Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Choosing the right BIM software by tossing a coin

There has been a long debate going on a LinkedIn group under the title ‘ArchiCAD vs Revit’ (see link below) so far over 1400 comments …. unable to resist the temptation to put someone right, I occasionally contribute to the debate … or write something just to flesh my superior knowledge of the two products in question…though for most of the time I stay away from it, finding the ‘yes it is’, ‘no it is not’ arguments a bit tedious.

Anyhow, I posted a comment a couple of days ago with regards to the idea that RIBA may be advising its members to favour a particular make of BIM software ahead of some others.
Further comments followed, putting the original writer of the claim on the spot, compelled to come up with evidence of RIBA’s ‘wrongdoings’. (all pretty civilised – the Revit hawks must have missed it)

Feeling responsible for isolating this commenter and RIBA (guilty or not) out of the globally active BIM-bucket – I’ve made another attempt to write up why was this continuing exercise, while addictive and polarising, also totally fruitless – and if it really was as I believe it to be, a lot of hot air, why anyone of authority in the subject still must stay clear from it.

My thoughts on those two ‘whys’ you can read here:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Have you heard the one about the ‘BIM Analyst’?

Bet you never knew such a role even existed.
I for one did not, until I was cheerfully invited through an email today to apply for one of ‘them roles’, a ‘senior’ flavoured one even, from presumable a number of different graded-ones. * (see ad here)

You must not take my level of un-awareness as a measure of what BIM roles are to be treated as feasible and practical and what ones as merely a fad.
Ever since I first got hopelessly entangled in trying to define the difference between the various terms of ‘BIM managers ‘that manage data only and ‘BIM managers’ that manage people that manage BIM data, I’ve been opting for a much simple way of looking at classifying people working within the BIM field, onto those that know what they are doing and those that do not.

When I first read about this role, I thought it was a merely a retort of the architects as a group to the IT industry on the whole for them steeling the precious term ‘architect’.

Then, I thought, it made sense. Good BIM practitioners do analyse data, some even specialise in the analyses of the data embodied within highly intelligent digital representations of buildings.

Finally, after many re-reads, I settled to treat the job-ad as a good-old HR creative writing.

The decider was the list of ‘requirements’ this SENIOR BIM analyst was supposed to bring to the table:

1/ the person had to have a degree in BA Architecture, Civil Engineering or equivalent – fair enough, a good startnot much to complain there;

2/ s/he needed to prove to have had a minimum of 3 year’s practical experience working in a BIM role across multiple sectors – starting to get suspicious; 3 years post grad, for a senior role, in BIM? Enough to get to understand how the industry operates AND learn BIM?

3/ s/he must be experienced in using ArchiCAD, Bentley, Microstation, Revit, Tekla and Solibri on live projects

A minimum 1-2 years experience in all of the above applications
...  a place to stop and take a deep breath. ....

From the medley above, I could distil at least 4 products that would each require a number of years of serious practice for anyone to say they were competent in it...
but... it goes on, with quantities and audits and IFC and COBie...

You can say I’m being overly pedantic, am splitting hairs, slowing progress of BIM uptake or whatever...  
After all, the ad says ‘minimum’.
And  this is the critical one: ‘minimum’ IS set too low – there is just too much needed to be learned to be a good BIM-mer  to be able to achieve this, 3 years out of school.

Surely, it can’t be in the industry’s interest to play at such low and terribly incompetent levels as this job-ad indicated.
BIM is a field that require maturity and experience from its participants. 
Look at law. Look at medicine.

(not sure of picture’s origin, sourced through FB)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

BIM: apathy, autocracy and the academia

My third, latest and probably final attempt to get into serious post-graduate academic research started with a ‘hiss and a roar’ about 2 years ago, only to fizzle out suddenly over the last couple of days.

As is often the case, it was not one single event that caused me to re-examine the wisdom of the proposed research plan, but a combination of factors.

The ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’; the final sledgehammer, is (HMG) UK Government’s BIM initiative that I’ve engrossed myself with lately.

As foretold, I made a thorough study of the ‘Report for the Government Construction Client Group Building Information Modelling (BIM) Working Party Strategy Paper’.

If the strain of grinding through this document did not get my blood pressure to risky heights, the limited communication  that I managed to squeeze out of its authors through subsequent correspondence definitely did.

It would be fair and professionally correct to list publicly my observations and let them be scrutinised by my peers.
But to borrow from my teenage daughters’ vocabulary: what’s the point?

When a ‘star-studded committee’ of ‘my peers’ can make claims from within my field of expertise, such that my eyebrows rise to positions dangerously close to my hairline, then remain there indefinitely, should I really consider them to be my ‘peers’?

Or, from their side of the podium, why would they think of including me, a mere practitioner, who is so unwilling to swallow the stuff they shovel out to the masses and would only describe what I think of their theories with further torrents of pomposity?

No, we are definitely and totally incompatible in our thinking of what BIM is, has been and could become, what are its strengths and weaknesses and how any participant active within the AEC (including all governments) could and SHOULD benefit from it.

My thinking is obviously with odds with the large majority of the ‘supposedly enlightened BIM practitioners’ active in the global AEC as well.
There is a palpable resignation to there being ‘a one and only - Mother knows best BIM - theory’ hanging over any event these guys partake in.
The arrogance of the decision makers is supported by the ignorance of the academia and held in place by the apathy and subversion of the ones that should know better.

The news is not all bad though.
If the global AEC is run by such high level of incompetency and ignorance as I observe it is, there must be plenty of opportunities left for those that can read the situation well and prosper from the mess the industry is in.
Roll up
Guerrilla-BIM and other, forensic-BIM aided AEC solutions!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Widespread BIM? Not at any cost!

For a staunch, die-hard BIMmer, I committed the biggest sin there is.
I’ve been publicly criticizing various governments and large AEC-clients on their attempts to encourage wider use of BIM on their projects.

There is one thing to comment unfavourably on a particular BIM software-package or even a service provider. However, it is a totally different ballgame going to the place, where no BIM supporter would ever venture: question the viability of large scale BIM plans.

Even if you alienate a lot of people by condemning some aspect of their favourite toolset, there are plenty of others that will think alike.
However, questioning any aspect of anyone’s attempt to make BIM more mainstream is seen as a major act of sabotage and will leave one (me in this case) totally ‘out in the cold’.

How dare I say anything, when finally…FINALLY… they are ASKING FOR BIM?
In fact, not just asking, DEMANDING, MANDATING!

Can’t I spare a thought for all those first-generation BIM practitioners that have been living in a sort of industry-exile for decades and keep my mouth shut?
Why can’t I just gracefully accept, that success ‘has happened’ and it is time to enjoy the fruits of our long fight for the industry’s acceptance of BIM?

I can’t and I will not.
The current hype around BIM is shallow, uninformed and has a short shelf life.
It is promoted by opportunists that have run out of ideas for easy fixes for the troubled industry.
The stronger they push, the faster the flame will burn out.

Once that happens, these enthusiastic BIM supporters will move onto the next shiny thing to chase, leaving those that have painstakingly built their BIM skills up over time, to pick up the pieces.

Speak up now, or forever hold your peace?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is there solid evidence out there that BIM works? Yep: the Australians have it!

Well, they claimed to have had it.
For one day, on the 2nd of May 2013.

Just as I was putting up the question relevant to this topic on my blog* last week, a headline ‘liked’ by a long term LinkedIn-associate caught my eye:

“Given the efficiency gains possible with building information software (BIM), its use is growing fast…”

It said. So, I went and looked up the article, written by Michael Bleby and published online by the Business Review Weekly (brw.com.au);**
A short and snappy write-up, it offered a couple of interesting morsels for me to ponder over. Unfortunately I could find neither real ‘proof’ of the ‘efficiency gains’ he was referring to in his opening paragraph – albeit qualified as ‘possible’, nor for the ‘growing fast’ trend explained.
In truth, he did include various estimates from a report (originated in 2010) forecasting possible savings measured in billions (AU$) but all-in-all, had not offered the type of meaningful evidence I expected, reading the intro.

I’ve been an extremely impulsive person all my life;
it has been a great achievement of mine to have tamed this ‘beast’ to some extent over the last couple of years.
So, rather than ripping into the poor fellow straight away with my comments, or quickly write an obnoxious and whinging blogpost – I put the article aside for a couple of days.

Today, I set down to properly read through it, maybe even analyse the report (100 pages!)…

Surprise! It was gone!
Not the article, it is still there.
The first paragraph (by-line to the title) that started with the word ‘given’… has disappeared since…
Instead, it says: “Seeking Standards: The BIM Project”.

So, I’m going to put up the question to the writer of the article, why did he remove that particular sentence?
Who advised him to do so?
And why did they not (while at it) correct the sub-title “Who talks to who” further down the article? (it should be ‘whom’, I think)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Statement 1: All things being equal, the addition of a BIM-approach would be beneficial to any AEC project and for any party participating in it; True or False?

This statement and accompanying question originates from my observation that the majority of authors writing/talking on BIM these days spend very little time/effort in presenting robust evidence on the results of BIM , rather, they tend to jump into the ‘thick of it’, focusing on the ‘how-s’ and ‘what-with-s’.

You ask almost anyone nowadays associated with BIM about the ‘proof that BIM ‘works’’ and a high number of them will brush the question aside with the notion that it is a ‘no-question’ at all.
As if somehow – definitely unbeknown to me - it had become a universal truth, that ‘BIM – works, full stop’.
Few would even ask in return for me to define ‘works’ in the original question or offer any qualifiers starting with ‘it depends….’.
No, BIM: works.

As part of a research* project, I recently I set out to explore two highly influential BIM publications.
I’m still progressing through this process, nevertheless the first impression is that they are not much better than the rest of mainstream BIM practitioners, especially when it comes to providing evidence, that BIM ‘works’.

This of course can be explained by the facts that one (The Book**) is a Handbook to BIM, (so if you do not believe that it works, why bother reading it) while the other (The Report**) takes its terms of reference to consider the benefits of BIM, in relation to the end-client, the UK Government, literarily.
Still, I would have thought that, for their own peace of mind, they’d start with the ‘what’s and the ‘why’s.

The Report is a bit more specific when laying down the foundation to its recommendations:
“We have already demonstrated very significant savings derived from adopting the BIM approach”
The authors may have set limitations to the size they wanted their document to be and thus elected for these proofs not get into print.

Well, here is an opportunity to correct this omission; I invite them to release data that will support in a scientifically acceptable manner their claims on those ‘significant savings’.
Indisputable observations collected over a significant, large number of examples, peer-reviewed by independent experts will suffice, just saying instead, that it ‘makes sense’, will not.

In contrast to these authors I, on the other hand, am prepared to put on record that I know of no evidence available that BIM ‘universally’ works.
I will also state, that a party, however genuinely attempting to up-skill to BIM will by no means be guaranteed any more success in their endeavours than an equivalent one that chooses not to.
This applies (unfortunately) not just to individuals within the industry but companies, small and large and all construction clients, including mega-clients, like governments.

Frankly, there are still too many ‘other’ methods available for any party to achieve ‘success’ in AEC –the term ‘success’ covering rewards both of financial and non-monetary nature.
Most of the ‘other methods’ are simpler, more established and definitely less expensive than getting a ‘working BIM’ off the ground.

Be that a new building gained for less than what’s ought to cost, for a client, a not-deserved payment received for being unjustifiable late, for a contractor, or a bonus for an incomplete, cheaply done, outsourced design produced by a consultant.
Any combinations of these phenomena are happening all the time across the industry and the fact that the perpetrators will more often than not get away unharmed, gives no incentive to others to work ‘better’.

Therefore I, for example would never be heard stating that ‘BIM works’, nor that ‘Applying BIM will save you money’. Not without a lot of qualifiers and specifics explained. Those nasty little ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, of course make the subject too complicated and difficult to digest, so most BIM-authors tend to ignore them in favour of simplicity.

Apart from the quest for simplicity, those that are prepared to accept the lack of evidence of BIM’s effectiveness may argue, that it is in the interest of the ‘public good’ to do so, especially if one acts for the government. Or, that only by jumping over the ‘current messy reality’ of the industry at can we build foundations for a better future.

Nevertheless, you cannot ignore the context BIM is used-or contemplated to be used in, no matter how small or large a project is, nor the type/shape/size of the entity that is considering trialling it.
No matter how well-meaning their reasoning might be, I see those that do it acting in a patronising and dangerous manner. It can’t be neither in the public nor the industry’s interest to be deceived by those they treat as their experts. 

It is also disingenuous to ignore the fact that the global AEC industry operates by allowing widespread speculative pricing, awards jobs to those that undercut others knowingly, tolerates if not outright encourages bluffing and manipulation, makes up for losses with claims and through arbitrations.

A major emphasis must be put onto evidence when promoting BIM, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’; otherwise, as more and more industry participants jump on its bandwagon, uninformed and with inflated expectations, another statement will soon become the ‘universal truth’: BIM does not work!

I invite interested parties to comment on the statement from the title and support their stand with evidence.

Supplementary questions to Statement 1:
·         Does BIM truly ‘work’ universally and if yes, what evidence is there to support this?
·         If it does it not, are we wasting a lot of time and money trying to make it work? Is there evidence to support this viewpoint?
·         Could BIM possibly be a ‘fickle beast’ that will work for some entities at some times but not others and its effectiveness is highly influenced by myriad of external conditions?

** BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors authored by a group of experts led by Charles Eastman, the other The report for the
Government Construction Client Group Building Information Modelling (BIM) Working Party 

Background info to a research exercise: ‘Public dissection of two highly influential BIM documents’:

Building on over 25 years of work experience within the field of AEC and extensive use of digital tools /processes in practice I recently embarked on a formal study-project, with the view to explore the field of BIM within a more structured, academic framework.

As part of this research I plan to define global-BIM’s status at present and assess its likely future within the AEC.
I’m particularly interested in how the manifestation of the Global Financial Crisis impacted on the shaping of BIM’s present and wonder if it will significantly influence its future?

My goal is to collect data that goes beyond the usual, highly speculative, ‘wishful thinking’ that the field is saturated with.
For such a diverse industry, all research seems to be too cohesive and in synch, simply too much consensus with little visible results in the field.

Part of my methodology is to analyse two publications in debt, one being the BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers, Designers, Engineers and Contractors authored by a group of experts led by Charles Eastman, the other The report for the
Government Construction Client Group Building Information Modelling (BIM) Working Party
Strategy Paper prepared for the UK Government by the ‘BIM Industry Working Group’ co-chaired by John Lorimer and Mark Bew. (I’ll refer to them as ‘The Book’ and ‘The Report’)

These two documents, while quite different in type/role and objectives, share a high level of ‘across the board acceptance’ and credibility in the industry.
Therefore, they make a good choice to form the base for my exploring some of the essential issues related to BIM even before I embark on the main subjects of its present and future.

Over the next couple of months I intend to compile a series of fundamental questions (and/or statements) related to the field of BIM, search for applicable data and quote from the above-mentioned publications and contrast or complement those with what I find elsewhere, including within my own humble experience.
I will also invite the authors and contributors to comment, argue, question or add to the discussion in any way they feel appropriate.

I will use the recently established E!BIM Group on LinkedIn to host these discussions with some of the more personal/background writing limited to my DebunkTheBIM BlogSpot.
Anyone interested in the subject is invited to join and comment; only extremely irrelevant/rude contributions will be moderated out.