BIM People – Bill East – Prairie Sky Consulting


Bill East is a prolific construction management researcher whose career spans the areas of planning and scheduling, quality management, and building information modelling. Bill speaks to in advance of his Keynote Speaker Address at the 2015 CITA BIM Gathering.

East currently is Owner of Prairie Sky Consulting where he helps owners and contractors specify and meet Construction-Operations Building information exchange (COBie) requirements. East is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Virginia and Fellow, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). East has a BSc in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech, and MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Illinois. Bill will be a speaker at the 2015 CITA BIM Gathering.

Topic: Global BIM and the 2015 CITA BIM Gathering

When did your interest in BIM begin?

I moved from the construction trailer to the research lab in the 1980s. At that time, a group at the lab had developed a prototype to link databases to CADD. This system added height and could render in 3D. People at my office also became involved in efforts to standardize these technologies including: STEP, IGES, and PDES. It seemed to me that the groups could never get enough progress and after a few years they changed their names and splintered into something else. After completing several major projects in the areas of project management and design quality, I began my direct participation with the US chapter of the current penultimate group – the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI). Today, this group is called buildingSMART international (bSi).

Bill-EastHow has BIM been received in the US construction industry?

US construction companies have, widely adopted BIM for internal shop drawing coordination. Designers have adopted BIM to produce construction drawings in one-third the time previously required.

Unfortunately, owner’s contracts specify BIM deliverables poorly. They do so without thought as to what they will do with the information once they receive it. They do so without thinking about what information they actually need, will use, or have the possibility of maintaining. In addition these contracts focus on technology, not outcomes.

On can use the following analogy to think about what’s wrong with these contracts. Consider a contract drawing that shows an excavation. The incorrect specification then tells the Contractor what kind of backhoe to use. We don’t write construction contracts like this. Technology choice is always left to the Designer or Contractor, and the risk and reward of those choices left to them.

What will be the main areas you will look to address at the Gathering?

I will be talking about “building information” as something that designers and builders do every day. Unfortunately, the information is locked in documents that have to be interpreted by other people. We can’t get the information out of these documents without reading each one and transcribing the information we need.

I invented the Construction-Operations Building information exchange (COBie) specification to organize construction handover information in a consistent way for every building. The work, since COBie’s first publication in 2007, has been to help software companies extract the information we put on drawings and in Operations and Maintenance (O&M) manuals. Once the information is off the page and into a standard format the information is available to facility maintenance, operations, and management.

The by-product for designers is that they can develop value-added services to help clients get and use the information they need. Designers can design the information and workflows needed to deliver the Owner’s required information.

The by-product for contractors is that they can reduce or eliminate job-site surveys and O&M manual production, decrease the cost of commissioning, and reduce administrative overheads. Contractors can reduce their cost of doing business, while simultaneously delivering a better product to their clients.

Do you think BIM is for everyone from small to large size design firms and contractors?

It depends on the goal and the company. Designers who want to produce construction drawings by slicing models can do this and reduce, or retrain, existing staff. Contractors with complex MEP can adopt BIM for shop drawing coordination and actually eliminate field changes of prefabricated duct and pipe runs.

On the other hand, Designers and Contractors who want to do the same job that they did yesterday, will find they cannot effectively implement BIM, or any new technology. It doesn’t matter if it’s a large firm or small. If, however, the firm wants to take a step back and look at how they do work to identify every time they recreate information already known and documented before, then the firm will be successful with their BIM implementation.

What are the key challenges witnessed to the adoption of BIM internationally?

If you ask someone in most design or construction office why they do something the answer will typically be, “Because we’ve always done it this way.” Firms do not know how much it costs to deliver services. They may be able to price a wall down to the brick, they are unlikely to be able to explain the supply chain that most efficiently moves that brick from the mud to the wall. Knowing the cost of doing business is the basis of virtually all other modern industries – except ours.

After 35 years of creating and deploying software to over a hundred thousand users across the world, I can tell you that the adoption of good technology in a well-managed business will make that business significantly more efficient; allowing one person to do the job of three or four others. If, however, the same technology is put into a company that is not well-managed, the change will be chaotic and the technology will likely be abandoned or marginalized.

The adoption of any new technology requires management commitment to train staff, the need to address business partner and stakeholder needs, the need to understand how standard operating procedures will change, and (and only then) learn the technology. Understanding the role of each of these factors is the key challenge in BIM, or any other change management process. Technology is really the easiest part, and the easiest part to get wrong.

What are the main topics at international conferences and forums, in the question sessions and among the attendees?

Designers and Contractors of well-managed businesses see the value of streamlined business processes. They see the potential for increased profit and improved customer satisfaction that keeps them in business for the long-term. The question they all ask is “How?” I hope that attendees will find my presentation, and the following break-out session, to be part of their answer to this question.

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Will BIM affect the professions and their boundaries, and the traditional statuses of those professions?

Many BIM advocates in the US have an aspirational view of technology and its impact on our industry. I have a different view. In my view, it is not the technology but the specification of standardized outcomes, produced as a result of technology that drive innovation. The role of standards is critical. Standards ensure that outcomes are understood by all parties. As a result of work I did for the Army, Corps of Engineers the US now has published standards that define deliverables for Building Programming (BPie), HVAC design (HVACie), Plumbing design (WSie), Electrical design (Sparkie), and Construction Handover (COBie). Readers can download these standards from and get examples at

Will BIM cross borders in terms of standardising the design / construction process?

Yes. Process standardization is inevitable; it is the basis for our economy. So the only real questions for members of my audience are “When?” and “How?”

Until Owners begin to specify information deliverables as outcomes of their projects, there is really no need for Designers and Contractors in protected markets to do anything. However, once local Owner’s contracts begin to change, then those who do not understand their existing processes will find it more, and more, difficult to compete. Following my keynote presentation a breakout session will show owners how to contract for, and get, the information they need to maintain, operate, and manage their buildings.

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