BIM is not CAD

2007 0

…or why your CAD manager should not be in charge of your BIM strategy

At a recent Building Information Modelling (BIM) conference, I talked with the CAD manager of a medium-sized architectural practice. He had come to the event because his boss, and a partner in the firm, had charged him with getting the company ‘to BIM’. This task came with the proviso that the firm did not lose any momentum on current projects and he would swap over all 30 users to using the new BIM system. He was frustrated that the event did not give him a clear path on how to do this. The reality is that tasking a CAD manager with the move to BIM indicates a firm already lacks the commitment to make BIM a success.

The directive to ‘get to BIM’ usually comes from a management team that delegates ‘anything technical’.

With the dumbing down of the business case for BIM, many managers think it is just a straight swap out for their existing 2D CAD system and something to have to keep up with the Jones’s.

Cultural resistance to BIM adoption is a key problem and is frequently hard to overcome. It can sometimes mean personnel changes.

It is that much harder if the resistance to learn and use the system just happens to be your boss. Management needs to buy into the adoption plan, understand the benefits and challenges of the new technology as well as understand the new processes. Investment must be allocated to training and a company has to have a goal of what it expects to get in return of making the move.

Undoubtedly there is a key role to be played by technically-savvy team members, and this is surely going to include the CAD manager, but a senior management team that does not get actively involved in BIM adoption is tantamount to demonstrating gross dereliction of duty.


The change management required is top down and support will be necessary throughout the process. Pity the poor soul who has been given the task to ‘get BIM into the company’ without that support. At some point there has to be a reality check with management — you cannot get to BIM by just buying BIM software. Levels of complexity are going to increase and more work is going to be required earlier on in a project to get downstream benefits.

Team members that have been using 2D CAD systems for years are not going to change willingly overnight, it is going to take months or years to complete the process.

While not publicised much, there are many firms that have failed in their adoption of BIM, finding that when the pressure is on, they go back to using 2D CAD. This is not the BIM software that is at issue here but a flawed adoption strategy where cultural issues have been underestimated and the failure to get the buy in of staff. Sustaining any success can be difficult to achieve when teams are pulling in different directions. Even firms that have made the move to BIM have found that as many as three or four projects need to be completed before the process can be internally ironed out and the benefits of BIM realised. Managers need to be prepared for less than instant results and occasionally have their faith tested.

A wider role

David Light, the director of implementation at BIM consultancy CASE, says that typically CAD managers are focused more around the production of drawings, not necessarily data exchange, model craft or collaboration. “CAD managers are normally wizards at managing CAD software deployment, CAD standards, support and training and all the management that comes from dealing with the production of drawings.

“BIM managers have to manage a wider level of implementation responsibilities. They need to understand project workflow, how buildings are assembled, how BIM affects teams, fees, management structure, delivery and collaboration standards many of the aspects that come from the collaborative nature of BIM, evolving software solutions, training, content managements, interoperability, technology changes and the necessary people skills to make the deployment a success.

“They need different leadership skills, as this is a cultural shift compared with CAD. In many ways it is the same shift that happened when the drawing office manager evolved into the CAD manager. BIM management comes with a different level of responsibility and technical know-how.”

So, the role of CAD manager is important to any BIM implementation and the role expands with BIM adoption as there are plenty of new management issues, problems to over come and new technologies to master, especially interoperability.

While BIM appears ‘easy-in’, there is actually a fairly steep learning curve once beyond the honeymoon period. It is important to identify internal BIM champions who will understand the technology and be there to help the rest through the transition. Probably one of the most important during the pilot project stage is in identifying which employees are lagging or perhaps, more negatively, flagging which can be made all the more difficult if it is a senior member of staff.


Choosing to adopt BIM is a company vision, it is a business decision and not the role of one person — the one person who just happens to be the best in the firm at CAD and computer technology. The heavy lifting has to be shared and to do this everyone in management has to stop paying lip service, get educated and muck in.

CAD managers can and do play an important role in migration to BIM, especially in understanding the technology, impact and training. If you are a CAD manager that has been given the task without the support, the risk of failure is high and your job may well be on the line as a result. The best approach is to turn the internal BIM debate into an organisational decision, as that is where the biggest potential can be realised.


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