incorporate the technologies you will need to adopt.

There are no standard templates for developing this plan; each one is unique. Because the BIM technologies can transform your company’s processes, an executive with a broad view of all aspects of the company’s capabilities and goals should oversee the work. That executive, in turn, needs to find the champions — the seasoned and respected individuals within your company who have the patience and persistence to keep your plan on task and still meet any immediate commitments or obligations for your firm.

These plans should describe the existing internal processes for planning and executing spatial coordination, including communication, data exchange and how the information gleaned from the process is applied. The plan describes how you want these processes to change to meet new or desired expectations. The plan also makes note of future opportunities and of any data collection and reuse that might enhance your business practices. This plan should be prepared with the expectation that it will be revisited and evolve as the company’s skills grow and to accommodate new technologies and tools.

If you are new to BIM and do not feel you have a good understanding of what the industry is demanding in your specific area of business, consider setting up formal discussions with your clients, your peers, your vendors and your technology providers. What you learn will help you see where your gaps are, and at the very least, what you need to meet your immediate needs.

The sections that follow include guidelines that you may want to use as starting points for various aspects of your implementation plan. They focus on the skills and processes that the implementation plan must address.

Roles and responsibilities on the coordination team

Project specifications, BIM execution plans or other project-specific BIM documents usually define the roles and responsibilities of participants on the coordination team. External stakeholders include the owner (and/or his/her designee), the architect, the construction manager and general contractor, the trade-specific engineers of record, Lead MEP contractors, and other trade-specific participants.

The first step for your project team members is to document the background and skills of each participant on the coordination team: Who is taking on which role? What is each person responsible for? What experience do they have in the industry and with spatial coordination? What and how much authority do they have? Do they have the skills that will help everyone succeed?

This information is useful because the more experience your representatives on the coordination team have, the sooner they can recognize when critical roles are being performed properly. If they see shortcomings that will hamper progress, experienced team members should raise their concerns right away. Documenting such gaps is something that all prudent MEP contractors should be willing to do.

The three critical roles on the coordination team are the project coordination manager, the model manager and the lead MEP subcontractor. On some projects, one person performs more than one of these roles; on others, the roles are assigned to individuals employed by different firms. Their basic responsibilities do not change, but their responsibilities within the current project must be defined and understood. Their titles well may be different from those used here. There is also an authorized representative from each of the trades participating in coordination

As the needs and expectations of spatial coordination have expanded, many stakeholders have looked to their MEP contractors to lead or manage some or all of their coordination efforts. MEP contractors are often asked to assemble initial drafts of BIM execution plans.

These are significant responsibilities. If you are willing to step into these roles, you should be confident that you have the resources, capabilities, and bench support for them. You should also be adequately compensated for the additional work and the risk you assume.

 Many qualified MEP contractors take on these responsibilities because they are compelled to by contract requirements, or choose to do so because they are best qualified to perform these functions, or want to have significant control over those factors critical to a successful project.