Wednesday23 July 2014

We need to learn to make bim pay

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Bim will redefine how architects work — and what they charge, says Richard Saxon

When Maggie Thatcher outlawed RIBA fee scales, she did us a favour of sorts. British architects have been free to shape and price their services flexibly and are forced to work out their costs in order to negotiate. German and some other EU architects remain protected by their fixed service and fee model and don’t understand their costs. So when bim came along, we were free to redefine our services and fees; they were not. They are on the sidelines, not competing.

We are not, however, making a good job of charging for bim services. Years of vicious downward pressure have produced a cowering mentality: there will always be an architect who will undercut you if you try to get better fees.
But bim produces a new pattern of benefits and costs, and it does so progressively, the more experienced one gets. There is more effort needed to set up a job at stage 1, and a new role: to be the information manager for the team. There is more work in building the first model, at stage 2, than in old stage C. But at stages 4 and 5 there is far less to do. Stage 6 and 7 are newly defined.

The old fee scale assumed the production information workload was the biggest element — architects gave away their concept designs to win the production task — but actually, the brief and concept are the highest in value
creation for the client, while the production stage is the lowest.

Depending on building type and how developed your practice library of elements is, there are big economies of time and effort to be captured. Working to PAS 1192-2 should greatly reduce reworking and client change. You will need to train your client to play it the bim way, commissioning everyone properly and framing their plain language questions.

It would be a service to the profession for the RIBA to hold benchmarking sessions with experienced bim users, teasing out where costs can rise and fall, who benefits along the supply chain and how client and contractor could be addressed in negotiation. The resultant advice would not be an illegal fee scale but a guide to a still-changing scene.

Quantity surveyors, who are the first ones asked by clients to advise on fees, need teaching some new norms.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Brilliant- many thanks to Richard that we can charge higher fees for a better service- and get paid more for the concept design stage.

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  • Thatcher may have started the ball rolling, but it was of course the Office of Fair Trading’s implementation of the EU Competitions Directive, that killed off fee scales in 2003. I'll get my coat.

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  • If anything, BIM will increase the overheads that architects have to carry. BIM is about making the construction process cheaper and faster; not about helping architects to charge more.

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