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.


Monday, June 22, 2015

What an earth is a ‘BIM client’?

I couple of days ago I received a message inviting me by “Building” to a live audio webinar, titled: “What makes a good BIM client? And what to do if things go wrong”, in association with 4Projects. (see link below).

I’ve read through the agenda a couple of times and have a bit of an idea what they are about, but really, what with the topic? A how to become good BIM client webinar?
Why, have I been a bad one? Am I a BIM client at all? Would I want to be? Why would anyone ‘want’ to be a BIM client good or bad?

Can someone explain?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

BIM product launches – good indicators on how the AEC industry is doing in the region.

At least once a year I like to review the status of my career and reassess the direction it is headed for.
Should I stay as a ‘pretend Project/Design manager’ for another year or should I jump back onto the BIM bandwagon and continue my interrupted career of a ‘pretend strategic BIM manager’?

Both roles have advantages and disadvantages for me, but for the last 5 years neither had achieved a convincing victory over the other, rather they keep trying to entice me over to their side for good, by universal scare tactics and or the promise of nirvana.

‘The pro-BIM ‘side regularly finds me (mostly via recruiters) and encourages me to re-deploy the considerable subject related experience and skillset I have. They urge me to do this within the area of BIM-enablement of the masses involved in BIM mandated giga projects spread all over the world. This side of the pendulum preaches that the ‘Doomsday for the BIM illiterate’ is close and the future for real BIM expertise is bright.

‘The forget BIM’ (or any meaningful and positive progress to the way the industry is run) side on the other hand also grabs me at any chance given, with the reality of an industry that has no need for sophistication, innovation and BIM type of skills and where one’s biggest asset is still one’s ability to bluff. The pendulum here radiates with the darkness of a misplaced career.

This Strange Case of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ of the AEC/BIM flavours is not an illness I suffer from on my own, there is a significant proportion of the industry that I see perpetually flung from one end to the other of the ‘love BIM/hate BIM’ dilemma.
Significant in numbers yet scarily un-influential these people can be identified by changing their professional role descriptions by dropping or re-embracing the BIM acronym.
The scarier side of this game is that it tends to reflect the way the industry is doing overall – it is (oddly) when things go well and construction is buzzing that BIM gains momentum, when it is spooked and sluggish it is back to basics – no frills CAD.

Over the years I stumbled on an event, that more than anything helps me in my struggles to decide what side should I be on when trying to predict  what  shade of the proverbial war of ‘good and evil’ is likely to dominate the AEC world for the near future, and that is the ‘Annual Autodesk Product launch’.

To justify their ongoing upgrade-subscription and support fees, almost all major ‘BIM tool providers’ seem to agree that an annual bash for the party faithful is a good idea, even if not a lot of good news is there to share.
New slogans get forget, banners printed, interactive games devised and invitations get sent out.

Autodesk, the self-proclaimed leader of the pack, does these events with the nonchalance of the ‘not need to try too hard’ predetermined winners.
No personal tags for the attendees, mints on the tables or classy black pencils embossed by the host hotel. The coffee machines run dry half way through the event and the queues for the dinner are slow and long. (the food was a notch better this year than some others before).

In spite of the predictable format of the event, the tone of it varies from year to year depending on what the audience is likely to be perceived to be there for.
In some years, there are large groups of people new to BIM lured in by the promise of a good niche-career, likely to rocket them ahead of their peers.
On others it is mostly ‘everyday’ users looking for an evening out and checking out if their ‘tip suggestion’ has finally made the cut and got implemented by the Developer Gods of the Ivory Towers of Autodesk.

The hosts, catering for one group or the other (sometimes for an unfortunate mix of both) design their presentation around ‘big-picture – no-need to know details revolutionary materials’ or ‘cram in as many as possible hands-on new features on live files –evolutionary content’.

This year’s launch of the Autodesk products was the latter, and while the technical presenters were very good in their areas of expertise (it takes balls to demonstrate live anything, anywhere) – I found my mind wondering, deliberately trying to drown out the monotonous tone of those on stage sounding not unlike car auctioneers.
Still, I stayed the length of the event – an achievement of its own, since over years I’ve gained an embarrassing recognition of the ‘one that likes to walk out prematurely’.

I left the occasion happy to have seen a handful of ex colleagues – people I’m always glad to catch up with.
I also gained a reasonably good idea on which side the pendulum of ‘BIM/no BIM’ is likely to swing to in the near future and consequently what side of my pretend SM-Expertise should I keep showing to the world I work in.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Guess what, when Paperless Construction does happen, it will not be put in place to please you*!

As an aging BIM enthusiast writing on any topic mildly related to BIM and doing it from the standpoint of a self-imposed BIM-abstinence, I tend to offend people on both sides of the BIM fence in roughly equal numbers.

The one topic though they all seem to agree on, is the concept of a ‘Paperless Construction Approach’ to delivering projects.
Both as a means to improve an individual party’s outcome on a project or a road to a universal betterment of the global industry.
Something I believe in and promote from time to time.
Never mind about trying to understand the details of ‘my theories’, nor the reasons I may occasionally present to prove them being viable concepts for achieving ‘certain’ results for ‘certain’ parties under ‘certain’ conditions.

Here is what they do instead: They dismiss it, of course, totally off-hand:

Don’t bother with explaining the subtleties of historical trends and nuances of behavioural changes and notions of the whats and whys of other industries having gone down that track…   
let me say what “I” (the quintessential construction ‘know it all’)  think about any Paperless Construction Thing (as in a project, site, office, anything):

Not gonna happen. Ever. Paper is here to stay.
Don’t believe me? Look at me now!
Yep, have the best I-phone available on the market, (yeah the one that is a limited version and its glass breaks even faster than any other ones’ before) yet I still do all my work scribbling on post-it-notes.
Yep! Does it stop me being a Project Director on a high profile multi-billion dollar construction project?
Nope. Never has. Never will.

And look: I have a cool laptop too.
It is the slimmest possible version – you can hardly call it three dimensional so slim it is.
And light. And fast. It is so fast I can sometimes forget what I was going to write as it finishes my sentences for me. When I write my reports for the Board.
Yet, do I use it for my business deals in any way?

I go to exclusive clubs and meet my equally capable counterparts and we do deals on napkins.
Yep, here is ‘the’ paper for you again. Critical to major deals.
True, the types of establishments we like to frequent rarely have a holder with triangularly folded stacks of paper serviettes on hand, but their ever-helpful personnel is usually quick in slipping us a gold embossed (paper) notebook to scribble on just before we would even consider using our branded pens on their satin tablecloths or napkins.

We make huge deals without even looking at our electronic gadgets, just by a bit of finger work: the counterpart lifts 2 fingers (I want 2 mills for variations) – I raise one. Deal done.
If more detail is needed, there is the faithful notebook to figure it out on.
And we always work with rounded, simple numbers. You want a 2 year extension of time? That will cost you 4 out of 5 of those mega government projects you currently tendering. Or something similar, don’t get too bogged down on the numbers, the idea is to keep it simple….

Other good thing about paper: still quite easy to dispose – scrap it down the rubbish chute with the leftovers of the lobster.

Anyway, satirical musings of these more than real creatures doing more than real deals over more than real pieces of paper aside, the rest of the industry, when quizzed on the topic is unfortunately  just as ignorant and cocky.

When it comes to doing their day-to-day job in a possibly less ‘paper-driven’ – way, God ‘forbid, totally paperless, they are just as staunch in their stand of a ‘never-gonna-happen-thank-goodness’ flavour.

As I indicated in the intro to this post, this IS a topic almost everyone agrees on, from concrete-mixer drivers, through CAD drafters to engineering managers and all the way to the CEO’s of the top shakers and movers of global AEC giants.

They love paper.
 So much so, that they always print their plane tickets out in the largely digitally run travel industry. They always press the ‘yes’ button on the ATM’s even though the slips the machine will spit out will end within seconds in the built-in rubbish bin.
They read their emails on their smart phones but print out the critical ones (attachments and all) and file in long (hardly ever again touched) rows of lever-arch boxes.
They plot out thousands of sheets of mindlessly CAD-ded construction drawings to drag over dusty construction sites offering little useful data but making the carriers look purposeful.
“That’s a pretty hefty stack of A0s you have there John!” – “Yep, these are our shop-drawings, our CAD guys worked on them all month and it took us a week just to print them!”
“That’s a pretty nice glossy brochure on the board table Mr (whoever is BB’s or Leighton’s current leader) never mind the huge losses hidden somewhere inside.”

Being an ‘aging professional’ that has probably seen too much of this industry for my own sanity, I know better than try to convince anyone any longer that the concept of Paperless Construction is a good idea.
Done for the right reasons and in the right way.
Not a fantastic notion or vain hope, but a carefully engineered set of artificial barriers put up to force a desired behaviour…
And not necessarily to please the ones doing the work but for the benefit of the clients the same ones are supposed to be serving.

I may write about these ideas in the future, just as I have been in the past, mostly because I can, gives me some sort of a pleasure and fills a gap for those that are sick of the same-same arguments of the industry and want to read something a bit ‘alternative’.
I also wish to make a little mark on the ‘book’ of history for those that will come in the future, reclaim Global Construction and make it smart again.
When they wonder, were we (as an industry ) all really that stupid not to see that the prolonged use of ‘paper’ let the crooks get away with keeping the industry broken for so long, they may find this entry .

Nope we aren’t, just the great majority.

* the quintessential construction ‘know it all’ making it big (or even not so big) in the global AEC at the moment.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Project Schedulers and BIM Managers: Unite! Could the two sectors make one another stronger while helping the concept of the Paperless Construction?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Scheduling sector within the AEC. On one hand they seem to have it easy, any project nowadays will need a Program Manager by default.
For a ‘Regular’ Engineer to become a ‘Planning Engineer’ they need to be fluent in one of the (for most in the industry) extremely complicated tools like Primavera or the somewhat dumber MS Project.
Relatively small numbers within this industry unusually flushed with ‘super talent’ can be bothered with going beyond anything more complex than the basic tools of Excel, so the numbers of qualified schedulers are limited.
Job security is more or less guaranteed.

On the other hand though – being a Planner (as in the ‘time scheduler’ type) on an AEC project is generally a pretty thankless role to be in. I’ve seen many times through my career these poor souls getting seriously roasted over any/all failures of the project by people that should know better, like project directors and the ones above them.

In fact, having spent a good quarter of a century working in close proximity with Planners, I’ve seen their fortunes shape in very similar ways to those of us practicing the similarly ‘black art’ of BIM.
Apart from the obvious similarities, like the necessity of knowing at least one mystical (un-learnable?) software to operate within either of these sectors, there are many other likenesses between the two sub-species.

Like, expectations.
Others on the projects generally expect ‘unreasonably high’ or ‘ridiculously low’ results from both Planners and BIM-mers. Few understand what exactly are these specialist team members supposed to be doing, in turn their efforts and outputs get either shrugged off as ‘meaningless’ or they are expected to press the magic button on their ‘super-tools’ that will instantaneously save the project from all upcoming dooms, whenever the PD asks or directs.
They are mistrusted and secretly admired, simultaneously hated and worshipped.

Then, there are the officially promoted ‘supposed synergies’, of the ‘D’s type, BIM-mers theoretically are the guardians of all ‘D’s on BIM enabled projects (anything from 3 up) with Schedulers the official custodians of the 4th or 5th D, depending on their pecking order with the QS-s on the team. Since D’s should stick together, for high level strategist in charge of mega projects and companies it usually  ‘makes sense’ for BIM and Planning Departments to work hand-in-hand, in fact for many companies the first step towards doing anything BIMish is to charge their existing Planning Departments with rolling out the BIM implementation. (a big mistake on its own, often preceded by an in-sourcing/outsourcing fiasco  but let’s not digress from the main line of the story).

In practical terms, working closer for the two sectors is not easy.
Being the despised (or often only just tolerated) nerds of AEC projects is not necessarily a strong enough reason to seek out the other for cooperation or even just for company. The two groups, unless forcefully lumped together often are happy to eye the other camp with the same level of ‘no one understands us’ rhetoric they cultivate for the general project staff.

For a meaningful (technical) collaboration a significant effort would be required from both sides, understanding what the others are really about, learning about their tools and finding ways to support the others without hindering the progress of one’s own ‘specie’.
Too much effort needed for likely little gain.

Yet, I do see some opportunities in the future for both of these sectors to truly prosper in forming a stronger alliance with the other.
For a start, collectively they do have the smartest, most ambitious and adventurous part of the industry’s intellectual resource, forging an internal army of thinkers is only a step away.
Individually, they both have battled for decades the negative forces of the industry wanting to remain led by the bullies as opposed to the smart ones.
And managed to survive over a significant timeframe and often against the odds of the immense bully-power.
Admittedly weak, marginalised and hardly taken seriously still they together also own some core values and qualities, that normally take decades to develop and will take decades for those that start from scratch now.

‘Paperless Construction’ is my bet for the ‘idea’ over what these two groups could meaningfully cooperate and simultaneously give the industry a good jolt where it is desperately needed to be kicked in.
Surely, quite a number of stars would need to align favourably for this to happen any time soon especially at any meaningful scale, but who knows – with a little help here and there to nudge those stars to the right positions; there is a chance for real progress for the entire industry.

And for those that still think Paperless Construction is a na├»ve utopia – let’s just state for the record, it is not.