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6 things to consider before buying BIM software

Illustration of people sat in room at a conference, the word BIM is on a board

Your checklist for choosing your Building Information Modelling (BIM) solution.

Choosing BIM software is a crucial factor in your company's competitiveness. Whether you're transitioning from 2D to 3D / BIM or want to replace an existing software, choosing a BIM solution has far-reaching consequences for your processes, projects and success. There are a number of common criteria that you should consider when choosing a BIM solution and questions that each provider should answer. We have summarized a checklist with the most important points for you.


1. Be open - nobody is an island!

Infographic with BIM at the centre, portrays the free exchange between different software

The most important principle of BIM-based planning and execution is openness and improved cooperation between all project participants and coordination of their work based on the 3D model. Your BIM solution should empower you to work, share information, and communicate efficiently.

BIM solutions promote the free exchange between different software and support open exchange formats, such as IFC  developed by buildingSMART International. In particular, you should check how well the software integrates with other industry solutions relevant for you. For example, do you regularly exchange data with plant design solutions, or do you want to transfer data to production? Maybe you even have your own applications that you would like to incorporate into a software? A state-of-the-art BIM software solution should offer the possibility of working on a model at the same time across your teams, partners and locations in a flexible way without loss of performance. Questions you should ask:

  • Which interfaces does the software have?
  • Which exchange formats are supported?
  • What is the connection to other industry solutions relevant to me? (e.g. A&D, plant design, production machines, etc.)
  • Are there any possibilities to integrate your own applications into the software?
    What are the options for working together on a model at the same time? (e.g. team and project partners in other locations)

2. Model smart: Easy modelling and flexible change

Illustration of laptop with a precast structure, a crane lift a concrete panel into place

The 3D model is your central source of information in the BIM process. That's why it should be easy to create, change and share.

BIM software solutions are based on parametric modeling. The individual parts or components of the building model are related to each other and influence each other. Each part is assigned parametric properties, such as height, length, width and position. If a part changes, the parts related to it also adapt automatically. The better the parametric modeling of a software, the easier the change management.

Good BIM software solutions give users helpful tools to build and edit models faster. You can insert finished building products such as formwork, anchors or screws directly from the manufacturers’ libraries into the model.  The ability to present additional material and cost options to your customer early in the project could be your key advantage.

The model should always be the source of all drawings, material lists and other documents. The true value of your model is that it is the single source of truth. 

Questions you should ask:

  • What tools does the software offer that makes modelling easier for us? e.g. libraries of ready-made connections, intelligent reinforcement, etc.
  • Can your own frequently used details be predefined?
  • Is there an easy way to insert finished building products directly from the manufacturer?
  • How does the model behave when I make changes? Is there functionality that enables the model to adapt intelligently?
  • How do drawings and other documents behave when the model is changed? Will these be updated automatically??

3. It’s in the engine - How much power is under the hood?

Illustration of laptop with precast structure and cogs

In a BIM project, the 3D model is enriched with information throughout its lifecycle. You always have all current and relevant information available. The BIM software should be able to handle considerable amounts of data safely and remain powerful even on large projects.

An initial indicator of performance might be, for example, the file size of an average model. Ask to see larger models in the software. Even if concrete body and reinforcement or steel beams and screws are displayed together in the model, the performance must be right. It is also important to map reference models of other participants in your planning and to integrate them fluently into their own work processes. Only you should decide the size or complexity of the projects you are tackling - not your software.

The degree of detail or development will determine which project phases you can cover with your software. The Level of Information Need is the collective term used for the ‘level of model development’ and the ‘level of information detail’ required at the different stages of the project and how reliable the data is. For example, highly detailed 3D reinforcement planning is only possible from software capable of handling ‘as-will-be-built’ level of information. A high-quality constructible model supports the entire workflow, reduces ambiguity in the planning and gives you the opportunity to provide high-quality reliable data for your project partners.

Questions you should ask:

  • How powerful is the software even for larger or more complex projects?
  • What is the file size of an average project?
  • Do I have to break down my project into partial models or is the software able to reproduce it in its entirety?
  • Can I reference other trades without loss of performance?
  • To what Level of Information Need can the software model?
  • Which phases of my work can I cover with the software?

4. The right framework: License and maintenance conditions

Illustration showing a laptop and a monitor, both display certificates with a tick mark

The licensing and maintenance terms of your software determine how you can use them. Therefore, you should carefully consider these framework conditions.

There are two common licensing models: permanent (or perpetual) and subscription licenses. 

For subscription licenses, a subscription or a lease of the software gives a company the rights of use for the software for the respective period. A subscription model can give you quick access to the software without major initial investment and more flexibility to tailor your license requirements to your workload.

Frequently, subscription licenses are packaged with other relevant software solutions. Make sure that the product bundle includes useful software. Only you can decide what is best for your business. In addition to deciding on the licensing model, you should also consider the other licensing conditions, such as how much flexibility do you need, or whether it is possible to lend them to project partners.

Subscription licenses are often cloud based software, so you have all the benefits of working with the flexibility a cloud solution provides.

With a software maintenance contract, you ensure that the tool of your choice is always up to date and you always have a support team for questions or problems. As part of a subscription model, the maintenance of the software is usually included. 

Permanent licenses (perpetual licensing) are permanently available to your company against payment of a one-off license fee. When purchasing a permanent license you have to include your initial investment, and the licenses are permanently available to you and your investment is written off over time. In addition to the upfront costs, an annual maintenance contract is required to ensure your software is kept up to date. Especially for the introduction of a new software, this is definitely recommended. 

Questions you should ask:

  • Is it a subscription model or do I get the licenses permanently?
  • How long is the financial commitment?
  • How easy is it to add or remove licenses as my requirements change?
  • What support services are available and at what additional cost? 

5. Cost-benefit-considerations: See the bigger picture

Illustration of laptop with precast structure, graph and dollar sign

A new software means a significant investment. Your focus should be on when the investment will pay off and how much more efficient your business will be after implementation. Make a cost-benefit comparison: compare the cost of purchase, implementation, training and maintenance to the expected benefits. What savings do you expect in terms of speed, accuracy or reduction of errors? The solution that initially looks cheap does not always offer the most added value in the long term.

Questions you should ask:

  • What efficiency gain can I expect from the introduction? Can the provider help with cost-benefit calculations?
  • When can I expect the investment to pay for itself?
  • What do I get offered as part of the software support? Who is available to me, at what times, how? Are the support employees qualified? 

6. Plan for the future

Illustration of construction worker with a cityscape in the background

Your choice of BIM solution is also an investment in the future. The construction industry is changing and businesses will face new expectations and demands on how to handle projects.

Beyond regulatory developments, the right solution should not only be a tool to better fulfil your current tasks, but also to expand your range of services. A new software can also be a door opener for new opportunities in the future.

Questions you should ask yourself:

  • What developments do we see in the market or on the regulatory side that could influence our current processes?
  • What expectations will we have to meet in the future?
  • What goals do we have as a company?
  • How do we want to develop in the future?
  • How would we want to expand our work processes and our range of services when new opportunities arise?