Friday, June 29, 2012

“Explain yourself!”

Orders my overly critical friend.
Since my post a couple of days ago, he’s been labeling himself as the Devil’s Advocate’s Devil’s Advocate or DADA for short;
He is not liking my flippant dismissal of the article that (to quote it again):
has put to rest the question of whether BIM pays off for small-scale facility upgrades”.

So, I suspend for the moment my self-imposed limit of 225 words-per-blog-post and embark on a detailed explanation, why I wrote what I had, deeply offending my BIM enthusiast friend and many others I presume, along the way.

“Apples for apples”
While there is limited amount of project data provided within the article, it is hard to see, how these would (both the noted and omitted ones) possibly assemble in an environment where the first project becomes a ‘control group’ for the second.
A ‘control group’ is generally used as the benchmark against which to detect and measure changes that may occur in the experimented on groupdue to the effect of changing a single variable (use of BIM in this case).
I just don’t see close enough resemblance between the two, without a lot of mathematical gymnastics applied to the conditions.

“The first step of the plan was to demonstrate the value of BIM with an apples-to-apples project analysis, comparing a just-finished renovation using CAD with a second one using BIM.”

Note the ‘just-finished’ label describing case 1 (traditional) – when in fact the text below says it was completed between November 2008 and May 2009. The BIM one on the other hand was delivered between January and July 2011. Even if we ignore the inaccurate use of “just-finished” of the first statement, the time lap between the two cannot be. Two years are a long time in construction where many factors can dramatically change, especially when these two years straddle one of the wobbliest stages in recent AEC history.

“Both projects are adjacent to the same occupied space. It was key for us to be able to get that comparison with the complexities of the space being the same for both projects,” says Michael DiFranco, manager of facility planning and development for Bronson.

I’m not a healthcare design specialist so I can’t confirm or otherwise with authority if the two spaces indeed could be considered to be the ‘same’, however when I look at the supplied floor-plans I’m left with a nagging feeling that this statement is stretching the facts a bit too far.
The first one has significantly larger and fewer rooms than the second, they are of different sizes and adjacent to different spaces. They serve different functions and can possibly be involving very different sets of equipment suppliers and installers.

Then come the ‘hard facts’, figures tabled and trends highlighted. Manipulative use of colours (red/green) arrows highlighting rises and drops.
Despite this scientific looking document, we do not get to know how for example, budgets were arrived at in either of the cases, a change in the QS personnel  (quite possible in the 2 year time frame covered) on its own can make the two projects comparisons impossible and the data unreliable.
The drop of change orders could be contributed to myriad reasons too, more /less competent people on either side could impact on the numbers, so could client initiated changes, amended scope, delays in some supplies, supplementation of long-lead items etc.
Being a GMP contract, the general contractors (if there were 2 different ones) could have chosen to absorb certain cost with the view of keeping a potentially lucrative client. Even the same contractor could have treated the two projects significantly differently due to change in market conditions, labor costs etc.

“The biggest benefit of using BIM is coordinating construction virtually instead of in the field. This has long been the advantage of BIM on large projects,” says Karl Kowalske, principal at Diekema Hamann, the architect and engineer of record for the Bronson projects.

While this may be true for the quoted company, if it is, it is not something I’d be proud of.
What they are confirming here is that sufficient pre-construction coordination has been universally lacking on non BIM projects, delivered via CAD on their previously delivered projects.
The stated $ 40,000 fee for ‘BIM’ is also something one should be curious about, what were the ‘additional’ services that BIM was bringing for the client for ‘extra money spent’? In theory, there could have been  ‘traditional’ consultants out there in the market place able and prepared to provide exceptional results for the same scope without asking to be paid for the BIM part too.
Had the client representatives had the chance to opt in/out of BIM with full knowledge of what they were getting?

“BIM creates many benefits, but using this tool is not free, especially when the owner specifies a data-rich model designed for ongoing facility management use. Kowalske says paying the architect/engineer to develop the BIM documents typically results in savings for the owner.”

The above statement is probably the most damaging for BIM, while still true in parts.
First, BIM is not a tool, though it uses BIM-enabled tools. Data rich FM ready models can be produced from well-maintained design/construction models at a reasonable or no extra cost, especially if this process is compared to preparing traditional as-builts, usually included in the base contract cost.
BIM, especially labeled as a ‘tool’ does not on its own save money for clients, competent people using good tools and processes do.
Also manipulator PMs, questionable contracts, out of synch market conditions and a little bit of luck can contribute to tip the scales and deliver a windfall in savings for the client.
These are rarely listed publically.

My friend (DADA) is unhappy with me regularly barking up the wrong (BIM-promoters’) tree and tells me off when I discredit their findings.
I’m sorry to disappoint him, but someone is ought to do this.

Had the pilot-BIM-ers quoted here, predicted performance for the examined project based on numerous typical projects done through ‘traditional processes’ before and compared that to the actually achieved results from employing BIM would have had more use, I think.
Even more credibility would have been earned had they genuinely assessed the difficulties in staying on top of things using the traditional processes.
As much as we all yearn to quantify the benefits of BIM, bad examples do more harm than good.

If this was just a self-promoting blog-post (the types I’d write) – it would be forgivable, the danger is, that soon enough, software promoters, students writing essays and careless  journalist will pick up the same and use it as a ‘set-in-the stone proof’.
Pseudo-science is already widely spread within BIM, let’s not add more to it.
A bit more scientific rigor would be good.

* See the original article here

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A BIM traitor or the Devil’s BIM advocate?

I get sometimes accused of letting down the holy-idea of BIM by poking holes into statements hard to substantiate.So be it, I support doing things well and for the right reasons.

 “A head-to-head comparison of adjacent renovation projects (one with Building Information Modeling (BIM) and one without) has put to rest the question of whether BIM pays off for small-scale facility upgrades.”Says the byline of the article* promoted by buildingSMART.

 It could be a piece of writing worth sticking on the wall, laminated.Unfortunately the numbers give me little confidence. Apples for apples? A fruit salad, maybe.Has the reporter got a bit carried away?

 The last paragraph brings back reasonable-reasoning:“All future projects will utilize BIM. We see BIM as a key to reducing our lifecycle costs,” says DiFranco. “By enriching our models with relevant, useful information, we can better maintain our assets, make our staff more productive, and reduce costs.”

 Sounds sensible, but then, why back it with the ill-matched up numbers?
Is the company trying to justify its decisions by creative-statistics?

 What I sense here is insecurity and division as opposed to a company confident in its processes.
If they were really saving significant-figures by using tools they believed in, would they tell their work-methods to the world?
Only if they were selling the ‘tools’ as opposed to the ‘results-achieved-with-them’.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It knows too much!

Why the BIM model is unlikely to replace the drawing as the communication tool within AEC projects any time soon?
The answer is simple: It knows too much.
Giving away the digital model of a building to another party without clear terms of reference what can be used from it and how, is like throwing one’s mind (brain?) to someone when asked to describe an event.

They question you: ‘what happened at the party when Pete knocked Paul over?’

You may tell your story as you remember it, in one sentence, or ten.
That would be the equivalent of ‘traditional, drawing based information’. You filter the information and give out what-you-want and how-you-want it.
What if, instead, the interrogator told you – ‘well, you were at the event, just give me your brain and we’ll scan from it all relevant info, what you saw, what your thoughts at the time were etc...’?

Sounds scary?

No wonder then that hardly any party is volunteering to drop the drawing and allow others to have full access to the ‘brains’ behind it.

This may change in the future, but new things will need to develop.
An essential one: Industry wide acceptance on how to distinguish within a model data backed by the issuing party and what is out-of-bounds.
Something flatCAD is still not managing very well, 30+ years mature.

(Image by Mahesh Kumar, modelled in Revit)

Monday, June 11, 2012

The ‘Ultimate BIM resource’

I've been struggling with this big dilemma lately:

Should I buy the BIM White paper published by BD ( and marketed as the ‘ultimate BIM resource’ or not?
Fork out almost 200 pounds and find it mostly useless or carry on wondering ‘what if they really cracked the secret to this big puzzle’ (that has been fascinating me for ages) and I could’ve learned it all for a mere 200 quid?

They let me download the table of contents of the paper for free, a nice read in its own right, peppered through with jargon, well suited for any guide on personal-growth, like ‘learning to embrace change’, ‘making the commitment’, ‘journey towards BIM’ and ‘hunger for guidance’…

You may not get onto the top of the subject of BIM but will feel a hell-of-a-better about yourself having journeyed the journey.

The ‘bestest’ gem I notice is under the Case Studies (11.9) –

The sole practitioner - Emily Greeves Architects;” 
“This makes me wonder… how can the ‘sole practitioner’ (singular) be in the same time ‘architects’ (plural)? Is this a trick question?

Is there a sole (BIM) practitioner operating within the office of (Emily Greeves) Architects or is the singularity term a reference for something else BIM-wise I do not know about but should?

Is the future of BIM in the ‘sole operator’?
What do they know???

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Michelangelo and his mates would have been great at BIM

It would have come as totally ‘natural’ to them.
Furthermore, I think they would have been quite offended hearing of the concept hailed as a ‘fundamentally new and different way of thinking’.

Actually, what would have taken them much more by surprise, should a group of his contemporaries land in the current AEC, would be practices borrowed from the dark-ages and employed to mislead and deceive the ones dealing with information on buildings.
I could imagine sheer horror on their faces recognizing that the current self-claimed ‘masters’ of the profession are by and large hands-off managers, conductors of orchestras, themselves unable to read the ‘music’. Poor gamblers of other parties’ money in an unregulated industry.
I see their pretty Renaissance heads shake in disbelief at the sights of senseless CADding performed around the clock in drawing factories of many thousand ‘acclaimed multinational consultancies’.

Modern computer games may placate them a bit; watching 3-4 year olds build cities on their ipads could provide signs of promise for this strange era they found themselves visiting, so I hope someone thinks of taking them to places toddlers gather.
Should that fail, even surly teenagers running the lives of their non-renaissance-esc proportioned avatars on SIMS should be of more interest to them than observing the cream of AEC academia discuss the future of BIM.
Definitely no BIM conferences, please!

Picture: plastic surgeon, Dr. Kim, of Beverly Hills has Part of Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam incorporated next to the elevators. (various sources)