Return on investment. This magic phrase can be the stumbling block to any technology initiative within construction. When it comes to such a thing as BIM (building information modeling), making a case for ROI can be next to impossible. Yet this shouldn’t preclude the residential market for continuing to make a case for the use of these processes and the enabling technologies.

According to numbers from the Constructech‘s 2011 IT Playbook, only about 20% of respondents have been able to quantify the ROI of BIM to a degree.  Not surprisingly, the majority of respondents (32%) have not been able to determine the ROI of BIM on projects. This could be the result of many factors, ranging from the people involved to the technology used.

In the residential market, where BIM adoption is still gaining traction, this has become a topic for discussion. In fact, the topic is heating up on the LinkedIn forum, Residential BIM Alliance. Jay Moore, business development manager, Ameri-CAD, an ITW Company,, Allen, Texas,, who also created the forum, says “While far from perfect one way we have started going about measuring BIM metrics is by breaking it into key production items related to the individual builder/architect – estimating – manufacturing groups. From there we itemize very specific tasks in each of their product development cycles to find out the time it takes to complete that task with their current process. Then after a BIM implementation we go back and determine how long those same tasks are taking with the new process.”

Moore admits that while some of the items might be eliminated or reduced in some areas, resulting in an adjustment to accommodate changes in the BIM process from the older CAD model, he believes this method provides a good measure of where the supply chain is gaining efficiency from the more intelligent data that is being shared throughout the entire cycle of development.

Another member of the forum believes ROI will come from a project team’s ability to tighten control on the supply chain, reduce waste and field errors, and in the ability to run parallel processes to reduce cycle times.

The ability to place some proper ROI metrics around the delivery of BIM is a challenge faced across construction, not just in residential. While some initiatives, for example IPD (integrated project delivery), aim to provide a framework around such metrics, a catch-all solution is still far from coming to fruition.

While the ability to establish the proper ROI is always important, builders shouldn’t let this stand in their way of exploring the idea of BIM. A proper rule of thumb should be to set expectations. Some in the industry point to the practice of identifying which processes you wish to improve through the use of BIM upfront and identify key team members and their role in the process.

The industry is clearly headed towards more standardization around the idea of BIM. But in the meantime it’s all about what works best for your particular company.