The Elephant in the Room: Contractually Governing Documents

Is BIM worth the cost and time if the model is not contractually binding?


Have you ever read a contract, or electronic document release form?  If so, you have probably seen language like this:

Contractor agrees to provide Building Information Modeling files… Subcontractor agrees that such information is for its convenience…  These files are not a substitute for the Contract Documents, and in the event of any conflict, the Contract Documents shall govern.  Subcontractor agrees that such files are being provided “as-is”, and any use of such files shall be at its sole risk…


This is a paraphrase of language I have seen in many contracts and BIM execution plans in the last two years.  This language has existed in some form since CADD systems became a common design platform.  With today’s technology, the Contract Documents are a direct output of the BIM files developed by the respective discipline.  To reflect this these requirements should be updated to appropriately share the responsibility of the quality of the files.  There are several issues here that the industry needs to address to make BIM a successful tool for the industry in the long run.


  • “Not a substitute” – One promise of BIM is faster, higher quality project delivery. For this to work, the BIM files must be a substitute for the Contract Documents with regards to spatial coordination and preparation of fabrication models.  The field installation teams are much more technology savvy today and require accurate digital data to facilitate efficiency in their workflows.


  • “Contract Documents shall govern” – This statement produces the responsibility of comparing the BIM files to the Contract Documents for discrepancies so that they can be identified and resolved. This statement is also an indication that manual modifications are made in the drafting process to cover inaccuracies in the model.  This may be due to time constraints, monetary constraints or other reasons.  However, these shortcuts create a ripple affect downstream.  It requires subsequent users of the digital data to compare the model to published documents. This is both time consuming and expensive because often it takes an experienced member of a team to hunt for differences of consequence.  Many times the Subcontractor relies on the model matching the documents and accepts this risk as an acceptable gamble.  To properly identify risk, this requirement both impacts the cost and timeliness of BIM coordination for construction.


  • “At its sole risk” – This statement places the entire responsibility for the use and quality of the BIM files on the Subcontractor. If the industry is going to make progress to deliver projects faster with higher quality, responsibility for the quality of digital content must be shared across the entire project team.  Risk and responsibility should be shared by all the stakeholders in the modeling process.


Open discussion and negotiation of these ideas needs to happen so that BIM can be a tool that will deliver on its (and the industry’s) promises of quality, speed of delivery, and savings.  If the industry wants to move toward a paperless construction environment the BIM should be a contractually binding tool.


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About Dan Cotton


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Dan Cotton is the manager of Virtual Construction at McKenney's and is responsible for our BIM and CAD modeling teams. He has been a member of the LEAN Construction Institute (LCI) since 2011 and is currently a core team member of the LCI’s Georgia Community of Practice. Dan holds a Six Sigma Green Belt certification from Georgia Tech and led the LEAN efforts at McKenney's from 2010 through 2013. Prior to his involvement in Virtual Construction and LEAN, Dan was a project manager in the McKenney's New Construction division for six years.

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