Just when CAD estimating and PR software finally sink into our brains, we will have to start thinking seriously about and learning how to estimate with BIM.”

Those words are from an article by Stan Shook in the November 2007 issue of this magazine. It’s about keeping up with estimating software and technology, but the intended audience is not limited to the people we pay to do takeoffs. Electrical contractors and principals also need to keep up with innovations, or they will be left in the dust by competitors who do.

The acronyms in the opening sentence refer to computer-aided design, plan recognition and building information modeling (BIM). The latter is expected to become as prevalent in the construction industry as CAD, which, you may recall, was “the next big thing” just a few years ago. Some industry insiders think 2008 will mark the tipping point when BIM is embraced by a critical mass of owners, designers and builders.

BIM refers to a methodology for storing complete information about a building in a computer model rather than relying on static, two-dimensional drawings to communicate design ideas and guide construction. However, it’s much more than a 3D program producing planar views of a facility. In fact, BIM actually deals with five dimensions; the fourth is time (scheduling and construction sequencing), and the fifth concerns costs and resources.

Applied to the life cycle of a building project, BIM involves the entire project team. It requires interoperative software, allowing for real-time feedback from team members when, for example, a designer changes a lighting specification or a contractor identifies a new supplier or increases manpower. It takes into account how a single change will impact the work of all team members and the products and systems they install, so potential clashes are detected before they become real problems.

BIM is catching on with such major clients as Disney, Intel and even America’s largest construction buyer, the federal government’s General Services Administration (www.gsa.gov/bim). It is being pushed by the Construction Users Roundtable (www.curt.org), which includes more than 50 of the United States’ largest corporate clients—e.g., Citigroup, General Electric, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, Procter & Gamble, et al.

The Associated General Contractors, America’s largest construction trade association, also promotes BIM; it has a new Web site devoted to it (www.bimforum.org) and is working with owners, architects, engineers, insurers and more than a score of contractor organizations to develop a BIM addendum for construction contracts (www.consensusdocs.org). At the same time, the National Institute of Building Sciences (www.nibs.org) is writing a standard on how to format information, so all BIM users can work together effectively.

And, I’m proud to say, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) is right in the thick of all this activity. Our association is actively researching the topic and sharing what we learn in these pages, at www.ECmag.com, www.electrictv.net and our various other Web sites; through educational programs; and at upcoming events, such as NECA 2008 in Chicago.

BIM already draws subcontractors into project collaboration at an earlier stage than standard construction. Still, more electrical contractors will become involved in BIM as its use spreads to smaller projects and to the ongoing maintenance and operations of structures built through this methodology. NECA wants you to be ready for it.

But don’t limit yourself to using only NECA resources. Also explore on your own. There’s a reason this column contains more references to Internet sites than usual. Those who learn all they can about BIM now can get in on the ground floor and rise to the top before the window of opportunity closes.