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Incoming RIBA president backs pay-as-you-go BIM

RIBA president in waiting Stephen Hodder has mooted the idea of pay-as-you-go building information modelling technology – as the row over software prices intensified

Hodder, who will take the helm of the membership body next year, told AJ that making BIM accessible was high on his agenda for his time in office.

Dissatisfaction is growing with the high cost of design software in a market dominated by major suppliers.

Hodder said: ‘By 2015 all government projects will be carried out by BIM. With my RIBA hat on, 75 per cent of all practices have less than five staff and we have to think about how they can have access to BIM and manage the cost.

‘That is a concern. With BIM as the future we need to look at how we can help small practices.’

Hodder, chairman of Manchester-based practice Hodder + Partners, is currently vice-president of membership, nations and regions at RIBA.

The inaugural Stirling Prize winner, who will be officially named president elect at the body next month after a non-contested election, said software payment flexibility was critical. 

‘One of the things people will have to look at is pay as you go,’ he said.

‘[At Hodder + Partners] we operate a Bentley system on a flexible licence. We have to look at how we can facilitate that.’

Hodder said RIBA would have to enlist the support of software giants rather than lobby the government. 

‘How RIBA supports members in conjunction with software companies is something we will look at over the next two years.

‘The government will reap the benefits but I don’t think this government will support the development of BIM in any way.’

Several senior architects have warned that BIM must not be allowed to become prohibitively expensive in the UK. They say that the price of previous waves of design software has at times put UK practices at a competitive disadvantage.

The manufacturers’ suggested retail price for AutoCAD 2013 is £4,830 in the UK, compared with $4,195 (£2,670) in the US.

This means a UK company needs to spend in excess of £100,000 more than a US competitor to furnish a practice with 50 staff with this software alone.

David Holmes, director at D&D Architecture and Consultancy, said the difference in various packages mounted up. ‘You are at an immediate cost disadvantage if you compete against a US company,’ he said.

Now was the time for the government to help develop an organic version of BIM, said Holmes.

‘Effectively the government could tout an open version of BIM to small businesses,’ he said.

‘Firms such as Autodesk want thousands of pounds off you before you’ve started trading, which is not going to help small businesses get the economy moving.’

Such open software allows architects to add to it as they use it, and is often cheaper if not always as developed as established technology.

A survey by National Building Specification earlier this year found that 31 per cent of respondents were using BIM, up from 13 per cent in 2010.

Furthermore, three quarters of those aware of BIM believed they would be using it in 2012 and almost all predicted they would use BIM in five years’ time.

Six in 10 small businesses said BIM was too expensive to consider at the moment.

Robin Graham, managing director of start-up practice Wood Design Studio, this week welcomed the RIBA commitment to help small firms.

But he said it was vital that one software package was not allowed to dominate the market.

‘The design limits of one dominant application could easily lead to less creativity in the design process,’ he said. 

‘It will also only lead to less competition between developers and thus Autodesk being able to dictate price.’

However, software experts said premium versions of BIM were worth the expense for larger practices.

James Austin, implementation leader at BIM.Technologies, told AJ: ‘I empathise that it is expensive to get started up but the more complex the software, the more efficient you can be.’ 

Austin said a live comparison on two sites designed by sister firm Space Architecture had revealed a 50 per cent saving from using BIM rather than CAD software.

‘At the high end, you are starting to see that as some of the software developers have established themselves it is very hard to meet client objectives without them, ‘ he conceded.

‘But that is for million-pound projects and if you bid for those schemes you nee to invest. You can design house extensions without expensive software.’

Austin doubted the ability of RIBA top influence software prices.

‘It is a nice gesture but I’m not sure how they will support software use. How will they do it?’ he asked.

But Ian Lapper, managing director at Advanced Integrated Solutions, said software firms should be more sympathetic to the needs of the industries they support.

‘Software companies should help out small businesses by offering discounts,’ he said, adding that the vendors would still profit from these practices in the long run.

Joy Stark, AEC industry marketing manager at Autodesk, said: ‘Users of Autodesk software benefit from the experience, expertise and technology from complementary and contrasting industries.

‘We know that small businesses make a large majority of our customer base, and we are continuously evolving our offerings to empower small businesses.’ 

Stark added: ‘Moving towards the cloud is the ultimate commitment to a democratic access to technology, offering customers a “pay-as-you-go” option. 

‘Autodesk has demonstrated a strong commitment to the cloud through the launch of Autodesk 360, Autodesk BIM 360 and Autodesk PLM 360.

‘Feedback from customers on our cloud offerings has been overwhelmingly positive, and you can expect to see more from Autodesk in this area in the future.’

Readers' comments (4)

  • your figures quote the cost for AutoCAD which is not a BIM system. We all know Revit is far more expensive than the already eye watering cost of AutoCAD. The question however is not even one of cost (although 6k per license is unfordable for small practices) its one of appropriateness, and it is simply not sensible or necessary to produce BIM information for small projects.

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  • BIM baby

    Disagree - Revit may seem like a sledgehammer to crack a nut on domestic work, but it also seems to be a very efficient programme to use. It generates for householders the sort of professional images they expect from an architect after watching Grand Designs on their TV's (whilst noting that few can afford or are prepared to pay extra for this) For new sole practitioners who are setting up to survive solo after redundancy , it is vital to be able to afford the same software they used when in industry for productivity- and maintain their skills if hoping to returning to industry in the future. To suggest they should return to pen and paper or spend time re-training on inferior software for domestic work is nonsense.
    The 5K plus VAT price tag is offensive, as is the annual service charge, but it is the market leader for a reason. Pay as you go cloud based stuff is playing into the software giants hands even more when small businesses can't afford to upgrade their IT cope (or even afford the AJ subscription - that went long ago)
    The solution is that the RIBA itself should urgently host the main 5K account and allow their members to join by paying for extra seats - I understand additional seats are less than 1K, which is why big business can afford it but individuals can't. Power to the collective!

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  • BIM baby

    Update - I got it wrong - bulk discounts for additional seats have been withdrawn from the UK market.

    Its full price or nothing in rip-off Britain, pay up or starve in the 21st Century.

    The collective has no bargaining power against international software giants and would need government intervention like the Australians are now considering.

    Ho hum, back to the drawing board again...

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  • Mushtaq Saleri

    Perhaps we need to a bit more clever about what "BIM" actually means? Let's face it, most public clients wouldn't really be able to implement the full "benefits" of BIM never mind understand it. This is a tick-box exercise implemented by commercial pressure on a government that has not understood how most architects work. I would suggest that if you had a cheap 3D package (such as SketchUp), a basic CAD package and some spread sheet software you could tick the box against BIM for tendering purposes. If clients really want a specific brand…let them pay for it through higher fees.

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