Thursday, October 28, 2021

BIM for Clients: There is a need for independent BIM advocacy!

Building project clients come in all shapes and sizes.

From the very small, ‘let’s build a garage’ or ‘renovate the kitchen’ types, to gigantic institutional owners of city-size developments.

To create their projects, apart from the staunch DIYers, most draw on a plethora of advisors and consultants for assistance.

 BIM advocacy rarely makes their list.

Sure, ‘digital approaches’ do get thrown around by various participants of the servicing pool, most of the time packaged as ways of working smarter, while, a poor cover for an additional fee grab.

Some providers are BIM specialist with genuinely useful offerings of digital construction ware, others are barely fluent BIM consultants of the mainstream type, brandishing their occasional BIM achievements.

But I am yet to see them seeking out independent BIM advice.

 BIM has been around for a long time.

Even if I base it on my own, subjective experience, at least for the last 30 years, BIM has been a justifiable and doable approach to ‘communicate buildings’.

Yet, despite of several big waves of international BIM hypes rising, it has hardly made a visible impact on the industry.

 Many will argue against this statement, mostly those with vested interest in the digital part of the industry and its tools.

The development of AR, VR and other gadgets, drone scanning, robotic devices and the like are collectively considered to be proof of the success of the global BIM journey.

And in their own way, they are massive technical achievements. But they are also ‘just’ tools and equating the smartness of the industry to their sophistication is a bit of a stretch.

 I view BIM as a language and measure its effectiveness by the level of industry fluency.

At its core is the ‘model’, a representation of the building that is different from the traditional process of the ‘drawing’ as the depiction of the same.

While fully defining either of these opposing principles is a complex exercise and requires a lot of dedication from those wishing to understand the area, anyone participating in the building industry should at least know the difference.

 Or, that there IS a difference.

With the emergence of BIM, thirtysomething years ago, a new communication language had come into the industry. Yet, the presence of the new language is rarely acknowledged or accounted for.

We see the tools it brought, not the language.

We see the tools, we choose to use them or to ignore them, and are lulled in the pretense that our involvement with BIM is optional.

Shaping the communicating environment is treated purely based on commercial aspects and the risk of getting it wrong is underestimated.

 These days we operate in hybrid language environments where construction projects get ‘spoken’ simultaneously ‘drawing’ and ‘model’.

On the surface, this is not a bad thing. After all, we live in the transitional period where the communication ‘type drawing’ is growing into ‘type model’.

We are waiting for the contractual arm of the industry to mature to ‘type model’ and while this is happening, we make the best of both worlds.

Or do we?

No. We, the industry is struggling in the worst of both, no longer speaking either languages fluently or hardly at all.

The often ridiculed ‘traditional, drawing based’ communication before BIM had a supporting infrastructure that made it work very well. It enabled everyone in the industry communicate and participate. That infrastructure has largely disappeared by now and BIM has not replaced it.

BIM professionals often push the seamless model-to-drawing workflows as the goal and reality, yet it is neither working as such in practice nor should it really be the aim.

The fact that in BIM language speaking ‘model type’ communication also needs orthogonal projections, dimensioning and notations can cause further confusion.

 In the ‘olden days’ just about anyone could update a drawing, cloud a change, create a revision, enact a design decision and record it. In the new hybrid environment making even the smallest of changes to ‘a’ drawing can be cumbersome and tedious, not to mention time consuming.

There is the paradox of being able to flick over a full-length movie to the other side of the world in seconds yet being forced to wait for a drawing upgrade from a local consultant weeks at a time.

One can also spend hours at project PCG meetings where dozens of people discuss the project yet most of them can’t open a model let alone edit a drawing associated with it.

I’d be surprised if there were other industries in existence where such a large portion of its practitioners did not speak its language.

 We like to hide behind the contract and its illusion of protection through the negation of models.

Yet do we really know what is on our drawings?

 Realistically, in my remaining work-lifetime, BIM (or whatever fancier name it gets given in the future) is not likely to improve significantly.

The toolsets will further modernize and some of the ways we operate may change but the quality of the ‘language’ and its true uptake will likely not improve at speed.

 Still, in the bleakness of the last paragraph lies one aspect of the situation that is still worth fighting for.

That is for building clients’ right for true BIM advocacy.

 Any building client at the outset should be able to clearly define or at least understand the communication language of their building project.

Even before any digital tools get considered, the language must be defined.

Is it going to be drawing based or model based? Most likely hybrid? Proportionally definable? Not? Why not? True pros and cons for each? How cross - overs are happening?

No, BEPs aren’t adequate for answering those questions if they are not fully integrated with the project (contractually too).

How can we measure a company’s BIM literacy?

Can a servicing consultancy be called BIM fluent with only a token BIM manager amongst hundreds of illiterates? Even if the token manager constantly wears fancy AR/VR headsets.

 Building project clients come in all shapes and sizes. Some are smarter than others.

I’d love to see more of them pushing stronger the BIM buttons of their projects, asking the hard questions and demanding answers. Even be brave enough to say ‘no’ to half-baked BIM attempts if confident that pure ‘drawing’ will be spoken effectively.

 We live in a world ruled by supply/demand, their demand should create a supply of independent BIM advocates.

Will they come from the ranks of client-side PMs?


Pic from Predefine2020

(disclaimer: my husband’s company)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

An Ode to ArchiCAD…or…can we call it something else?

 I’ve never been happy with the name of my (possibly) most essentials of tools. Not even 30 years ago when I first started associating with it, even though at the time both the Arch part and the CAD part were positive terms. Just did not have the right ring.

Sure, names are such subjective things, aren’t they?

And who am I to criticize a name, having burdened one of my children with one that is unpronounceable by most of the population she comes across?

And does it matter that the town I come from and the country I now call home are known as a ‘new something’ rather than have a more distinctive and original label? They still are cool places.

 About a year ago GS rebranded its ArchiCAD, its logo turning from a somewhat curvy A to an arch with a point. I can only wonder how much effort, agonizing, brainstorming, and money went into that exercise. So, why not update the name too?

Surely those in the know would by now realize that it is holding the ‘product’ back. And, no it was not right even when the ‘by architects – for architects’ mantra was still working.

Highly likely, that those that may have bravely floated the idea of a new name were advised by experts, that the brand capital of the name is too high to throw away – rebuilding will take decades.

 But, would it?

In the industry where all the cool tools are named by zoo animals or have word compositions with no meaning, why not relaunch under something snazzier?

I’d rather be known as an expert in a toolset that requires an additional clarification of ‘you know, used to be called ArchiCAD’ then just … ‘you know, ArchiCAD’.

Revit is better, even if people often mispronounce it. Hell, even Vectorworks rolls better of the tongue.

ArchiCAD just sounds like a snobbier (or more obscure) version of AutoCAD. Eh.

 Talking Revit. I came across a software comparison recently. Check it out, link at the end of this post.

Sure, speed is not everything, but I'd rather drive a slow car and a fast software then the other way around.

People say, it must be biased, hey, it was organized by GS.

C’mon clarify that: by GS from Denmark. They went way out of their way to make it an even playing field. Danes are like that.

I don’t really need any scientific comparison. I turn both on daily. But while I’m happy to drive a second-hand Jap-car to roll into work, I hate waiting for a Joe-average model to even open on my computer when using Revit.

Yes, I know my computer is not that powerful, but does run multiple, above average ArchiCAD models simultaneously.

 In a month or so, GS will likely launch its newest version of AC. Which really is a bore.

Sure, I understand the business strategy behind it, and the keeping up with the Autodesk Joneses game of justifying the subs, but why not just change the name instead this time? 

It was almost 2 decades ago that I was briefly employed by a GS associated company.

I badgered them about the ArchiCAD name, even then.

Chance of it happening in the next 5 years?




Monday, July 27, 2020

There are two types of BIM in existence, but only one of them money can buy!

The digital, 3D+ based approach to creating and managing AEC information is usually called BIM.
It has numerous other names as well, the latest, favored by many is the ‘Digital Twin’, I, for the sake of consistency, like to stick to ‘BIM’.

Humor me a bit and don’t get bogged down on the name.
Entertain me just a little bit more, and accept that fundamentally, BIM approaches can be grouped under 2 headings.

The first is the Group of Self-Contained BIM exercises, the second are the Life-Style BIMs.
The biggest difference between the two is that any BIM that falls in the first category can potentially be ‘bought’ while the second needs to be ‘grown’.
The boundaries do get blurred, as many Self-Contained BIMs can be grown from seeds too and Life-Style BIM components can indeed be acquired as semi-functional and off-the-shelf products, but overall this line of categorization is a safe tool to assess if one should contemplate engaging in a BIM-type experience on offer.
Another differentiation will be in clarity of scope, Self-Contained BIM jobs have clearly defined scope of works, while Life-Style BIMs often rely on ‘described outcomes’ that may be ambiguous.

Examples for the first group would be design or documenting in 3D, task-based applications like construction sequencing and logistics, model-based quantity take offs, all flavors of AEC visualizing.

By nature, no BIM is bad BIM, and I encourage anyone to give it a go – by self-performing or by insourcing as a service from others more skilled in the area. Even if an attempt to do things in a BIM-ish way is deemed to be unsuccessful, either due to perceived high cost or low value, there will likely be intangible benefits to all involved, experience to shape careers and progress.
And while I’ve long passed my BIM-evangelizing prime, everything considered, I get enthusiastic just about any BIM attempt I see, performed by just about anyone, qualified or not. 

Yet, I get very cautious about Life-Style BIMs.

So, how to distinguish these from the relatively low-risk Self-Contained BIMs.
The first rule of thumb is, that if the BIM scope requires a Plan to describe it (like BIM Strategy Plan, a BEP – Design/Construction, BIM Workflow) it is likely that we have a Lifestyler to deal with.

Pay attention to the ‘BIM Goals’ – if there is lot of lawyer-like speech in it, mixed with lofty expectations, there is danger:
“The goal of BIM incorporation is to effectively utilize current and future proven digital technologies to ensure the streamlining of design and construction processes, encourage greater stakeholder engagement, increase cost and time certainty, and to capture the necessary data for facilities management.
To achieve these goals the application of BIM technologies is required across all phases of the project ensuring the development of a coordinated BIM Model generally to LOD 300/350 for design and a construction deliverable of a LOD 350 model for XYZ’s facilities team to utilize.”

In general, Client initiated, mandated and across-project BIMs fall into this category.
They attempt to do BIM on large (and very large) scale, often based on best intentions but also bad advice. A client gets lured into a ‘better way of doing things’ by a BIM advocate and buys into an idea of all-or-nothing BIM.
The all-or-nothing BIM burns through the project, eats up people and companies and at the end no one wants to hear the dreadful TLA ever again. Apart from the overall BIM consultant, that can move onto their next victim. And the occasional BIM service provider that made good living out of an essentially Self-Contained BIM within the project. For example a Building Services Modeller.

The all-or-nothing approach would not be as fatal if they really meant it, i.e. if it was a true, cold turkey BIM only and no ‘traditional’ processes involved.

It would likely still fail but would at least make for an exhilarating ride for all. Instead, these Life-Style approaches like to keep their options open, the following statements just some examples to those intentions:

“The Contractor shall utilize the design consultant 3D Revit models to further develop specific trade/discipline models as defined in the Construction BIM Execution Plan, to achieve a high level of coordination between trades. Note 2D installation layout shop drawings will still be required to be issued for review and are expected to be an output from the 3D model where appropriate.”

When you recognize a tender you are invited to bid on that is as a Life-Style Mandate BIM project, what should you do?
To save your time reading through all these docs, search for the ‘notwithstanding, foregoing and herein’ legalese within the BIM sections and prepare your strategy accordingly.
Cutting the BIM approach to a Self-Contained size through NTTs is one route to take, though it can backfire if the BIM Consultant’s role is threatened by it.
Truly pricing for the open-ended BIM spec but also providing an alternative submission is another.
Of course fixing a price for something open-ended is a bit of an oxymoron, nevertheless you can give it a go, by at least defining the range.

Alternatively, you can play along and propose to fully comply with the Project BIM Plan and hope that the make-believe game of ‘Doing large scale BIM’ will last the length of the project while the BIM-thing will fizzle out.
On most Lifestylers, it does.

That is a pity, because, Life-Style BIM is an exceptionally good concept and will happen one day.
But at present, one cannot buy one. Not because it would be impossible to do it in current times, but because it would be prohibitively expensive, a bit like solving Auckland’s traffic problems by proposing everyone commutes flying around on personal jetpacks.

Flippancy aside, I’ll close with my favorite parallel: BIM is a language that is very different form all other languages AEC uses. In case of Self-contained BIM jobs, the language needs to be spoken by a relatively small number of stakeholders for the BIM to be successful. A project-wide BIM forces that language on everyone within the job. In current times, this is neither practical nor affordable.