BIM | CIM: I’ll Have One of Those Please!

Educating the client on their BIM journey

Gone are the days when you can walk into a café and simply ask for a coffee. You’re faced with a myriad of options: espressos, ristrettos, flat whites, lattes- in five different sizes- with all the dairy and non-dairy milk options, syrups and drizzles, from lava-hot to ice cold, until you end up with an order akin to a short story. Too many choices can have a paralysing effect, and to experience this while ordering coffee is one thing, but if it is affecting your business then that’s a whole different story. So, what has this got to do with BIM? Well, when a typical client asks for BIM, what is it they’re asking for exactly? Is it 3D? Is it 4D, 5D, or 6D? What about OIRs, AIRs, EIRs, MPDTs, BEPs, IoTs and Digital Twins? Are they asking for ISO 19650 compliance or the Golden Thread? Confused yet?

When faced with overwhelming complexity and jargon we often have to put our trust in the experts to make the right decisions for us, hoping that we won’t be given a generic one-size-fits-all answer to our problems. In this article we explore the need to help the client understand what it is they are asking for when they say, “We want BIM,” and how our approach at HDR helps to build trusting relationships and solid foundations for a digital strategy.

Ask questions

We start by asking questions, a LOT of questions. We are the curious kid in the room constantly asking why, why, why, delving deeper with each question, talking to as many people as possible in the organization. We do this because we want to demystify BIM and help our clients understand what it is they mean by BIM – not by definition, but by requirement - to help build a BIM strategy with strong foundations.

But why is this important? For example: why do our clients want BIM?

In some extreme cases our clients have said that they heard it’s ‘a good thing to have.’

and after asking why over and over again, drilling down, we get to….

  • I need to know what’s in my building
  • I need accurate and up to date asset data to inform my maintenance schedule so that my building’s maintenance is proactively managed

We can see how we get from, “We want BIM,” to, “Here’s why we want BIM,” in a few steps. Albeit a very simplified version, but the principle is clear. And this is how we get to understand the challenge and the pain points of what our client is trying to do.

But does that one individual understand the needs for the whole organization? What about the rest of the organization? The other departments? External stakeholders? Without their input, we will simply address a set of issues for a single person or function and will achieve very little buy-in from everyone else. And without this collective buy-in, digital transformations fail.

By talking to as many stakeholders as possible we try and answer these points:

  • This is where you are now – in terms of processes, resources, capabilities and technology
  • This is where you say you want to be
  • This is actually where you want to be (which may be slightly different once we have all sides of the story and understand why you want to be there)
  • This is how you’re going to get there
  • Here’s how we can support you

Each stakeholder paints a different picture, allowing us to get a clear idea on what the challenge is, who is affected by what and where the opportunities lie. This isn’t a one-off exercise either, we speak to a wide variety of stakeholders at different levels of seniority to understand the challenge by asking lots and lots of questions. We then repeat this exercise at regular intervals, checking in and monitoring any changes in needs. This is a key step because the world around us is always changing and so is that of our clients. Today you might have a latte, tomorrow you may take an espresso. Today you want a data storage solution, tomorrow you need a Digital Twin.

This engagement with the client forms the journey, along which we will educate our client and we also often find that our client educates us. It is along this journey we aim to flesh out the real BIM drivers and where we can start building trust with our client.

Building Trust

We sometimes hear feedback from clients that they have asked for BIM before but didn’t get what they wanted. Instead, what they got was a gimmicky tool, a software platform and a generic report filled with complex processes and indistinct targets. This is of course very oversimplified - there are some great examples in our industry where this is not the case.

But what happens where clients don’t get what they want? Very simply, it erodes trust. When an initiative is started, changed, dropped and restarted, it loses buy in. It loses traction and will eventually fail. So how do we change this? How do we move our clients into a position of trust? We have found that these five steps have led to successful, trusting relationships with clients:

  1. Bringing clients along the journey is the first step in gaining trust, being open and transparent throughout the process.
  2. Getting the basics right before getting into the more advanced stuff – you say you want a digital twin, let’s talk about having a standardized naming convention? Where do you store your information?
  3. Communicating clearly by having consistent messaging around the WHY and using this with all stakeholders so it’s not just ‘another side project from leadership’.
  4. Show incremental improvements – small tangible solutions in bite sized chunks. These incremental changes are more palatable, and will increase buy-in and traction, building trust bit by bit.
  5. Know your limits of expertise by knowing when to say, “I don’t know,” instead of blagging your way through, using the opportunity to bring in the right expertise, either from within your business or outsourced to a partner.

Say-Do-Say principle.

One tool we have used consistently in HDR which helps to build trust is our 5-D approach to all the challenges presented to us (and no – this has nothing to do with adding cost data to a model):


First, we focus on understanding what the need is. This is crucial, as often our clients don’t know this fully themselves. What are our client’s goals and objectives? We define the scope and identify the key stakeholders.


Then we carry out a thorough discovery phase. We engage with stakeholders from different parts of the business and at different levels of seniority to try and paint a full picture of what the current situation is, where the pain points are and who might be impacted by a potential change to the status quo.

This phase also helps to either validate the client’s original goals or inform changes to them.


In the design phase we set out the plan. We consider the processes and protocols, define roles and responsibilities and any technology requirements as may be applicable.


We then deliver against our plan, supporting people through training and bringing them along the journey.


Finally, we drive success of what we have delivered by checking in, reviewing what we’ve done against the original client goals and gathering feedback from key stakeholders to ensure any changes are accepted and well embedded.

Once we have the why outlined from the Define and Discovery phases, the rest essentially boils down to:

  1. Say what you’re going to do (design)
  2. Do it (delivery)
  3. Say what you’ve done (drive)

And this isn’t just once. This is repeatedly done, with regular check ins, building that trust and bringing the client on the journey.

In essence for us it is about building a relationship with our clients and guiding them through each step of this journey, explaining the pros and cons of each option, sharing our experience and generally providing as much information as possible to enable our clients to make more informed decisions.

Being clear on the journey, building a trusting relationship and keep repeating back why we are on this journey, what we have done, what we are doing and what we are doing next. So, the next time someone requests ‘BIM’, it won’t be a panic order – even if the coffee order still is.

Floriano Ferreira

Associate Vice President and Director of Building Data Management / Digital at HDR
Floriano joined HDR in 2019, having gained experience over 15 years working in the Research & Development, Pharmaceutical, Food & Beverage, Manufacturing and Infrastructure sectors. Heading up the Digital and Information Management team. He brings extensive experience in implementing BIM standards and processes, leading teams to drive successful digital strategies which result in exceptional project outcomes and improved long-term asset performance. Stephen can be reached for comments or questions at

Anjuli Jackson

Senior Principal Consultant of Building Data Management / Digital at HDR
9 years with a major UK contractor as a Civil Engineer sparked a passion for driving efficiencies in the construction process, naturally leading Anjuli towards Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital ways of working. Since joining HDR in 2019, she has been focused helping clients to articulate their BIM goals and develop their own digital strategy, driving the culture change to support this, in addition to driving the HDR Digital Strategy and adoption of the ISO 19650 standard across the UK business to continue providing excellent and industry leading support to our clients. Stephen can be reached for comments or questions at