Building information modeling. Dramatic changes in the design of projects have had one of the most influential changes on contractor productivity. Interestingly enough, the groundswell in this design enhancement has been led by trade contractors — particularly mechanical and electrical contractors — not by the designers. Recognizing the need to compensate for poor or inadequately designed structures and systems, contractors assumed the reigns of this 3D or 4D design tool to control their risk and delivery higher quality finished projects. According to FMI’s survey, 63% of respondents have engaged in a project on which BIM was used (Fig. 4).

From a strategic perspective, firms must make a serious commitment to the long-term use of BIM. Many firms view the costs associated with rework, inefficiency, and poor coordination as enough motivation to consider integration of such a system. The contrarian view is the considerable investment and operational costs associated with BIM, which have a tendency to scare many contractors away from adoption. Figure 5 shows that 62% of the respondents experienced some increase in their labor productivity relating to the application of BIM.

One could argue that while labor savings occurred on these projects, there was the corresponding cost associated with BIM that offset any savings. Furthermore, the cost only exists because of inefficiencies in the delivery system and compensation for design inadequacies. Regardless of the rationale behind needing BIM, it is important to recognize that the likelihood of designs improving in the short and long term is doubtful. Architects and engineers are under many of the same budgetary constraints as contractors, and within this risk-adverse business, contractors are better-suited to adopt and cope rather than argue and complain. Proactive contractors recognize the movement toward this model is inevitable. In fact, the future is less likely to include a world without BIM, but, more likely, BIM 2.0. The software capabilities are no longer limited to simple 3D designs, but also incorporation of budget and scheduling dimensions to further aid in the ultimate goal — better construction.

Electrical contractors view this as a platform to supplement their prefabrication capabilities. One of the main challenges to BIM is in the overall adoption across a team of contractors, not just by the individual firm. It is much like the early days of the fax machine — a great tool, but the real benefits are realized when everyone has one. According to the summary in Fig. 6, respondents to the productivity survey declared that “clash detection and interference management” remain the primary tactical reason for BIM.

Costs associated with an unproductive crew waiting on a resolution to a conflict are enormous. There are countless case studies demonstrating the power of clash detection by eliminating requests for information and contentious claims. It is apparent that BIM offers not only direct correlation to labor productivity, but also customer management, trade coordination, and material handling. BIM’s larger role in the world of integrated project delivery provides another competitive advantage for organizations seeking to avoid the fray of the hard bid marketplace. However, just like any strategic initiative, it is imperative for contractors to recognize that there is little room for dabblers — BIM requires a wholesale investment.

Technological enhancements relating to productivity are not limited to BIM. Truly innovative electrical contractors are using everything from RFID tags for tools and materials management to handheld devices, such as tablet computers, to drive information to the field. Drawings, specifications, planning documents, time reporting, and labor-cost feedback are just a few examples of data being shared in real time with field managers and foremen. No longer is it necessary to wait 30 days to evaluate job performance. Instantaneous flow of information allows everyone to know the score of the game. More importantly, many of these tools are extremely cost-effective and require a significantly smaller investment than one would anticipate. The infrastructure required is minimal and, more importantly, the training required to drive the necessary change is less than the anticipated commitment of learning the intricacies of a laptop. The main theme electrical contractors should recognize is the embracing of new technology and the incorporation of productivity enhancers. With some of these alternatives, there is the question of investment a firm needs to consider. However, there are equally lower-cost options available that may integrate with minimal conflict. Neophyte thinking is dangerous, and too often contracting organizations assume the role of laggard. It is acceptable to be innovative and be in construction simultaneously.