AECbytes "Building the Future" Article (September 16, 2013)

Say “NO!” to Hollywood BIM: An Advanced Integration of the BIM Process at a Builder

Antonio Ruivo Meireles
Innovation Manager, Mota-Engil

We have often seen Builders implementing BIM. But in reality, in most cases, it’s more of a Hollywood BIM than BIM itself. What we’ve accomplished at Mota-Engil, a building company headquartered in Portugal, is a more advanced integration of the BIM process. This article describes how.

Mota-Engil is a 60 year old company, with more than 20,000 employees worldwide. Though the company has several sub-holdings, construction represents about 80% of the total turnover. Last year (2012), its turnover was of 2200M euros, and it has a presence in more than 20 countries.

Our BIM implementation strategy was divided into seven steps:

  • Benchmarking
  • Strategy Plans and Goals
  • People and Culture/Change
  • Process Definition
  • Choice of Software
  • Training
  • Pilots and Evaluation

All of the above steps are described in this article. Towards the end, the key pointers that emerged from our own implementation that should be helpful to other construction firms adopting BIM are discussed. There is also an extended discussion of the main benefits of BIM for a builder, based on our own experiences with it.


To avoid re-inventing the wheel, we started off our BIM implementation with Benchmarking. We know that there have been other companies who have struggled with their own processes and software, creating their own workarounds and solutions, so it was really important that we try to learn from others and thus make a smaller investment than we would have to otherwise. So we visited 15 to 20 international companies who were trying to implement this methodology. The idea was to talk with them, communicate, share experiences, and avoid repeating their mistakes. This was, of course, accompanied with a bibliographical study and a lot of research of market studies to better understand what would be the best strategy plan to implement in Mota-Engil. This process started 4 years ago.

We also made an internal Benchmarking study. We are a company with 60 years of history and a lot of experience, but we are in an industry that doesn’t apply “a lot of science” in what it does. Builders are sometimes seen more as “artists” and less as “scientists.”

Now that the technology is mature enough, we feel that it’s time to collect more data for better predictions and forecasts. Though we have now more capability of processing data, we shouldn’t underestimate empirical knowledge.

Our own benchmarking was made up of many interviews and analyzing internal processes—the real day-to-day sequencing of work flow between different players in the company. This work-flow was laboriously documented with the “swim-lane” technique. Then, a statistical study was undertaken on how much time each person took on their own tasks. This was of great importance to try and predict later the ROI (Return on Investment) of implementing BIM, especially on time-consuming and inefficient tasks.

Strategy Plans and Goals

The second step in our BIM Implementation was to define a Strategy Plan and our Goals. Since the beginning, we were aware of three important pillars: Coordination, Cost, and Time. We joined a knowledge international group that shared regularly their experiences, which were very similar to our own.

After defining our goals, we create a program called SIGABIM and started the implementation. We didn’t start off training everyone. We started by defining some standards, even if simple ones in the beginning. Then we defined which software to buy. There are several software packages, with different prices, ranging from 4000 to 15000 euros. Thus, it was very important to figure out what we needed and avoid incurring unwanted costs. We proceeded to watch many demos and training videos before choosing the software itself.

We started with training about 10 people in June 2010. These were our champions in terms of modeling. Most of them are still with us, in the company, and are our internal consultants to other colleagues who are starting to use BIM.

After the training, the first thing we did was a small project with the focus on shop-drawings and how to extract them from the model. After this, we started with a pilot and focused on quantity-takeoff based on the model. This was a very interactive process, since problems were found, and we had to go back-and-forth and correct the initial standards. What we thought was a linear process ended up being a recursive, cyclical process of maturing during the pilot. By the end of the pilot, our standards had evolved into a 6th version.

Only after a year did we venture into a bigger real-life pilot. It was the construction of a 60,000 m2 hospital. Here, we tried to implement the processes of extracting shop-drawings and quantity take-off from part of the project.

The end of 2011 marked the start of some tests with BIM estimating, BIM scheduling, and Time & Cost Control.

People and Culture/Change

This was one of the most important aspects of our BIM implementation process. As mentioned earlier, it’s very difficult to change an “artist” into a “scientist,” to change mentalities and abandon the idea of building as an “art” and face it more as a “science.” You really need someone in the company to keep the motivation up. Also, if you don’t have the support of the top-management levels, it is hard to implement BIM. The culture and values of the organization must be aligned with the new approaches. Empowerment, sharing, teamwork, etc., are characteristics that are not very common in the construction business. But things are changing. The problem is not methodology or technology—the main problem is changing mentalities. It is important to accept that not everyone will be receptive to new processes, either for fear of being overtaken by the colleagues, information overload (such as an abundance of e-mails going around), lack of time, or a general lack of motivation.

At this stage, I would also emphasize the importance of managing the expectations of the company. Like one might read in the Gartner Research’s Hype Curve Model, it’s a huge mistake to inflate expectations, usually based on a technology trigger. Technology ends up not being as mature enough as was expected. My approach was to manage these expectations and go for small wins. It should be understood that behind many BIM demonstrational videos, there is a lot of work, a lot of data processed, and many people interacting with different developing software with their own learning curve. Separating what is real from what is a vision helps people avoid disillusionment and become more effective.

In any case, what is real is exciting enough. With BIM, you can increase margins and efficiency right now.

Process Definition

The 4th step in our implementation was what we referred to as the Process Definition. We found that each company in the field was developing its own standards. While it would be wonderful to have international standards, for now, we work with what we have. In Mota-Engil, we have also developed our own standards, and everyone knows the inputs into the BIM database and the outputs that can be obtained.

Before initiating the process, one must first define goals. What is the purpose? To what ends will the model be used? What is the level of detail needed? When should the models be delivered—the model progression specification? We really care about costs in Mota-Engil, and would like to avoid money being wasted because we didn’t think beforehand of the purpose of the model. If you only need the model for coordination, chances are you’ll need a very low detailed model. If the extraction of quantities is your aim, maybe you’ll need a higher level of detail. If the model is needed for detailed shop-drawings, perhaps you’ll need an even higher level of detail in your model. So again, one needs to first decide: Goals - For what? Level of Detail - How? Model Progression Specification - When?

Choice of Software

As mentioned earlier, software should be chosen only after identifying what is needed and what the process would be. We chose some commercial applications like ArchiCAD, Solibri and Vico Software. But it didn’t end there. We felt the need to develop our own Excel-based Macro tools to optimize or improve the process, after working with BIM for a while. Our own advanced algorithms, based in Visual Basic, guarantee better quality and efficiency in the process. For instance, we have an Advanced Content Plan that gives us quantity takeoff based in formulas that use takeoff items that resulted in the combination of model objects. With this, we can also compare our quantities with the ones calculated in VICO and ensure the quality of the exported model from ArchiCAD.

Another point worth mentioning is that our ArchiCAD model is linked to Vico Office through several formulae that connect every object of the model with the line items of the Bill of Quantity. These can be done laboriously, and manually (thus susceptible to error). The algorithm we developed creates these formulae in a more efficient, faster, and error-free way. The bigger the project, the more we use these tools.

In all the presentations I’ve seen on BIM implementation, I always notice the MS Excel visible among the various software icons. I’ll venture to say that Excel is an essential BIM tool!

When we develop our standards and methodologies, we are always conscious that Mota-Engil is present in different countries with their own standards, so an awareness of creating something useful across borders is always present. We also know that a simple Bill of Quantities (BOQ) in the US may follow a different standard than in Europe, Africa, or Latin America. To make a BOQ, with all the formulae to connect to the quantities of the model would normally take two to three weeks. With our tools, we can abbreviate this to two to three days, resulting in greater efficiency and cost saving.


For BIM implementation in construction, the training should be oriented to producing a multi-functional/multi-skilled team. They should have knowledge of shop-drawings, extracting quantities, scheduling, estimating, and time and cost control. If not, we will end up with separate departments targeting different goals, bringing along more inefficiency.

Pilots and Evaluation

While I have already described our approach to pilot projects in the “Strategy Plans and Goals” section, I would like to reiterate the step-by-step process. We started off our pilots in 2010 with only the 3D BIM up to middle of 2011. Then we introduced 4D Time Scheduling and Control, while still evolving on the 3D, and giving training in modeling. Only in 2012 did we start to implement the 5D Cost process of BIM. A methodical, step-by-step approach is the best way to implement BIM. It’s not possible to have a good schedule without a good model and it’s not possible to have a good estimate and cash-flow forecast without a good schedule.

Key Pointers

These are the key pointers that have emerged from our BIM implementation strategy and they should be helpful to other construction firms looking to adopt BIM:

  • Have a good BIM Evangelist in your company. It’s really important to achieve your Board’s whole-hearted interest and support. If you don’t have this kind of sponsorship, your team will die.

  • Define a BIM Strategy Group. Study the potential return on investment. All managers like numbers and wish to know why we’re investing money and what will be the return of the money.

  • Study these points and define your target.

  • Next, define a BIM Roadmap. Here you should ask the following questions: What is the Goal? Who will be involved? When they will be involved? Where we will implement this?

  • With this BIM Roadmap in hand, define your BIM Task Group. Select the right people. These may not necessarily be the most experienced, but look for fresh bright minds, that think “out of the box.” Your group must also accept that there are sometimes bugs in the software, so patience is also important. Avoid barriers and develop internal BIM standards when there aren’t any national standards.

  • After defining the BIM group, train them and start with a small pilot project, working your way up. But even though it’s a pilot, you should place some stress as in a real project.

  • In the end, make an assessment of your project. Remember this is not a simple sequential process. This is an interactive, “rewriting,” growing process. It’s a one step at a time process. If you involve true BIM experts in your implementation and discuss your experiences with them, you will implement everything faster and with less risk. Try to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Main Benefits for a Builder

The main benefits of this integrated BIM implementation for a construction company, based on our own experiences with it, are as follows:

  • Better Communication
  • Optimized Crews
  • Problem Identification and Resolution
  • Design Optimization
  • Shop Drawings
  • Quantity Extraction and Cost Estimation
  • Better scheduling and risk mitigation

The first benefit, better communication, is a very important one that is difficult to quantify. But for all those who have some construction site experience, it will be easy to understand and remember the difficulty sometimes to communicate, in meetings, what the 2D drawings convey. To make things more complex, there are usually a lot of these 2D designs. With BIM, in a couple of months, you can have a detailed model to better understand the project, discuss strategies, sequencing of works, etc.

The second benefit relates to optimized crews. This does not involve firing people, but instead, re-qualifying our workers. Earlier, we had people working only on very specific jobs in the whole process. Now, we need multi-skilled people working in different areas like quantity takeoff, estimation, or scheduling. What we will have in the future are engineers that can manage data in a holistic way. We conducted a small study in Mota-Engil about crew composition. Though difficult to prove, we believe that, with a mature BIM crew, we could save 1% to 2% of the costs on site. By this, I mean we could have more people in the office managing data, and fewer on site.

The third benefit is Problem Identification and its Resolution. We’ve never done the same building twice, so it’s not scientifically proven, but we are saving around 80% of rework due to identifying problems beforehand. This 80% value was given to us by some of our senior site directors.

A fourth benefit is Design Optimization. It’s much easier to clarify our intentions to a client when we have a proposal for an optimized solution accompanied with a model.

The fifth benefit is Shop Drawings. This is one of the points most people agree with, and how easy it is to extract them, after a change is made in the model, and the way it automatically updates all drawings.

The sixth benefit is Quantity Extraction and Cost Estimation. I would say that quantity extraction is the basis of what any Builder will execute, important for the estimation and for scheduling. Scheduling is still currently done based on “gut feeling” and less on data. But everything that is true of BIM for estimation can and should be extrapolated for scheduling. We at Mota-Engil, with our BIM projects, develop scheduling based on Model quantities, location related, in a methodology called Line of Balance. This gives us true 4D BIM. Of course, we can say that the better the accuracy of the quantity takeoff, the better the estimation and scheduling will be. Tests have assured us that the model gives us error margins below 5% for most trades, even with a medium level of detail. The measuring itself is done much quicker, more reliable and error proof, compared to the more traditional manual way. Logically, better cost estimates and better scheduling will result in risk mitigation.

In a 15000m2 construction site, we extracted a BIM based Bill of Quantities and compared it to the one derived using the traditional way. This was done for thousands of lines and then we went on to study the differences. The interesting part was that due to our internal modeling rules, the differences we found were not due to software bugs or incapacities, but were based or errors done in the modeling. They could also be attributed to the quantity surveyor; we found out that he used an approximate number in some of the cases due to lack of time. Either way, the errors were human made, which is normal. This highlights the fact that we only need quality checking processes that guarantee the quality and consistency of your data.

On the list of benefits is also Better Scheduling. As I’ve mentioned above, we’re using the Line of Balance methodology. From our experience in pilot projects and in discussing with our partners, we can safely say that a 20% gain in the total duration of the construction has been achieved, with the proportional saving in site costs. So in a 10M€ site, a site could represent 10% of the cost. This 20% gain in duration would reflect in saving 200.000€.

We found that the Line of Balance based discussion clarifies problems and options. In one small sheet of paper, one can see all logical sequencing of tasks that, in the traditional CPM method, would take several long sheets that few could comprehend.

We are testing some indicators based on S curves, Histogram Resources, and Earned Value Analysis for our Top Management. All of these are enriched with a BIM based schedule and estimate. This is true 5D BIM.

Our next step is to work with the owners to help them move towards the goal of 6DBIM: Facility Management.


In conclusion, I see BIM as a huge opportunity for the construction sector. You should not worry about the amount of investment involved because if you do it in a conscientious way, you won’t regret it and you’ll see the return of the investment right in the first year of implementation. Use the mantra of “don’t reinvent the wheel.” Take advantage of the knowledge gathered by experts that have empirically “suffered” all the typical pioneer implementation pains. This way, you’ll implement everything faster and with less risk. The faster you implement it, the quicker you become more competitive and more efficient. I have seen the results and they speak for themselves.



About the Author

Antonio Ruivo Meireles is the Innovation Manager of Mota-Engil. He has a degree in Civil Engineering (2005), a MBA in Corporate Management (2007), and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Construction Management. He is focused on the improvement of the construction industry through the development of knowledge as well as efficient and innovation-driven processes.  InnovCenter, Mota-Engil’s Innovation Platform, is one of his most successful initiatives and was one of ten recipients awarded the Nielsen Norman Group (NN/g) 2011 Intranet Design Award.

For the last six years, in parallel to being the Innovation Manager of Mota-Engil, he has been empowering stakeholders of the Construction Industry to use BIM and lean construction methods so as to deliver integrated construction services more efficiently and productively. He is leading the BIMFórum Portugal, an initiative where most of the large construction companies, designers, owners, and universities, as well as the National Laboratory of Civil Engineering, have a seat, with the goal of disseminating the advantages of BIM and boosting its use. He is also an independent consultant and has been invited to be a speaker at several international conferences. His work has been the basis of a case study for several publications and whitepapers.

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