BIM, Blockchain, and Smart Contracts

AuthorBy Nancy Wiegers Greenwald
Published in The Construction Lawyer, Volume 40, Number 4, Fall 2020. © 2020 American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion
thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
BIM, Blockchain, and Smart Contracts
By Nancy Wiegers Greenwald
Nancy Wiegers Greenwald, attorney and business
executive, is an independent arbitrator and mediator
in commercial and construction disputes. In addition
to being active in the ABA Forum on Construction and
other ABA entities, she serves on the American Arbitration
Association’s Commercial and Construction Industry
Panel of Arbitrators, as well as its Mediation Panels, and
she has been appointed as a neutral by numerous private
clients and courts. The author would like to acknowledge
Erik Sanford, VDC/BIM Director, Dimeo Construction
Company, for his review and contributions to this article
and Steven G. Haines, Director of Technology, BVH
Integrated Services, Inc., for his signicant contributions.
Everything we know about
our industry is wrong in
terms of what we will be doing
—Jim Cramer, former EVP,
AIA Founder, Design
Consider the prediction:
Blockchain and smart con-
tract technologies will
transform the construction
industry. Similar statements
were made for Building
Information Modeling (BIM), an integrative project
design and data platform that has become ubiquitous
in the industry over the past several decades. Yet most
companies’ use of BIM has not come close to reaching
its full potential. Why? The main obstacle is a stubborn
adherence to inefcient processes and relationships that
is driven by risk aversion. The result is a complexity of
contracts among multiple parties and a lack of standard-
ization in processes that diminishes the value of BIM. In
other words, the same problems that the industry needs
to solve to improve its efciency have been obstacles to
its use of the new technologies designed to contribute to
the solution. What is different about blockchain? Block-
chain is a platform for collecting and sharing information
from disparate sources that creates a secure, valid, time-
stamped, and tamperproof record. For this reason, it has
the potential to solve core industry communications prob-
lems in a way the inconsistent sharing of data through
BIM has not. This article explores the questions: why has
BIM not achieved its full potential, how might blockchain
and smart contracts contribute to a solution, and what
role should construction attorneys play in the process?
Why the Value of BIM Has Not Been Realized
While in 2020 it is tempting to assume a uniform level of
familiarity with BIM and skip the denition, it’s worth
taking a breath to ask the question: What is BIM? BIM is a
data-rich, object-oriented, intelligent and paramet-
ric digital representation of the facility, from which
views and data appropriate to various users’ needs
can be extracted and analyzed ... to improve the
process of delivering the facility.2
In simple terms, BIM is a 3D model-based process that
is object-oriented, which means it is designed to capture
data about the objects incorporated into the design, from
dimensions, to manufacturing information, to warranty
and maintenance requirements. BIM creates a paramet-
ric digital representation of the facility, which means that
when one element of the design is changed, other ele-
ments of the design adjust automatically. Of course, a
model is useful for more than “the process of delivering
the facility.” When the model contains accurate “as-built”
information about the facility, it creates a “digital twin”
that can be used to test virtual commissioning and, when
connected with IoT (Internet of Things) sensors in the
building, can be used to run online diagnostics, allowing
the facilities managers to employ condition-based, rather
than reactive, maintenance.
The Promise of BIM
It is instructive to review some of the promises and pre-
dictions made about BIM in its early years and then look
at what has actually happened. In 2008, it was predicted
that BIM would:
enhance the ability of architects, engineers, and
other designers affordably to create numerous
design alternatives, instantly showing the effect on
aesthetics, cost, and operation and maintenance
(life cycle issues);
reduce the time and cost of preparing budgets
and schedules as well as reduce the time and cost
involved in design coordination and submittal
reduce the errors, inconsistencies, and coordination
problems with design and improve the detection of
design omissions;
facilitate the retrieval of accurate information by
eld level personnel; and
provide an owner’s facilities personnel and sub-
sequent contractor rms with accurate, readily
Nancy Wiegers Greenwald

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