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.’