Construction Cost Estimators, BIM, and Efficient Project Delivery

Are Construction Cost Estimators an Obstacle to Efficient Project Delivery and BIM?

Even today, most construction cost estimators continue to rely exclusively upon spreadsheets, despite well documented issues with the practice.

Are you a cost estimator, a software developer, or a cost estimator that develops software for others to use?   Good dedicated cost estimating software programs are successful for a reason. They improve one or more of the following; productivity, consistency, transparency, and/or collaboration.  They do NOT limit creativity, but simply provide a more robust environment.

That is not to say that both a spreadsheet approach – Excel, Excel with a database (Access, etc.) Google Spreedsheets, et a –  and dedicated cost estimating/project management software do not have limitations. Any objective comparison can easily reveal associated pros and cons. One solution is NOT better than the other, and associated arguments in this realm are for novices.                                       

A one were to analyze the market, it not surprising that most estimators use spreadsheets (w or w/o database support). That said, it’s a statistical result, as most estimators also work independently and/or on smaller jobs, and/or do a limited number of estimates, and/or work in relatively specialized areas.  Thus, while most good  cost estimating software applications share many of the characteristics/features found within spreadsheets, yet add higher levels of security, error detection/correction/prevention, collaboration, information updating and reuse… they are simply not needed by estimators in the above noted categories.

However, what about the folks who clearly should NOT be working in spreadsheets?  The ones that do a high number of estimates, and/or need to collaborate, and/or who need to perform rapid estimate comparision, and/or easily update and/or reuse cost estimates etc.  A significant percentage of cost estimators continue to exclusively use spreadsheets, and/or develop their own software when this is contrary to their benefit and/or their organizations and/or clients benefit. 

Why? Is it because they are afraid and/or unwilling to share information?  Are they afraid of advanced technologies?   Are they simply from a generation incapable of change?

My thought is that many construction cost estimators, just like many architects, engineers, contractors, and owners are “victims” of their environment.   That environment is shaped by impractical, inefficient, and antagonistic construction delivery methods such as design-bid-build, and even the somewhat improved design-build.

Until Integrated Project Delivery – IPD, Job Order Contracting – JOC, and similar collaborative construction delivery methods are recognized for their true value, little positive change will occur within the AEC or AECOO community.

Thus BIM, the life-cycle management of the built environment, with also be stalled until collaborative construction delivery methods become mainstream.    In this regard, we all must shift from our current   “first cost mentality”  to decision support systems based upon total cost of ownership and life-cycle costs.





BIM and The Role of a Construction Cost Estimator

Professional construction cost estimators are critical to any collaborative, transparent, and productive  BIM solution.   BIM, facilities life-cycle management supported by digital technology will create a high demand cost estimators with a thorough understanding of building systems and associated repair, renovation, sustainability and construction techniques, materials, equipment, and labor.   Experienced cost estimators who appropriately leverage technology and embrace collaboration will excel.  Navigating the current AEC sector-wide paradigm shift from antagonistic ad-hoc processes such as design-bid-build, excessive change-orders, and even modest attempts at improvement such as design-build, to collaborative, efficient project delivery methods such as integrated project delivery – IPD, and job order contracting – JOC will be a challenge for some, but a willing change for most.

A team approach, support by technologies such as domain-specific cloud-computing solutions (cost estimating, capital planning, maintenance/repair, …)  integrated with 3D visualization tools..aka Revit will become commonplace.  Owners, AEs, Contractors, Sub-Contractors, Oversight Groups, Business Product Manufacturers- BPMs, and the Community will all gain higher visibility into life-cycle needs and impacts of the built environment.

All who collaborate openly to exceed client’s expectations, and produce efficient, quality construction, renovation, repair, and sustainability on-time, and on-budget will thrive, while non-participants will fall by the wayside.

The AECOO’s (architecture, engineering, construction, owner, operations) legacy of fragmented, unproductive approaches,  ad hoc practices, and associated lack of trust will crumble, to be replaced by OPEN, transparent, and collaborative PROCESSES supported by robust technology.