Friday, May 20, 2016

Who am I to tell anyone not to waste time on (anything to do with) BIM?

The picture attached here was taken exactly 3 years ago, or so tells me my FB memory jogger.
Must be right – the moment bidding farewell to a lovely team of HLG BIM-mers, almost fully coincided with the time when I lost all my belief in anything BIM. Not just in the highly idealised airbrushed version of the ‘our way or the highway – mandated’ types but even of the more down to earth, pragmatic – ‘let’s pull together enough parties that genuinely want to make things better’ flavoured BIMs. I just stopped believing BIM functioning on any meaningful scale beyond the involvement of a couple of people on a project.

True, I gave the idea and various strategies to get there, another couple of goes following the captured moment, including taking the family through a 4 month long, tormenting Hong Kong saga – but then, went back to making a living where a living can be made….
This blog too, once very enthusiastic about, I gradually pushed aside, to finally get to a stage a couple of days ago when I made the decision, to close it down.
Then, I did have a look at the stats of the readership and was genuinely surprised to see, how steady it has been, even in the last half of the year, when I published only two entries, both highly cynical, verging on being upfront flippant.
Maybe it is just a sign that anything on the net will get its share of idle browsers these days of constant staring at the little window into the web. Or, that so flat the writings have become on this topic that anything out of the mainstream mantra gets some following… It is hard to say.

While I personally all but stopped following any media on BIM, crazy ideas do emerge still of some alternative BIMs, prompted by reading words in passing like ‘revolution’ and ‘disruptive technology’ in relation to the industry and what BIM is doing or will be doing to it.
Rather than figurative revolutions, my mind conjures pictures of young (or not so young but progressively thinking) people taking literary over the industry with technologies to describe buildings, design and construction processes totally unlike the stuffy and boring AutoCAD, Revit and even my once beloved ArchiCAD.
These revolutions are likely forceful take-overs, as who would expect the generation of stiff, white collar rulers of this lucrative industry to let anyone in on the bounty they so enjoy, but the most obliging and unthreatening of the ‘innovators’ that may make a bit of noise with their ‘modelling’, and ‘technologies’ and ‘disruptions’ but will hardly ‘hurt a mouse’ when it comes to where real powers lie.
Let them have their LOD’s and British BIM standards (whatever their number is) and BIM conferences and BIM pilots and….

As long as these false pioneers exist within the industry preaching and practicing disproven ideas of false improvements, there will be no room for those that may actually come up with something really good.
Sure, you can call me bitter and taunted and generally a ‘has been’ or even a ‘wish to have has been’ but I do get some comfort from ideas that I know could still work if …and when the industry was prepared to embrace them.

But, maybe it is OK like this – this industry is stuck where it wants to be.
Who am I to tell anyone not to waste time on (anything to do with) its BIM?
After all, even giants like Google once enthusiastically targeting the global AEC industry (buying, then further developing Sketchup) have given up on it as something far too IT-immature and ruled by anti-innovation bigots to be worth spending efforts on.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The ‘toothpaste’ highway of the (near) future

I drive to work daily, on the Dubai – Abu Dhabi highway.
On this, ‘one-plus a bit of an hour’ drive, I pass numerous highway constructions, where complex spaghettis of roads, bridges and overpasses grow seemingly in front of my eyes.
One cannot be anything but impressed as the skeletons of delicate supporting structures give way to massive piers with snaking road-structures above them, almost daily.
The disruptions to us commuters are minimal, almost non-existent as various scenarios of keeping the ‘flow-through uninterrupted’ are enacted by those in charge of building these infrastructures.

As impressive as these processes have been to watch, on my long drives to and from work, I have often fantasised about the creation of a ‘toothpaste-type’ machinery, suspended on adjustable legs and fed with feather light material that moulded into the correct shape, self-supported in the air needing minimal scaffolding, to then within minutes harden into a material not-unlike reinforced concrete, ready to take on the traffic.

Optimistic, fanciful? Surely, but also why not?
In the country of the ’Tallest building of the World’ and numerous other engineering feats, I often wish I could myself contribute to something revolutionary like the toothpaste highway technology or even something less ambitions but still cool, like a decent way of using digital technologies in day-to-day, ‘normal’ construction.

A week or so ago, there was an announcement that I caught on my drive to work:

“A quarter of buildings in Dubai will be based on 3D printing technology by 2030 under a new strategy launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.”

Hearing the above statement made me feel good about the career prospect for within the region for the next decade or so.  
As ‘a girl’ with moderate skills in a number of aspects of the industry, including reasonable modelling competency, combined with 2+ decades of project/contract and design management, I am very positive about what HH’s goals and plans will do to the industry.
Add to this, that I work on a VIP Project, with Consultants that boast about their global rankings being in double digits and my craving for the ability to innovate within my daily work is sure to get a bit of a boost.

One would think so.
One would expect international engineering consultancies active within the region to jump onto the opportunity of making this vision happen eagerly, and urgently explore ways to partner up with relevant manufacturing entities to secure a good chunk of this future and likely very lucrative market. After all, they are already, by and large making a decent living on pretty average offerings charged at astronomical international rates, greased with juicy per diems .
So, stretching those expensive engineering brains that are busy making hay while the sun is shining a bit further into creative thinking, i.e. to move beyond the millennia old technologies of ‘sticks and stones’ of creating buildings, should not be too difficult and equally serving self-interest to these elite consultancies.

After all, we know that the rest of the global AEC industry is pretty sluggish, might as well put the cream of the expertise where big ideas have the right backing and likelihood of happening, not just ensure that the visiting engineers have the latest model of cars to drive.
I add my support to the 3D printed construction vision!

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Caterpillar challenge – Make BIM and the global AEC cool!

My friend, DjG shared a promo on FB a couple of days ago (link at the bottom of this post) that made me stop and read it with interest.

Now this is my kind of a phone!

Interesting self-revelation, as everyone knows I’m not much into gadgets, the length I hang onto my old dumb Nokia is probably only rivalled by my dear friends in India. Currently I’m nursing a 3 year old Blackberry, hoping to last the year out without having to learn to get by with a newer version of it.
What tickled my fancy was not the list of unique features this device offered but the fact that it was mothered by Caterpillar and is looking ‘construction cool’.
In spite of the huge amount of money sloshing within the construction field globally, it is not a ‘cool career choice’ and consequently not the ‘sharpest’ of industries. The higher one goes up the food-chain of it, the thinner the ‘air’ gets – as my personal encounters with many heavy hitters of the industry over the last 2 decades have proven.

The whole ‘BIM thing’ has been trying to change this trend, entice the elite of the young thinkers, the cream of the technology developers and together shake the industry through innovation into a new, cool force to reckon with.
Unfortunately, this ‘BIM thing’ has been anything but successful. After good 2 decades of momentous efforts and moneys spent, the industry still is a boring old slog-for daily survival for the most working in it and an easy dirty road to the riches for a very small minority manipulating within it.

Over the years I have written a lot, on why the currently available (and often mandated) mainstream BIM is doomed to fail and will not repeat myself again. I will pull out one factor though to illustrate the hope a possible alternative might show:
The extremely low percentage of hands-on involvement on any working BIM measured across the project (or company claiming to be BIM enabled);

Simply saying – on a ‘BIM project’ how high a percentage of the people involved can claim to be able to make ‘real, hands-on’ use of the employed BIM approach?
10%, 20%, 90%?
The emphasis is on the ‘real’. Not forced, not pretended, not indirect, not….

Like, ‘it is part of my work and I can handle it by myself and it is a meaningful tool for me’.
I am pretty confident, that even the biggest of biggest of BIMmest of projects currently have a percentage in low single figures, especially if you bring in the construction end of those building.

That could be changed with a 4-step process:
Make the project truly paper free, make Caterpillar phones the official phones of the project, put Adobe into charge of all the data outputs (2D, 3D, 4D…) and link everything to a central model built by and on ArchiCAD.

Not only will this model grow into a global industry success, it would make it cool for young and old too!

Monday, November 30, 2015

“Sorry darling, I don’t DO Revit!” Or why is it all but impossible to fine-tune a Binary industry

Had dinner with my HR friend recently. Things aren’t looking that great in the AEC industry at the moment, globally and here. She is considering going back to the UK and catch a bit more of the BIM-Bonanza that still seems to be going on there.
She knows nothing about BIM, but has been successfully recruiting BIMmers for years.
She knows, that I know, that she knows nothing about BIM.
This has no negative impact on our friendship. In fact, she still tries to tempt me with the occasional BIM role in the region.
She knows BIM is Revit around here, she knows I do not do Revit.
In fact it was her that once flattered me with, ‘Making you work on Revit would be like asking a piano maestro to play daily on a child’s toy keyboard’.

Revit aside, we do talk agreeable about BIM and its present and future prospects, here-there-everywhere. We keep a brave face to it but neither of us is quite able to be truly optimistic about it.
See, there is a major problem with BIM, that its ‘host’ industry is Construction.
BIM as an approach supposedly developed to improve (let alone, the well favored ‘revolutionize’) the industry, can do little to an industry that is so ‘binary’ in its nature.
Simply said, it has two modes, off or on. When it is on, things go well, there is lot of work in construction and everyone is making money and not giving a toss to how that money is made (sustainably, efficiently, logically, ethically….).

When the switch is turned off, everyone panics and is regrouping, strategizing and self-preserving but hardly investing into long, tedious, expensive processes of developing working BIM solutions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Keeping your PDF’s in check – an absolute necessity for successful BIM-ming on any scale

The long overdue third instalment of my ‘The role of PDFs in BIM’ trilogy

Let me start with a long-winded explanation on, how this post is not supposed to be an argument based on the question of ‘why would one want to import one (or hundreds) of PDF file(s) into any working BIM model?’.

There are two reasons for me wanting to avoid this argument, one being that, those in the know will fall neatly on either side of the argument, strongly believing that to be totally unnecessary or an essential capability of the BIM toolset they use. And no amount of questioning their stance will likely to move them from it.

The second reason is that, I do have a lot of dear friends and colleagues that are avid Revit users who will feel somewhat personally attacked by the notion that this question could be the absolute key issue of almost anything BIM – considering their beloved toolset’s inability to deal with it. There is little point in undermining those personal relationships of mine and to reinforce my goodwill and intentions it I’ll admit to the Great Truth of BIM, again, and again –
‘Autodesk rules the BIM world. Revit is the King of BIM!’.

Now, can I get on with exploring PDFs in BIM models?

Through my work I build BIM models from other people’s designs, either during the official design process, following it as part of preparing construction tenders, parallel to building the real thing or even post construction for settling residual claims between parties.

I am a hands-on modeller and my speed, accuracy and ability to deduct useful information based on the model is highly reliant on how I can make use of the hundreds and thousands of PDF documents that are available for the stage/project I am working on.
These PDF’s, needless to say are always prepared by others and never with the view to make my life easier, so even before they get into the model, they must be scrutinised, analysed, weeded-out and ordered.
Once that is done I usually end up with still a large number of files wanted to be imported and while it is a tedious process, I like it as it helps me get to know the project.
ArchiCAD is my tool of choice and I really enjoy how it handles PDF’s within its BIM models.

Here are 10 of the features I can list from the top of my head:
(yes I know…why would you want to bring in a PDF, when a DWG will do and it slows down the file and makes it unusable and…. – let’s just for a minute accept, I LIKE bringing PDF’s in my models and just for a minute, let’s  savour these little clever tools);

1.       ArchiCAD imports PDF’s as Drawings (as opposed to images)
2.       While importing one can choose on the fly any page from a hundred (thousand) page document.
3.       Once imported the file can be resized, or shaped any way one likes (i.e. creating nods and curving edges and offsetting and whatnot)
4.       Literally hundreds of sheets can be imported and kept linked up with no noticeable impact on file-speed and/or agility.
5.       ArchiCAD allows one to use the Trace&Reference with PDF’s the same way as with any other drawing element.
6.       One can ghost a plan behind a section (real or PDF-ed) or a detail in-front a relevant section.
7.       One can use colours on the PDF’s
8.       And/or make them transparent (at varying degrees);
9.       One can slide between the ghosted views and the views can be moved within references without physically relocating.
10.   The files stay linked and it is very easy to update even when moving between various media (like memory sticks).

I am sure there are other neat little features that ArchiCAD has for dealing with PDFs that I am missing here, but I really wanted to concentrate on the ones that I use daily.
I sometimes question myself, if I HAD to work on a BIM model and not have these features available would I get by?
I sure would – but man, would I hate it too.
I guess also that I would  only hate it because I have had the experience to model ‘with the features available at hand’ – otherwise, one does not miss what one does not know.

So, to sum it up – this post is to state, that like it or not, PDFs are and will be for a long time part and parcel of any BIM related activity (trust me, I work in the real AEC).
And sure, Revit is still the King.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Suffering from a BIMmer’s-block? Join the club!

I’ve been troubled by a massive BIMmer’s-block for a while.
The equivalent of what is known as the Writer's block, a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The BIMmer’s block is a condition that similarly ranges in difficulty from coming up with original BIM ideas to being unable to produce any BIM-related work for years.

My symptoms experienced have been varying from mild disinterest to engage in BIM related topics to argumentatively aggressive outburst against good natured BIM promoters.
A heavy cloak of BIM-apathy has permanently set up camp on my shoulders and I’ve been carrying a murky bubble of antagonistic anti BIM-energy everywhere I go, ready to suck in the unaware.

Signs have been there for a while, that I was likely to hit some sort of a BIM-bottom.
That, after 2 decades of meager success achieved at very high personal-price paid, my enthusiasm and willingness to fight for yet-another BIM related pie-in the sky scheme will run out, was somewhat inevitable.

Some people concerned with my wellbeing seeing my difficulties have been trying to get me back into a positive BIM-shape.
They share with me, what they perceive to be signs of things changing for the better. 
The mandating of BIM by various clients, governments, countries. The rise in demand for well-skilled BIM modelers. The improvements felt in overall industry BIM literacy. The financial success of various BIM-related vendors.

I remain unconvinced.
Not only for my deeply set-in cynicism but because what I see out in the ‘real world’.

In my self- forced retirement from BIM evangelism, I make my living in a fairly pedestrian AEC role. One company I engage with regularly claims to be at the forefront of BIM (just as most companies I come across do, interestingly enough).
Regularly, high level managers of this ‘top shelf engineering company’ ensure me (and the world) that they use BIM on everything they do.
Yet, daily I fight my battle with the staff of the same company grumbling about the work necessary to update the ‘date and revision’ of (admittedly and unnecessarily) large number of drawings on the project we share and lament about the time needed to create PDF files from their DWGs.

One might say, these two things, a supposedly very advanced BIM capability and a manual, drawing-date editing system can live side by side in a perfect harmony and within one company.
In line with the ‘horses for courses’ analogy. Or due to the company undergoing an evolutionary process of gradual improvement that caters for various extremes.

I remain unconvinced.
It is like saying, we use super-duper fast vehicles on all our projects, except on yours, there we carry things on foot at large distances, by choice. Or because you did not want to pay for the mark-up that was supposedly a cheaper-faster more efficient way of doing things.

During my 2 decades of swimming upstream in this BIM-resistant, AEC industry river, I floated numerous ideas that never become real – realities.
An online consenting system for building permits, a construction-site located central information pod, the picture book documenting concept, the forensic BIM support for claims and generally risk management, the model of the paper free construction…  just to name some of the numerous incarnations of innovative BIM use I promoted.

Having given up on most of those – time to set up the ‘Hit by the BIM-block club?

A scary thought.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sparkie, Bricky, Drippy, Chippy and all fluent in BIMmy!

I have a lot of respect for the trade-workers within the AEC industry.  
Regardless of whether they are one-man-bands or work for large corporations, they are the ones at the coalfaces of projects, make things happen where the rubber hits the road.
Even though it is ‘well known’ in western societies that their rates are unreasonably high and workmanship mostly shoddy (heard a ‘plumber nightmare story’ recently?) their chargeable hours carry the burden of much more than what it would be reasonably expected to go for overheads.
The small operators lug the costs of working in a volatile industry, expensive tools, taxes and regulations, uneven cash-flow, bad weather. The ones employed by large corporations are burdened by disproportionally large armies of managers with often disproportionally large income expectations.

They do come in all shapes and sizes, of course. Some are better than others, the ‘cowboys’ of the industry often outnumber the ones that just try to make a decent living. Some are innovators, others are not, some are in it for the long haul and others are not.
There is no escape from the fact that there are the foundations of a pretty wobbly industry.

But if they thought en masse, things can’t get much more overwhelming, from what they need to be dealing with daily anyway, they were wrong, of course.

As the lukewarm BIM initiatives of the world are failing to impress with results of their efforts, the BIM spotlights get more and more onto the supply chain.
Many of them may have thought for years, that by occupying the bottom of the food-chain of the AEC they’d be off the hook for a while from needing to fully embrace this ‘BIM-thing’ – after all a painter is a painter, a sparky, a sparky – if they’d wanted to go into IT, they’d probably have chosen a different career path.
But no.

The global initiative of BIM has had a checkered history, having been around for a quarter of a century (I know, the term did not exist then, just the approach) – it has never really gotten a foothold within its host, the global AEC.
A good idea, an enthusiastic minority and relentless missionary activities of those, had little chances to succeed over the speculative – mafia type industry. Rather than accepting failure, and looking for new magic to save the industry, we keep on seeing new BIM activist emerge, paddling the same old scheme of the ‘good idea, enthusiastic minority and relentless missionary activities’, yet still can’t make the failed recipe work.
But new generations of would be AEC-revolutionaries and various government mandating helps the flame stay alive.

And there is now another boost to the campaign: blame the subbies for it not working. (they are too busy making buildings to question the claim for a while anyway)

Or putting it more politically correctly:
“But if we want to get through to a Level 3 BIM, we’ve got to take the whole supply chain with us and at the moment I don’t feel from the feedback I get that we’re doing that very well as an industry.” (ref 1)
The important message of the quoted sentence for me is it implying that ‘we’ have already reached Level 2 BIM (whatever that means) as an industry and for ‘us’ to get to Level 3 BIM those subbies must pull their weight too.

Sure, the same article calls onto the BIG guys to help:
“I think that a lot of the framework was paid for and promoted heavily by the Government. They took the lead which was a brave and right decision. I can’t see it at the minute – and I’m no expert, don’t get me wrong – but I can’t see the same level of commitment and investment coming from the Government, coming down to the supply chain. It’s so fragmented and varied in so many different ways. It’s a difficult way of being able to figure out how to reach out to them – i appreciate that.
That’s where the major contractors have to have such strong relationships, that they’ll say “we’ve educated our own staff, we’ve invested in the technology, worked out the processes, gone through Level 2, started to work out what we’re doing, but have to bite the bullet, sit down with the subcontractors and educate them, nurture them because otherwise they won’t understand, and when it comes to us demanding information and data, the shutters will go back up again.” ” (ref 1)

I have a suggestion:
How about leading by real example? For a start, reformat the goals of Government BIM Mandates to leave the subbies out from anything ‘compulsory’.
Focus on and prove the existence of a genuine, working, Level 2 BIM, led and performed by the Engineers (and other AEC Consultants) and Main Contractors of the world.

Picture from here:

Refs from here:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Paper-free Construction – A Catalyzing Epidemic by Design, that will invigorate the stale, global AEC industry

I like to claim to have been working with BIM for over 20 years.
Together with many other BIM enthusiasts, we’ve been trying to fix the AEC industry for decades now, by adding various amounts of BIM magic to it. The results are still pretty dubious. ‘The jury is still out’ on how well BIM has been doing, and even if the proverbial jury was not out – I’m definitely not convinced that it is making a noticeable dent on the performance of the global industry.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of BIM. It is just no longer the solution to the ‘problem’.
Once it may have been, 20 or so years ago – but when the conditions were right, it did not really caught on – and now it is too late. The cost and effort needed to make it work on any level is prohibited for most, within a dippy industry that does not value long-term investments into tools and approaches.
A bit like trying to force the entire financial sector speak fluent Latin in order for the Share market to become more honest, transparent and productive.

It is time to look at our options to rejuvenate this industry in a different way?
Wise people sometimes say, the solution to a problem could as easily be in taking something away as adding-on something else.
An over-salted soup may be made palatable by the additions of herbs, spices or certain vegetables, but reducing the salt in the first place could be an even more elegant solution.

Like, with fixing up an unpalatable soup once it is already spoilt, we’ve been forcing BIM onto the AEC like an unwelcome additive, expensive and feeble, still hoping that it’ll restore the murky stew.

Even though construction projects tend to take longer to create than any average soup, there is still plenty of opportunity in starting anew with an improved, less salty recipe.

Is there something obvious in the industry’s processes that could be taken away without damaging the host and assisting its healing?

The paper, for example?

The concept is simple: Create paperless environments within the industry, enforce them and gradually increase to cover larger and larger areas until they reach a critical cover, of no return.

There are a number of rules for the creation and operation that must be followed for these paper-less environs to function successfully, these I’ll omit in this writ- up, to keep the focus on the knock-on effects, should this approach become the norm.

Unlike with BIM, where the results are mostly measured in what they do to individual projects they’ve been applied to (saved money, saved time, found xxxxx million clashes) – the success of the Paper-free Construction Approach will be measured in the number of people affected by it and what they’ll do once infected.
Since, unlike BIM where even on huge BIM projects (like airports and Malls) most project participants manage to avoid full (or indeed almost any) immersion in the approach and at best become supportive bystanders, in PFCA projects everyone on the project becomes truly paper-free too.

These paper-free thinking and working people, once at peace with the approach will demand and incite developments of meaningful digital tools, in turn raising the ‘coolness factor’ of the industry by a couple of notches.

There will be the symptom called ‘Touched by PFCA’ – applied to those that had delivered a project in a paper-free way, no matter if as a consultant, a construction worker or a client representative.
In contrast to BIM campaigns, where somebody touched by BIM, may talk enthusiastically about their experiences (or not), someone that had survived and thrived in a Paper-free project will pass on the ‘disease’ with a lot of passion.

A newly ‘cool’ industry will attract more paper-free thinking/working people, that will then stimulate its growth even further.

The catalyst of the paper-free environment will in fact sweep over the industry like a ‘good’ epidemic.
Ironically, a new generation of a (more successful) BIM will be the natural progression from a Paper-Free craze.

Image from here:

Monday, August 3, 2015

In the event of an emergency (recession), first ditch BIM.

Analysts interested in the wellbeing of economies related to the AEC industry are usually at pains to explain, how it is by its nature cyclical, consequently the fortunes of those working within construction will go up and down in regular intervals.
Sometimes the lows get a bit too low for everyone’s liking and the word ‘crash’ appears on the said analysts’ reports, as well as in the daily lives of those too dependent on the health of the industry.

As someone that had weathered one or two of those storms in my professional lifetime, where some blizzards I escaped only by a narrow margin, as well being a (so called) BIM enthusiast  – I take a special interest in observing how well various BIM initiatives do, when the dial of the industry heads South, as it seems to be doing now, again.

My sad conclusion is, that BIM does not do very well when its umbrella industry hits turbulent times.
I see that, when things slow down and developments ground to an almost halt – there  are usually very few project-owners that will carry on insisting on ‘adding cost’ onto their overstretched budgets by enforcing any type of BIM requirement .
Government clients, often the most vocal BIM mandators in good times, will also retreat hastily from anything BIM.  

Never mind, that BIM is supposed to save money and make things more efficient – faced by consultants, contractors and others, themselves keen to keep their cash-flows in the black and armed with ‘take it or leave it attitudes’ – BIM tends to be the first ‘project luxury’ to get dropped.

Those keen on retaining the illusion of being the ‘innovative players’ within the industry, will promise to return to experimenting with this ‘BIM thing’ once the industry settles into a better trend, but when that really happens, they are likely to be too busy to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, doing BIM things only superficially and so the cycle keeps carrying on, giving any meaningful BIM little chance for developing into anything sustainable.

I do wish for this cycle to break sometime, for BIM to become the true answer to the global industry’s plight for help,  when things get tough.
To have the players look for the ‘smarter’ for once, as opposed to just the ‘even cheaper’, when the margins thin down.

After all, what better environment to release the shackles of archaic methodologies of ‘drawing based documentation’ than recession hit projects hungry to still deliver win-win results for all involved despite the harsh environments they find themselves in?
What better opportunities to let the underdogs of the BIM-skilled world shine amongst their
non-BIM literate peers, than impossible to complete projects-turned into success stories?

An opportunity for enterprising players to employ outdated versions of Sim games to refine the design of large developments on, at fractions of costs and with high precision, a chance for some others to cut the paper as the medium  fully out of their processes and turn loss-making projects into profitable ones? Projects destined for arbitrations and claim-wars, into vibrant money makers and time savers?

Unlikely to happen.
BIM is the ‘stiletto heel’ of the AEC industry.
In good times, it is kind of a status symbol,  cool and funky, though often expensive and worn by the jocks, simultaneously glamorous, uncomfortable and impractical.

In an emergency, downright useless.

In an aircraft emergency, can one slide down wearing them an emergency slide?
That says it all, for BIM.

Picture from here:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

An open request to the author of the article: ’How Building Information Modeling Saved One University $10 Million’ – Please substantiate your claim!

There’s been a great little ‘article’ circling the web recently, claiming ‘How Building Information Modeling Saved One University $10 Million’.

I managed to ignore the item for a while – must have subconsciously filtered out the headline with dozens of others, on how one person became rich by… or lost a lot of weight by… and other types of ‘easy magic news’ that I’m bombarded with on a daily basis.

For some time I refrained from reading it even as it kept tenaciously popping up on ‘serious’ industry forums and news – though by this stage I could see that it was not a ‘spoof’ but pretending to be a ‘real’ news.
When it started reaching me attached to personal messages – sent by people I know have reasonably sound experience in the field, noting how it validated ‘my work’ as well, I finally felt the need to read it properly and comment on it.

Let me make it clear, I do not question the ability and capability of BIM to save money, time or other resources.
If anything, a well applied BIM could ‘save’ funds for construction clients, contractors or consultants much higher than the 3% quoted here.

I also have no intention to question that everyone involved on the project has done a great job either; we are talking Portland, Oregon, after all.

However, in spite of its scientific look, this writing is nothing but an infomercial for a series of BIM related tools and consultants. And not that great at that, either.

The tools and processes are described in a clumsy, exaggerated and superficial way, staying at a pretty safe ‘high level’ definitions, while the end results of the same processes quoted are surprisingly specific, sometimes down to two decimals.
The author uses ‘design’ and ‘construction related documentation’ interchangeably, mixes up tools with approaches and vice versa, ‘confidently’ summarizes what BIM ‘is’ in a couple of sentences, gives us a no-fail ‘How to save millions’ recipe and tops it all off, with the ‘Lesson learned: The machines have won’.

‘C’mon – no harm done really’ – tell me my friends and fellow BIM enthusiasts.
‘Hold back the vitriol, all publicity is good publicity for BIM. Good for the cause’.
But is it really?

Is there no danger in letting unchallenged articles like this spread over the global BIM networks?
Quantifying supposed ‘Realized savings with BIM’ packaged under sensational headlines?
Junky Data on BIM to feed the BIM junkie in you?

One can say it could be funny if it was not quite sad – and dangerous – today it is a shallow article, tomorrow it turns into a ‘proven’ case-study in a BIM Handbook, the day after, it morphs into something a mandated requirement is based for everyone. (UKBIM anyone?)

I ask the author to expand on the story. Apart from expecting a thoroughly explained conclusion on the savings as well as the statement, that the machines had won, here are some further questions that could be raised to make this effort of redoing the article worthwhile:

Who ‘pocketed’ the supposed savings? The client? Did it go back to their Building-funds to be used on their subsequent projects? Or was it not a ‘real’ saving after all – i.e. it would have been additional cost, had the super-duper BIM not been implemented? How would that additional cost been justified then? Especially if ‘normal’ approaches were used.
The architects talk ‘billable hours’ – were these hours already quoted for (and contracted to do) or left for change orders to claim later?
Were the savings shared across the board of all participants? Equally or based on a particular key?
Had the consultants been selected on the basis of this, projected saving and their capability to deliver on it?
Was the budget set ‘realistically’ in the first place or overinflated?
Were the savings part of the contingencies, that by their nature could be spent or saved?
Were there NO variations claimed by the contractor due to poor, inadequate documentation or had they been already deducted from the ‘savings’?

I also have hundreds of ‘what if’ scenarios I could throw in the pot… what if different procurement method was used, could the savings had grown? Or would they have shrunk?
If not Autodesk was the main supplier of the tools but a competing company with their own (possibly better) products? If there was more (or less rain) that year? If the team was more or less competent?

These are all ‘guesswork’ questions, some pure speculation.
After all, most building projects are speculative endeavors. A budget is guessed – lots of processes, scientific, technical and less so, take place over some time (months, years, decades), wheeling and dealing sets the tone of the project and keeps it throughout – some people do some pretend work and others some real, some companies come out of it in black, others end up in red.
The process concludes in a building that more or less fulfills the needs and requirements set up at the beginning.

BIM has a place in the process described above and if used well, can benefit one, two or more (but rarely all) the parties involved.
Exploring its impact on a project is a worthwhile exercise from whatever angle it is done from.
But making off-hand claims that are dubious to say the least, is reckless and can potentially hurt the entire industry.