Saturday, July 26, 2014

PDFs and BIM: A trilogy of posts investigating what the PDF format’s role may be in strategies transitioning the industry to BIM? First part: PDFs within current AEC – Important yet neglected?

PDF as a digital file-format is generally frowned upon by those in charge of creation and management of project information within the AEC industry.
It is being treated as something one puts up with until something better comes along. 
This approach is somewhat surprising considering that in most contemporary construction contracts PDF’s as the digital representations of drawings have often higher standing than model files or even DWGs.

In the still widely practised 2D information flow, where simultaneously PDF/DWG files get exchanged by project participants, the PDF’s do get used by those not CAD literate, but all further work on coordinating or assessing the data (for example creating a BOQ) is usually done on the DWG files. The technical people that are in need of using PDF’s within their CAD environments tend to turn them into DXFs (often ending up with zillions of fuzzy sub-elements), JPEGS or to lay them under their digital drawings.
In principle there is nothing wrong with these practices, what is questionable, why there are no better technical readers/managers for PDFs to make them more accessible by those less interested in going full CAD?

The non-direct originators of the information (say, main- and subcontractors) together globally handle billions of PDF’s daily, for the purpose of validating, coordinating, measuring, specialist-detailing, logistics planning etc.
One would presume a chunky market to be there for developers of PDF focused tools.

Sure, there are programs on offer with ‘advanced’ viewing facilities for PDF files, measuring, notating even a bit of layering and cross-comparing but few tends to go much beyond what Adobe’s Reader provides. Could the problem be in lack of interest from Adobe to step up its offering for the AEC or are there some other reasons behind the scenes?

Some sophisticated Cloud Document Management systems claim to have solved the issue by focusing on the even bigger issue with PDFs that is managing the quantities they tend to be coming in. Their philosophy builds on the idea that, forget viewing and analysing if you cannot locate the correct file from thousands and thousands of others in the project directories. This is a very valid point as the quantities drawings and consequently PDFs are produced at are totally out of synch with what is reasonable or manageable. Unfortunately these DocManSystems do not go far enough into the content of the PDF’s, sticking mostly to treating them as only digital representations of the PAPER drawing.

Yes, one can search and sort large numbers of files by name, author, revision, discipline or whatever on their platforms but these type of metadata and the searching engines are of limited use for, say façade-subcontractors that need to quickly locate ALL relevant (but ONLY) relevant sheets from the electronic piles-of-files.
Those arguing that the common document structures DO give specialist users easy gates to locate data applicable to them may do some research on claims raised by/against parties missing out on vital project information through hasty filtering of data or indeed rebutted claims because contracts force all participants to have ‘all of the documentation read in entirety’.

In the past, I have written about ArchiCAD’s (Graphisoft) excellent ability to handle PDF’s, both in quantity and quality – the second applying to the quality of work offered to the users.
Two points to illustrate this claim (based on Version 16 – 2 years outdated ArchiCAD and used on a clunky computer):
Numbers: One can import literally hundreds of PDFs into one file with little impact on performance. These can be placed in plans/elevations/sections making them an excellent base for either 2D or 3D based work.
Spatial: by being able to place PDFs in vertical views as well as plans, instant references are at hand to check validity of drawings and cross reference between views.
Then, there is the ‘trace and reference’ command to assist with colours, opacity and the magic slider for interrogation purposes!

Even though I’m happy to be singing praises to ArchiCAD on this particular topic, the point I wish to make is not how this is the only or even best software to use to spatially assess large numbers of PDFs.
There may be many others; there could easily be much better ones out in the field handling PDFs. Also, it is only a part solution to the problem as there still is a large component of manual labour needed to sort and select the files one want to import into a ArchiCAD.

There are some important questions emerging:
Why is there no more discussion on this topic amongst experts?
Why are there no more efforts made to guide PDF users through thousands of drawings by the originators? (drawing list that themselves go over many pages are little use);
Why can’t we get the numbers of drawings significantly reduced and cut out a lot of useless padding?

Is the answer on these questions in the simple and sad fact that PDF’s are viewed as ’backwards parts’ of the digital AEC revolution that will disappear soon enough as we all rush towards the promised BIM Nirvana?
Or is it because few take the time to really understand what happens to the construction data in the real world, away from fancy BIM Taskforce Groups and BIM Implementation Strategies and fully appreciate the strategic place this format holds within both current and likely future workflows?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why is the sky blue? Why does gravity pull objects towards the centre of the Earth?

The title of this post is a direct quote from a friend DJ, a fellow aging-and somewhat disillusioned BIM-mer.
While sharing a pleasant Iftar a couple of nights ago, these were the questions he likened BIM related forums these days. ‘Tedious’ was my choice of word to describe the phenomenon.
No sooner is an interesting topic floated by someone, there are dozens of new kids on the block that will come up with the most fundamental questions to kill it off and steer the forum into the realm of ‘preschool – learn your letters’ stage.
4 days and 4 new BIM survey-requests (directed at me) later, it’s time to make a stand.

This will be short and arrogant:
I’m an expert on the subject of BIM.
I might not be the best in the world, but consider myself to be getting pretty close to being that.
(happy to share the title with a dozen others I know to be up there too and I deeply respect them for their work and knowledge).

I know BIM really well.
I’ve spent 20 years of my life learning every nuance of BIM (VC, VDC…), sacrificed almost everything material and a lot of immaterial I’ve ever owned or cherished on the altar of it.

So, please don’t send me silly little surveys to fill out on ‘questions on BIM’.
Don’t ask me to ‘tell you more’ about BIM or what my views are regarding the topic.
I’ve written over 600 blogposts and presented at many events globally.
There is a lot of whining within my writing and on the surface useless padding, but for anyone wanting to ‘really’ get to know what I’ve learned about BIM (at a pretty high price) it’s a good start.

New to the topic? Interested in it? Do your homework first!
Medical students know better than to barge into experienced surgeons with generic, entry level questions.
Want to engage me in more advanced topics related to BIM?
Sure – come forward, but only once the necessary groundwork has been done.

Sounds arrogant?
OK by me. Probably DJ too.

Friday, July 11, 2014

BIM and the ‘age’ thing: When is one too old to get into BIM?

This is a topic that most people with some investment in BIM like to avoid, yet it naughtily pops up on many official and unofficial BIM related forums.
Those faced with the question tend to fall into 3 groups.
The non-committing ‘PC part’ will mumble successful BIM studying will depend on the person and their willingness to learn new things, not their age.
The second group, of braver ones  will likely come up with examples of people well into their forties, fifties and even sixties picking up BIM tools from scratch and using them daily. Someone from this (significantly smaller than the first) group will offer themselves as the living proof of a BIM enthusiast of a mature age that had come into the field late in life.
The third group is the smallest, one that encompasses those prepared to face up to the ‘fact’ that to start learning BIM from over 30 is difficult, if not impossible for most people.

BIMmers (with vested interests) like to get the question a bit muddier by not specifying what exactly do they mean under ‘learning BIM from scratch’ – and bundle here those experts that acquired large amounts of theoretical knowledge of BIM in the later stages of their careers. Admittedly this manoeuvre had afforded many a ticket for the lately fashionable BIM band-wagon but for me, this phenomenon is a proof for exactly the opposite theory.
Namely that, because it IS so difficult to acquire a new language (and BIM is fundamentally that) later in life, the roost CAN be ruled by so many old-pretenders unchallenged.
Add to this situation the extremely sluggish development of the field of the last 2 decades and you’ll lose another generation of challengers to the fact that the ‘clever 30 somethings’ of nowadays will find even the supposed advanced tools to be ‘so yesterday’ and leave instead.

I subscribe to the theory of the few that liken BIM to a language and new languages are uneasy to learn passed our twenties. Professional linguists and others learned in the science of anatomy and skills of communication can probably reason why this is the case, (or not) my proof is in thirty plus years of fairly nomadic life lived amongst many languages and meeting many people of all ages forced to learn a new language for survival or at least ability to fit in.
I met the occasional exception, talented individuals able to jump from one language into another, layer dialects in single conversations like fine pancakes over one another, pick up new exotic languages with ease.
Me on the other hand, an example of a person of average linguistic abilities cannot.
While even very close to being 50 years old, I can still juggle reasonably well simultaneously 3 (very different) languages. When I earnestly set out to learn the basics of Arabic a number of years ago and Cantonese last year I struggled majorly. What I memorised one day was forgotten the next, if not within minutes.
My father, who is one of the cleverest people I’ve ever known, had the same problem when he came to live with us in New Zealand. Well into his seventies yet bright as a button he enrolled into numerous English courses and gave up after about the third try. There was no lack of motivation or will power. He just could not progress with it.

So, if truly there is an age limit to people’s ability to pick up a new language, where does that leave the promoters of BIM that have an aging industry with very low BIM fluency amongst those aged 30+?
Should it carry on with a current strategy of developing the doers (the young ones) and the thinkers (the old ones)? And take on the risk that the two fragments of the industry drift apart even further, the doers not knowing what the thinkers do (supposedly ‘know’) and vice versa?
What about eager ‘doers’ keen to jump into strategizing roles and learning  that the ones already there are theoretical thinkers with no clue of what is happening at the other end?
Will they get discouraged, leave the industry and rebel?
Stage an industrial revolution reclaiming the industry for those that innovate (think) by doing first?
I doubt it. As exciting such a prospect could be, I do not see it happening in the near future.
The stronghold of those that are ruling is tight.
Those that should (or could be) be giving the tools into the revolutionaries’ hands are weak, pampering to the current rulers. They also underwrite the theory that successful strategies can be built up on purely theoretical (and at that, mostly unproven) knowledge without ever having done the ‘doing’.
Writing BIM plans without speaking any BIM language is like creating a language immersion strategy without being fluent in it.
No, it is worse actually, but let me leave this idea for some future musings.

Picture of a recent Autodesk event I went to.
It was a sad gathering, regardless of the the story the pictures try to tell;

Friday, July 4, 2014

How long should it take to build a ‘functioning’ BIM team from scratch?

I have a good friend; she works as a senior HR recruiter for a medium size developer company operating in the GCC. She’s been with them for over 4 years.
We don’t often talk work when we see each other but recently she’s been given the portfolio to recruit an entire team of ‘BIM people’.
Following a couple of friendly chats, I asked her if she would mind me putting some of her story into my blog. Contrary to what many think – I’m extremely careful when and how I reference people in my writing that have confided in me in any way.
I also offered to just write on the topic without any of the specific data related to her included, but admittedly hoped she would not mid me use her case.
She was cool about it. As long there was no mention of the company, she thought the story was not that unique to them anyway, offhand listed half a dozen other, similar work-places she knew of that tackled the same issue in a pretty similar way. She insisted though, that I give her the credit for where it’s due, I obliged.

The company started on its BIM journey with big ambitions about 3 years ago. At the time they were advised by a particular software provider how to get into BIM and that quickly saw them part with enough cash to purchase a dozen of BIM-suites and train a matching dozen of BIM modellers by the same provider. The modellers beavered away for a while in a largely non-BIM sympathetic environment and with not a lot of strategic direction to follow, to gradually give up on swimming upstream and leave for other companies that looked a bit more BIM friendly. At least at job interview levels. Exactly 2 years after the launch of the First BIG BIM programme, the last modeller left, coinciding with their (now abandoned) BIM tools turning 1 year out of date, as nobody bothered upgrading the software.

A blissful non-BIM year was enjoyed by all – the initially over-specced computers got caught up by time and became almost obsolete used by CAD users churning out design drawings by the tonnes (this developer has its own design team);
Any 3D stuff needed, like fancy visuals and flythrough-movies got appropriately outsourced, mostly to India, some to South America and occasionally to a very eager sole-operator working from one of the backwaters of Russia.
These years of ‘BIM attempt number 1’ followed by ‘no BIM at all’, saw my friend stay oblivious to BIM, spending her time searching the globe for talented and suitable experienced, but above all keen to come to the region candidates for the rotating-vacating roles of project-, design-, planning- and occasionally construction managers.

Then, suddenly, about 3 months ago something happened that rattled both the company and my friend’s career a bit.

There was a conference. The GM was invited. She would not normally go to such events, but there was a government official on the speakers’ list that she was keen to catch up with.
So, she attended. A pretty average gathering it turned out to be, the government official cancelling in the last minute to top off the disappointment.
There was one thing that got my friends GM slightly anxious though.
A hell-of a lot of talk about BIM.
Everyone was doing it, everyone was praising ‘it’ and could not stop talking about what wonders it had done for the business and everyone was better at it than the one speaking before.
And it was not only the presenters that tried to outdo each other with their BIM accomplishments, she got caught in two almost totally identical, yet non-related break-out talks where a number of very-high managers laboured on outshining all others with how many ‘D’s their companies were fluent in. Unaware about anything going above 3D and scared to be put on a spot herself, she left the conference before closing and spared no time to brief the leaders of her HR team, my friend and her boss: the company was going to go BIM. Urgently, BIG and in a ‘mature’ way.
And, yes, NOW!

My friend’s boss is a good manager and while there were another 2 junior recruiters on the team too, he gave my friend the honour to take on the prestigious task given to them by the GM.
There were very few specifics accompanying the assignment and those were included in the ‘Strategy’.
The ‘Strategy’ was no more than the minutes of the quick management meeting rectifying the basics of the SECOND BIG BIM plan that the GM mastered to arrange between initially briefing the HR team and giving the full ‘go-ahead’ a week later.
This time, the ‘BIM Strategy’ was all about the ‘right’ people. A dozen BIM Engineers will be recruited quickly, to form the grass route resource; a BIM manager will head the team.

Armed with the company’s BIM strategy and supported by her boss’s further directions (get them urgently, make it cheap! Look at India maybe the Philippines, the manager can be westerner but not an expensive one. Keep the lid on at 40k/month for him – 150 or thereabouts for the lot) my friend got on with the job.

And, she performed splendidly.
She managed to source the entire team for not much over the initial budget and with only 6 weeks stagger in their starting days with the company. Between them they supposedly knew all of the 6 BIM software packages currently on the market and at least one of them had seen a construction site at least once. Half of them have boasted of a clash-detection record of ‘over a thousand per a single project’ and a third had done D’s well exceeding the mainstream 3-4-5, my friend was also very familiar (by now) with. All pronounced the American ‘Revit’ in a European way and only two of them did not know what a construction simulation was but promised to learn by the time they’d start. The manager was a really good find, a cool dude, full 3 years of experience after engineering school, knows everything there is about BIM and comes dirt cheap. Also very much into extreme sports, can’t wait to try skydiving in Dubai.

My friend has known me for a long time. She’s been aware of my struggles with trying to tame this ‘BIM thing’ for at least a decade, but more likely two. She never really understood my difficulties, the big drama of it all.
Now, that she had successfully pulled together a ‘fully functioning BIM team’ in a record time, her willingness to listen to my troubles is even lower.

I really don’t mind this at all, she may well be right.
It could really be true, that I overthink things far too much and it is really not a big deal to get a working BIM going, after all.
That in spite of what I say, there are many capable BIM people in the industry that can be ‘plucked off the shelf’ and a team built from scratch and in no time.
That talent and good looks (see newly hired BIM manager) mean more than experience and professional wisdom. That having a good understanding on what really is BIM, is overstated and a good BIM seed-group will just organically transform a large company, like theirs is.
That 2 years ago they failed with their BIM because it was ‘too early’ and not because they had no clue, strategy or real commitment.
That this time they will succeed even though they still have no clue, strategy or real commitment.

Following my friend sharing her BIM success story with me, I was going to do a serious analysis on what a recruiter should be looking for in a BIM-mer, and had a special interest in expanding on the topic of cost-and-value relationship of these resources.
Still, decided to leave that heavy topic for another time and share her story almost as is.
So, for now, all credit to my friend for a job well done!

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Openly Anti (mainstream) BIM-Book on the Market!

I’m considering publishing a book.
What a ‘revolutionary idea’, one might say!
I wrote: ‘considering’, not that it is a done deal yet.

Here is a bit of a market research I’m doing for now, but no need to do any surveys, cast votes, phone in or SMS your preferences;
Instead, I offer a couple of hints what this book (if it eventuates) will be about and invite anyone interested to comment on the idea.
In this blog or writing to me on
Ignore the request if you deem the initiative not to be worthy of your attention.

First Openly Anti (mainstream) BIM-Book on the Market!

Feeling uneasy about the globally spreading BIM craze?
Struggling to make meaningful decisions, stand firm by your intuition to be cautious and skeptical and unable to effectively withstand the force of the overzealous BIM promoters?
Suffering from lack of alternatives to wholeheartedly embrace the BIM mantras and are left searching unsuccessfully for more balanced strategies to follow?

There is a new industry publication in the making with the aim to assist people like you.
An easy to read book that will elucidate the theory and practice of BIM and give clear pointers on what to take seriously out of it, what to consider but be ready to discard and what to throw away without question.

Its main aim is to assist professionals like you to:
·         Focus on your strengths, don’t waste your resources on unproven fads!
·         Resist industry-wide dominating BIM peer-pressure without being perceived a luddite!
·         Challenge Mandatory BIM requirements but don’t appear obstructive or risk losing out on job opportunities!
·         Pass onto others the cost of compliance, do away with carrying the risk of non-compliance!

The FOAm BIM Book is going to be an unusual, yet highly valuable resource for those managing AEC companies as clients, contractors and/or consultants.
Pragmatic, practical and accessible to all AEC project stakeholders.

Interested? Let me know!
Comment here or write to
(let me know if this is NOT the first of a kind – would love to read others on the topic)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Question: What is a VA-BIM? (Variation Administrator; BIM Re-measure Coordinator)

Answer: A VA-BIM is a Male/Female, 35+ old, QS professional that has had (some) ‘exposure to BIM systems for quantification’.

The role quoted in the title-question originates from multiple, analogous job-ads currently floating around the UAE’s AEC market, posted by/or on behalf of a ‘A Multinational Construction Company’ stating that, “Highly skilled candidates are required for a multibillion US$ construction project in the United Arab Emirates”.

This could be good news for the BIM campaigners active in the region.
The new Abu Dhabi (Airport) Midfield Terminal is currently under construction.
It is a large project, blessed with an elaborately spec’d, mandated BIM.
According to this job-ad, it appears, BIM recruiting has reached deep into the bowels of the project’s everyday-works, since we must be talking about the role of the administrator of nitty-gritty variations here.
Nitty-gritty variations because surely, wouldn’t major variations have been prevented by the mandating of BIM in the first place? Or is BIM a strategy for rescue rather than prevention?

Yes, it is pleasing to see the need for BIM skills filtrating down the ranks.
It is also lovely to see HR companies looking for multi-skilled professionals.

My perception so far, has been that ‘the modern AEC industry’ has not liked the idea of multi talented people very much.
It appears to scare the living daylight out of HR people to have to deal with roles that are not one-dimensioned and clear cut.
For example, most times when I rock up with my experience-logbook of 25+ years working in the industry, project samples picked from all over the world and references by some pretty agreeable and highly positioned industry figures, HR people of the field tend to be happy to accept that I am a solid, sound, capable Architect/Design Manager.

Or a BIM expert.

But not both.

Definitely not both and definitely not at the same time.
They see nothing wrong with me having started off as an architect and then moving onto the BIM-ish fields, people often do this.
Or I could be accepted as one of those that are destined to turn into technocrats, as another step on their career path.
But an architect that retains, or even more so continues to develop her skills while gaining top-end BIM capabilities is something few HR people are hired to find.

It is strange then, to see that the role as described above, suggests that they are looking for someone with similarly varied skill-sets I like to be claiming to have.
Consequently, I’m curious about three aspects of this specific recruitment drive aimed to secure that obviously urgently needed ‘VA-BIM’ for this particular Contractor;
(must be ‘Immediately available’):

First, what are the criteria the ideal candidates need to meet – i.e. what exactly does it entail to have had “Exposure to BIM systems for quantification”?
Would it be enough to state an attendance at a BIM conference, or waive a certificate earned at a brief Revit course? Or would one need to demonstrate thorough understanding of different types of modelling (for design vs. for construction) – explain the risks BOQs taken from design models carry and offer mitigating measures for managing those?
Would they be asked to create or administer VICO type, powered-by-recipes databases or would they just have to name three QS software packages currently on the market?

Secondly, I’d be really interested in how the HR agents will be evaluating in practice the suitability of the applicants, not just for compliance with the obvious questions (15 years experience, good English language skills) but also looking at these two different, technical disciplines in a bit more depth.
Will they be interviewing the candidates separately, on the subjects of Cost Control and later on BIM?
Would this be done by two different professionals or are ‘multi-headed’ anglers already available within their own ranks?

Lastly, talking about cross-disciplinary people, a Contractor (or consortium) engaged on such a mega-BIM project, surely needs masses of hand-reared BIM literate ‘other’ professionals, like BIM enabled Design-, Project-, Construction- and Planning Managers as well as the previously discussed Cost Control Managers. As a CFO or CEO would you?
And not just at the ‘bottom level’ or, God’ forbid, as an in-sourced (subcontracted) capability, but spread over all levels of management including those that sit at the very top of the ladder!

If they do indeed possess these resources, it is going to be a tremendous boost to the local industry, to release this highly skilled workforce into the market, once the project is successfully completed.
Alternatively, If their army of people is not even close to what is suggested?
Well, I’d then be pretty worried for them… and for the future of BIM within the industry.

Footnote: I have no personal interest in this position, I have no formal QS qualifications and am happily employed at the moment, as a ‘single-discipline professional’, somewhere else.

Picture from here:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

People say, the Construction industry is notoriously conservative.

So much of a widely accepted view this statement had become by now, that it is regularly used to explain failings in vastly differing aspects of the industry, from safety, through lukewarm apprentice campaigns to mediocre take-up of social media-portals and even more miserably low levels of global acceptance of BIM.
In fact, so damaging to the pedestrian performance of the ‘wonder-drug’ (BIM) is the supposedly conservative nature of the industry perceived to be, that almost any scholastic piece of work on the topic mentions it as a major factor.

For a decent length of time in the past I was personally a subscriber to this theory.
No longer, though.

My view is, that while the global AEC may be very reluctant to accept BIM en masse as a better/standard way of doing things, it is definitely not because it is ‘conservative’.

It does not want it because it does not like it, understands it and/or needs it.
This is unfortunate, sad even, and to some extent illogical, but it is, the truth.
And, we would all be better, off if we saw it that way.

When I say all, I mean all, masses of professionals working all around the world, that try full-heartedly and enthusiastically to promote BIM through creating tools, using tools, teaching the application of tools, creating standards, writing papers on standards, presenting at conferences…even conducting (highly annoying) BIM surveys.

Of course, I do not expect any of you, to see it ‘my way’.
I’ve been around for long enough and sailed against the winds of mainstream AEC to see my fellow BIM practitioners jump quickly into defending their current understandings on BIM – including this theory on ‘conservatism being the main show-stopper’ rather than giving a second thought on what I’m claiming to be hindering them.

So, I’ll let you believe in what you’d like to believe in.

But, just for a bit of fun, do ponder this question: how did mobile phones, highly sophisticated survey equipment and top-notch heavy construction machinery made it to everyday use in this industry that is supposedly still all in the dark ages?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Can 2 decades of mismanagement of a global industry be bridged over? What responsibility do ‘veteran BIM practitioners’ need to take for the current state, where the entire global AEC is simply unable to keep up with the times?

For me, probably the most irritating thing about the ‘BIM field’ within the global AEC industry is its un-preparedness to face up to reality.
I have previously likened it to a big baby not willing to grow up; nowadays even that parallel seems too mild for it.

I went into this area over 20 years ago and I was not the only one, there was a considerable part of the industry that had similar interests, goals and dreams as I valued and believed in.
What happened in the last 2 decades is that many of those enthusiasts left the field due to realising the futility of an unwinnable war, while others mellowed themselves into a marginal group of specialists that are by now getting just enough attention from the industry to justify the long, hard work they suffered at the coalface.

Where these loyal devotees are making their current mistakes is by giving their own, hard earned credibility to the ones that for years had ridiculed them for not understanding how money was made within the AEC industry.
These ‘ex foot soldiers of the BIM innovation’ are now brought in en masse to rub some of their expertise over the many ‘dinosaur companies’ up till now largely BIM ignorant, so their brazen leaders can carry on calling themselves as the ‘leaders’ of the industry.

Those same leaders, pushed by more recent peer pressures to ‘keep up with BIM’ readily buy into strategies that the alien BIM expert will be the necessary catalysts for their companies to burst into the limelight of BIM excellence, yet they ignore the age-old saying that ‘One swallow does not a summer make’.
And for most of these ‘swallows’ the time is slowly running out, they themselves, once the leaders of the field are finding it hard to keep up with the ‘enabling technologies’ they used to feel so comfortable in – their bodies and minds are getting better suited for wise, advisory roles than the pretence of being the fresh-digital-innovator jockeys these ‘catalyst’ roles ask them to be.

As pessimistic as this view may sound, I do not see the status of BIM within AEC to be that bad or worse than it deserves to be considering its origins.
It is, what it is and I concur with this situation.
What I see to be catastrophic in this, is the reluctance by almost anyone at any level of operation to name, examine, let alone accept publicly and set out to genuinely do something about the way the SQ of BIM in AEC is.

So, again, those that once fought the ‘good war’ of innovation, bringing better processes, increased productivity or just more enjoyable working methods to the industry are willingly being used to legitimise the industry embarking on another 1, 2 or 5 years of pilot BIM projects, timewasting conferences and endless theories that have never, and most importantly are unlikely to ever work.

20 years ago, I believed in my own generation to bring on the innovation, 10 years ago I still did, but putting my faith in a more mature set of strategies than those simply relaying on smart tools and processes.
Up to  a year or two ago my hopes shifted to new generations to come – trusting some savvy young opportunist to see more in this massive global market than a giant pot of money easily harvested with a bit of non-comprehendible techno-jargon.

These days I continuously re-examine this belief, as the young ones I see do not seem to be in a hurry to take charge of this vital industry. Even if they have the will, knowledge and bravura to give it a go, they seem to lack the experience of the seasoned fighters that fought these battlefields to take on the incumbents in no hurry to change.
Unfortunately to them the old pioneers have compromised themselves too much to become real allies in their younger counterparts’ quests, so the most capable ones of the new generations are leaving this particular field for some easier targets to aim for.

Maybe those last 2 decades will prove to be too big a gap to bridge for the AEC industry and BIM.

Pictures of my nephew Viki; 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The measure of a BIM infiltration coefficient for a BIM-active entity

I’ve been taking it easy with BIM lately.  
This can be seen as a probably not surprising bi-product of my self-preservation instincts kicking in at the end of a challenging year.
One can say, I got totally BIM-med out over it, an unhappy culmination of two decades of vigorously pursuing an elusive professional target with at best- mixed results.

I now got myself a job that has nothing to do with BIM.
I am staying away from most online or real-life BIM interest groups. My contributions to my own blogs had been muted to an almost full silence and I never upgraded to ArchiCAD 17, though I expect the launch of 18 to be soon.
I still fire version 16 up every now and again, nothing quite like this little tool to check over things I need to be absolutely sure about in my current job, that has – as noted before – no relation to BIM.

So, with such a high level of BIM-abstinence mastered, it could be considered a sign of weakness for relapsing into thinking BIM again, but for a person of few skills and even fewer hobbies, this could be just the right thing to ponder over, on a peaceful Thursday night.

One trigger that made me reach for the BIM-keyboard tonight was a BIM report that had been forwarded to me by a well-wishing friend, aware of my professional interest in the topic.
A scientific looking, chunky publication of 60-something pages it offers a myriad of serious-looking BIM behavioural theories for an entire region, based largely on the survey of 400-something AEC professionals.

I am not one to get terribly excited about surveys, in fact the ones related to BIM I avoid even more than others, but this set had sparked a rekindled interest to formulate the ‘true level of BIM advancement of an entity’ through numbers, somehow.

The other prompt for me to pitch in the debate of quantifying BIM uptake within the AEC industry had been a series of recent encounters with people working for large multinational AEC companies claiming that their organizations were now ‘doing BIM, whole sale’, ‘full on’ or in a similar way, implying a deep and widespread commitment.

Start scratching the surface of some of these entities and you’d see that BIM capability can be easily limited to a small group of up-trained CAD technicians, headed by a self-styled BIM manager or even worse, by lsemi-formal relationships with modelling back offices.
When the mother-ship’s staff numbers reach into multiple-thousands working over many continents, these capabilities are often just a drop-in-the ocean of BIM ignorance.

So, for those that advocate for high level of mandated BIM for government clients, here is a suggestion: why not establish a calculable BIM coefficient that will reflect the ratio of BIM saturation within any one company?
What better way to establish true and robust scrutiny for public providers to be judged on?

Not quite sure yet what the formula would look like, but something that would reflect the number of people being truly BIM literate in relation to the entire population of the company, as well as the number of real BIM projects measured against  all of the work of the entity.
Someone clever with numbers could probably tweak such formula to reflect the length of combined BIM experience (again related to the overall size and age of the organisation) and true depth of the hands-on BIM capabilities as opposed to the shallow make-believe BIMs  dreamed up by marketing and business development departments.

Anyone with a suggestion, drop me a line.

Image from here:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A very long engagement…

….or why the UK Government’s custodians of its mandatory-BIM implementation (set to start in 2016) should be doing more proactive pocking around the world’s other mandated BIM projects already under way….

“The honeymoon is over!”
You often hear it said for AEC projects, time-wise somewhere about 1/5th into the project.
Or a bit sooner, or a bit later, depending on the myriad of different factors that make every AEC project unique.  
But on almost any construction project carried out around the world, the somewhat forced optimism of new beginnings will eventually turn into the ‘first variation/change order’ and the ‘first disagreement’ over the scope, time, workmanship or anything, really.
There also almost always is someone on the project team to officially mark this event as the ‘honeymoon is over’ point, if for no other reason but to be able to say ‘I told you so’, later.

When it comes to the UK Government’s mandating of BIM on their public projects starting in 2016, we will have to wait for this point for a while.
Due to clever and long term planning, they have not even entered the ‘honey-moon’ stage as such, sticking to the same line of clichés, they would barely be halfway through the engagement period.

Was this intentional or just a happy coincidence?
Set ‘the engagement period’ at a pretty long time like reluctant lovers happy with their current status or ones that like to enjoy the feeling of getting there but not quite being there with all of the responsibilities of needing to make it fully work?

Is this the case of setting aside enough time to get someone career off the ground, allow others to make it into retirement on a high note before reality hits or just stretching the time for someone else to get through the teething problems?

I have previously aired my views on the ‘soon to come’ mandatory BIM for public projects in the UK exercise.
And while many ‘in the know’ jumped quickly to crush my attempt to start a meaningful discussion, some tiny sparkles of interest in a bit more scrutiny of this ambitious undertaking flashed up here and there.

A year ago, as part of one of my own academic task-sets I had made an attempt to research deep enough for an objective picture of the ‘why-s’ of such a big decision behind the UK government to form and was going to carry on with the ‘how-s’ afterwards.

Contrary to accusations I collected  in response to this attempt, I was not just in ‘to knock it down’ but was genuinely interested if a group of presumably more experienced and clever people (than I am) would come up with answers to questions that have nagged at me for decades.

Would mandating BIM on anything, anywhere make a real difference to its effectiveness, would it truly lead to a ‘better’ industry, would the benefits really land in the ‘right’ hands (the taxpayer in this instance) – would it evolve into a decent approach beyond the marketing cloud of proprietary tools it now is?

Needless to re-state, I did not get very far with the officials in charge of the project, requests for some ‘hard data’ on what the likely outcomes of the approach will be, were answered with speculative theories, (by now decades old) BIM-fluff, often bordering on ‘wishful thinking’ and outright ‘mother knows best’ attitude.

What could have put an end to any further questioning from my side (and some more directly impacted parties, like the UK taxpayer) would have been the presentation of some facts gained through true lessons learned from mega projects currently going on around the world driven by similar ideas of BIM use.

Let me again name 3 construction projects that by now have had at least 12 months of steady ‘mandated BIM’ applied to them:

Qatar Rail Project in Doha
MTR Line 11 in Hong Kong
Midfield Terminal Project in Abu Dhabi

Admittedly, these projects regularly pop-up in global BIM conferences ‘pretty pictures’ parts of the proceedings – but what is missing is a genuine, on-going scrutiny that would truly enlighten the global industry if its assumptions are indeed valid for large scale mandatory BIM implementation.

I’m not talking big industrial secrets revealed to wide audiences, not suggesting free access to confidential financial assessments but a meaningful and as much as possible dispassionate commentary that encourages those that have concerns about the ‘accepted theories’ to air them publicly.
Many other industries manage to share knowledge globally that goes beyond the fluff, so why not the AEC?

The excuse, that these projects are far from the UK and of different scale does not wash at all in current times, when all the projects I listed have some form if not quite significant UK-originated participation to them, be that in advisory or execution roles.

Was it not Balfour Beatty that recently announced that their Power Transmission Gulf (PTG) part of Balfour Beatty's U.A.E. based joint venture BK Gulf LLC had been awarded a £58.4 million joint venture contract to carry out Mechanical Engineering services on the new Abu Dhabi International Airport Midfield Terminal Building (MTB)?

So, here I see a great opportunity for the UK-BIM steering committee to collect some hard data by closely following how BB is dealing with a fully mandated BIM project.
Another of BB’s subsidiaries in Hong Kong is heavily involved on a number of big BIM projects, one I mentioned above. Could they report on how that one is going?

As an added happy coincidence, it is worth noting that Andrew McNaughton, Chief Executive of Balfour Beatty plc, had not that long ago been appointed by HM Government to be a Business Ambassador promoting the British infrastructure capabilities to an international audience. (from BB source)

What better opportunity for this ambassador to serve his country, the company that employs him and the global AEC but to exercise his diplomacy and act as a connection for real life case-studies to be made available to the UK taxpayers?
It could be a priceless gift to their representatives and possibly the peace of mind of working with a real-iconic UK company, with such outstanding leadership and pedigree to validate their theories.
I’m certain that the UK citizens on whose behalf (big) money is being spent, en masse will be delighted to have a bit of scrutiny done before they launch into the big thing themselves and may just learn a thing or two about one of their golden contractors on the way.

Even ‘very long engagements’ tend to come to an end at some point.

Picture from here: