Monday, December 29, 2014

BIM Viewers in the Cloud vs. PDF Spatial Re-constructors on Earth (Part 2 of the overdue PDF trilogy I promised some time ago)

The global AEC is swarming with BIM Viewers, any service provider dealing in Building Related Information appears to have a proprietary one on offer.
Some are better than others. Commonly they offer the ability to view BIM models of various origins, maybe combine them, rotate, zoom, filter information. Some have mark-up tools, others provide fancy gadgets for tracking model-revisions. The models are usually stored on remote servers, they live in the Cloud, so to speak.
While the intentions behind creating these digital spectacles are usually good, the self interest of the owners to get a larger market share combined with the genuine want to make the usually exclusive and elusive BIM outputs more accessible to the non-BIM literate, I can’t help but seeing them as ‘wasted efforts’.

In my experience, those AEC practitioners, that (for whatever reason) do decide to ‘suddenly’ get familiar with ‘a’ BIM originating software will always prefer the full software to a dumbed down viewer and will learn to use the ‘real’ thing as opposed to the somewhat idiot-proof substitute. The rest (majority) that are still doing fine in their careers even blatantly ignoring anything BIM, will stay ignorant to ‘viewers’ too, no matter how user-friendly they may become.

My view is that the ROI on any proprietary BIM viewer (apart from probably the absolute market leaders) is likely to be far too low and those engaging in the development and maintenance of these should think again about their investments and spend the efforts/money on something more worthwhile, instead.

For example, PDF Spatial Re-constructors.
These are 3D digital work environments where large numbers of PDF’s can be placed in for the purpose of reconstructing the physical environment they were originally created to describe. At a minimum they are able to accurately place PDF sheets within the digital environment, across 3 axes and to correct scales. The more advanced versions allow the users to spatially connect corresponding points within various sheets to create a digital mesh, approximating the end-(or originally documented) building. The really good ones are either synchronized within comprehensive modeling programs or offer a range of modeling tools to sculpture BIM ready models spatially tracing the PDFs.

I do not know of any comprehensive PDF Spatial Re-constructors available on the global AEC market at the moment. That fact by itself does not mean that they do not exist, i.e. are no tools to successfully combine lots of PDF’s (hundreds and thousands) into usable digital skeletons for BIM or other purposes.
The two BIM toolsets I’m reasonably familiar with, each have cracked parts of this problem, unfortunately neither is looking to be in much of a hurry to extend these, well established features into a comprehensive system.
GS’s ArchiCAD is pretty snazzy with large numbers of PDFs, able to bring them into the digital environment and manages these through nifty color/trace/slider options. It copes well with sizes and is very agile in handling them through all of its 2D views (plans, elevations, sections). It however offers not the same option for the 3D environment, falls short of making the PDF’s ‘dance’ in the real-imaginary-virtual world.
Autodesk’s Revit is pretty clumsy with PDF’s, the last time I looked at this issue, their import was still in a very around-about way. On the other hand, Revit will bring and manage DWG drawings well, including in 3D, resulting in very satisfying looking standing up ‘line section’ placed correctly within digital models.

Having got half way there, both of these companies are in good position to offer up a really useful PDF Spatial Re-constructor in the near future, should they decide to cater for this need. Alternatively, those that are struggling with making BIM-viewers built from scratch might also see some fantasy in going down this direction instead.

Admittedly this concept may not be as glamorous as the ‘full-on’ BIM likes to think of itself to be, it definitely has the potential to assist a large segment of AEC participants be more productive when reviewing drawing based building documentation.

Part 1:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If banks were truly running the global AEC, all construction sites would be paperless by now!

Banks generally like to keep a close relationship with the AEC industry.
Apart from small scale works and cash-jobs here and there, anything to do with creating buildings in large parts of the world involves banks as financiers or partners. In return, banks’ fortunes tend to be impacted by the destiny of the AEC markets, the threat of a ‘property bubble busting’ is well known for both.
Conflicting with this cozy association is what can be perceived as an apparent disinterest from banks on how the AEC is going about its day-to-day work.
One can argue that bankers should stick to their knitting and leave the hammer-heads to run their industry as they see fit, but it is interesting to note, how different the two sides are in their approaches to information management.

Paper as a medium rules the AEC while the banks have all but banned it from their processes.
Where did the practice of going into a bank with a little saving-account’s book to withdraw (deposit) money, fill out multiple forms, get a stamp and signature from the teller disappear?
I recently phoned one of my bank managers for advice using her mobile number and she asked to call back on her main-line. As they say, ‘all our calls are recorded for quality purposes’.
While it is partially to assist efficiencies and maybe even to improve customer service, the main driver for ‘ being all digital’ with banks is to control their own risks.
Banks ‘know’ at a very high level that what makes or breaks them at the end is their handle on the information part of the business, possibly even more than the ‘real money’. The high level strategy is then implemented throughout the process leaving little room for individuals to manipulate the data against the banks’ interests.

Contrary to this approach the AEC is anything but organized with their information – at high level there is talk and maybe meaningful looking strategies set by the big players, but what trickles down to the everyday work of individuals is as archaic and manipulative a framework as it has ever been in the past of the industry. Probably even worse than in the ‘old, traditional days of building’ where certain level of global technical knowledge and universally accepted tradesmen’s ethics guided the use of information away from the muddy waters of mistreat.

Exemptions do exist in both camps. Low level individuals can sometimes intentionally or by error mismanage information/funds, causing large losses to affected banks. There do also exist AEC based organizations that can truly claim to have their fingers on the pulse of their project information, meaningfully assisting their companies’ risk management and also helping the bottom line.
However, so uniform in behavior the two camps are within their own fields, that the exceptions, if anything, prove and solidify the rules.

And they are unlike to change in the near future.
As much likely is for the large scale mandating of BIM (in the UK and elsewhere) to work and make a significant impact on the industry as it would for any bank to suddenly opt out of central and digital information management in favour of a paper based one and still thrive.
My guess is, that the banks will continue to keep their own houses as tight and tidy as possible but indulge in the fruits of the chaos, that their closely related sister industry, the AEC serves up.

Meanwhile, congratulations are due for David Philp, who has a new job and is now Director BIM – EMEA @ AECOM! A news that warrants an entire blog-post on its own. May yet write it in the near future as it offers young generations of AEC professionals a great example of a career-path as dazzling as a successful politician’s might be.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ten out of ten people think that paperless construction sites are about saving paper

I did an impromptu survey today and asked a dozen people for what reason did they think I was pursuing the idea of establishing a paperless construction site. Two of them gave silly answers I had to discard and that left me 10 with responses loosely classifiable around the topic of the ‘greenies and saving paper’.
A surprising result.
While saving paper is not a trivial goal, it is definitely not the main driver for this project. What is even more exciting than the savings project owners could be making by eliminating paper from their construction sites is the behavioural change that this move would likely to cause.
A controlled environment that forced information creating, storing and sharing exclusively digitally, better even doing it in a managed way and within a relatively short timeframe a full cross section of project participants will start positively changing their own behaviour …. TBC

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The question is not WHY should one ban the use of paper on construction sites but WHY NOT?

The ‘Paperless Construction Site’ concept has interested me, for a long time.

The starting premise is similar to all ‘BIM stories’, it builds on the theory that the AEC industry is notoriously bad at modernising its processes and its archaic information management causes losses to many, if not all participants.

The proposed solution to the problem is however fundamentally different to most globally accepted ‘mainstream’ BIM approaches.
Rather than turning to smart tools, software packages, programmes and systems, the onus of the strategy is put on the non-BIM construction practitioners to raise their performance.  And the strategy suggests, they will do so when they are put in a paperless environment for a long enough timeframe (i.e. the length of a construction project) while tasked with their ‘usual tasks’.

Think of the Project Directors, Construction, Planning, Engineering, Design and/or Cost Managers. Foremen, tradesmen, labourers, document controllers.
They make up the large percentage of any construction project’s team, BIM people, even on highly mandated BIM projects will be in a small minority compared to them.
Far from being judgmental about them, I actually admire how they get by – and completes projects, sooner or later, to budget or thereabouts, largely let to their own devices.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t see something that confirms that buildings are often completed in spite of, as opposed to, because of, the available tools, systems and generally the ‘smarts’ of the industry.
Consequently, for a long time I’ve had this theory that, this part of the industry IS able to ignite a real change  given the opportunity, right circumstances and necessary help.

Here comes the concept of ‘the’ Paper Free Construction Site.
This simple plan modifies only ONE condition of an/any ‘average’ construction project, takes the right to use the ‘paper’ away.
Even that, ONLY on the physical site (bounded by a physical Paper Proof Fence and accessed through a strictly monitored gate). Supporting offices, off-site factories, territorial authorities are all exempt.
Everyone is free to do their jobs the best way they think should be done, or the way they always have, packaging project information into 1D, 2D,… 27D - parcels. Use words, drawings, tables, schedules, sketches, whatever.
Employ mobile phones, tablets, lap-and-desktops, small and large projectors, LCD walls, movie theatres, smart labs.

Just, no paper.
The plan provides for a highly specialised on-the ground support – 24/7 help and solution team – funded by parties other than the owner.

A truly promising idea for the industry?
This concept has been with me for a loooong time and over years I have figured out the entire machinery to make it work, down to the tiniest detail.
Have not been publicising it in any way until recently.

And the feedback has been pretty lukewarm.
Apparently, I’m not selling the idea very well.
Sure, I do accept it, I lack the charisma of a good marketer, I go off topics, use long sentences, my pronunciation is annoyingly Eastern European.  I employ amateurish graphics and I wave my hands around a lot.

The interesting aspect of this ‘fact’ is not that I’m not selling the idea well, (that really is not such a new phenomenon) but that people think the idea needs selling at all.
These people, most of them deeply engaged with this industry genuinely think, that any construction project owner would be hard work convincing to declare their construction site ‘paper free’ – given the chance and no additional cost burden.

The scary thing is, they are probably right. This industry is deeply troubled.

Not that will stop me working on the idea.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Paper Free Construction Site – a soft launch of a cool idea

It’s been a while since I called to arms on any particular topic or posted a summons, invitation, or appeal to undertake a particular course of action on anything, having spent the last year or so in a bit of a BIM-reflecting and re-calibrating state.

I am using this opportunity to soft launch an idea that will be aggressively promoted in the future, for those that are interested to get onto it early to have the opportunity to do so.
The details (or as much as I wish to share at this point) are included in a slide show:

Friday, November 21, 2014

A double whammy… striving first to become a really good architect, then a really good BIM-mer…

A couple of days ago, I was sitting in a pretty ordinary design meeting at my pretty ordinary (non BIM)  job where the main topic was slagging off the non-present architect of the project by the lead (specialist) designer.  
I knew better than try to counter the clever jokes of ‘what architects are good for...’  and did not visibly flinch at the comment of ‘we let them design the colour of the toilets…’ Still the little interlude had me think about how seriously the industry misunderstands the role/job/responsibility of the ‘real’ architect. Followed by the thought that ‘real’ architects do rarely exist anymore, so the question is irrelevant any more… and what an earth was I thinking when I chose that as my profession some 30 years ago.
Even worse, why did I strive to become good at it in the true meaning of the term and pursue that idea for decades through thick and thin… mostly the latter.
Now, add to this of almost the same length of time of investing in becoming a good BIMmer (an architect with a more contemporary toolset) and I do have to wonder – will I ever learn?
So, with these sorts of things occupying my mind – it was a nice coincidence to be approached by a friend with a suggestion for a blogpost.
Djordje writes about a particular event that I was also a guest of, but also tackles the bigger picture of the lost (idealised) role of the architect and their future if there is still such a thing for them. (us?)
All that within a context of a pretty exclusive BIM gathering that had despite of being cool and fancy managed to avoid the real questions, but delivered at least one snazzy speaker that I enjoyed too.

So, please welcome my first guest blogger:

Djordje Grujic:

The importance of Johnny

Almost six months ago, I have had the pleasure of attending a by invitation only conference organized by the makers of my professional software of choice. I will be conceited enough not to mention the company or the software, as I do think that most of the BIMsphere would know which ones am I talking about. Those that don't, can skip the rest.

This conference was important to me on a few levels. I got to go to a place that I love, but have not been to in nine years. I was to meet a lot of people that I have worked, fought, cooperated and became friends with, sharing a common passion. Even better, I was to meet in person quite a few people with whom I worked, became friends, and knew virtually for quite a few years, some of them even a decade or more! And, looking through the list of the speakers, there were quite a few great topics, and quite a few speakers that I really wanted to see and hear.

So, the day came … I have landed before dawn on the day of the conference registration, spent the day just breathing in the city and the weather, and kept bumping into people that I knew, and “knew”. The better part of the afternoon was spent in “oh, I know you!” moments after reading the name tags. And the cakes, of course …

Others have described the conference in more detail, and yes, it was everything I have thought it would be, except next time I will get a cheaper accommodation … and those three days went past quickly. The air was heavy with the passion for the product, the solutions and their implementation, that ranged from single homes to city districts. Everyone was playing the same song, in their own way – these tools enable us to do better.

The reason why I am writing this is the only guy that came from reality. Not from, arguably the best, solution nirvana. Johnny the Emperor. An American architect, award winning, incredible salesman, even more incredible presenter, classic car collector, that does not practice architecture, and did not mention the product, or the solutions, once. Wait, what? What he DID do is bring the reality crashing in. With the thumb and index fingers of his right hand an inch apart, and the left hand stretched as far as possible, he illustrated what is the part of the cake that the architects get (the right hand) and what is the rest. And he does it all – develops properties that he designs and builds, and then sells or rents. Or lives in.

That gentleman is an architect in the true meaning of the word. He contemplates, and does the building. He is not letting the flotsam of the construction industry eat away the fruits of his labour. He does what an architect should do: imagines a building and creates it. And then parks his collection of Porsche 356s in the ground floor – sorry, first floor, we are in the US of A. Not that we have heard what happened between the Rambler with the UHaul trailer and the 356s, but that's probably a topic for another occasion.

Most of the attendees asked themselves why did he come at all. Self promotion? To spread professional insults? To degrade the holy profession that allows us to float by the powers of our imagination and create the built environment? Some were even offended. Frankly, I asked myself at the first moment some of these questions, and discussed it with the people sitting around me. While he did stick out of the prevailing software solution nirvana, like a proverbial sore thumb, his hand gesture illustration was the illustration of the reality, and the truth. It probably helped that for the most, if not all of my professional life I have worked in the design and build environment, and have actually never practised “pure” architecture. You know the kind, when your responsibilities stop after the design is approved and the contractor comes in.

As does your income, while others', at a magnitude of order larger, is just starting to flow.

So, did Johnny the Emperor – as he has said his family and his team call him – come to the conference as a showman, or an example of something that an architect should not be, or as an example of what an architect should be? As the time passes, I do believe that the latter is the case. He did bring in a dose of reality, hardcore profit making attitude, while never actually straying from the path of architecture and the solutions that his team uses to create it. You don't have to mention it or sing praises. You don't even have to be liked by the audience. You only have to tell what you are there to tell: that architects should finally take their destiny in their own hands, and yes, there are those wonderful tools and solutions that have been around for three decades and still people hear about them for the first time, and that the cake is very, very large. He does not want to pick the crumbles off the plate, he eats the cake.

As should we all.

If nothing else, that was the reason he should have been where he has been, and the lesson we should have learned.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Can BIM maturity be objectively measured?

BIM, as a project delivery method, is quite a recent industry initiative to some people.  
To others, it is a very old one that failed to mature with time.
The stance depends on whom one asks, for the definition and likely age of the phenomenon.
Disillusioned veteran BIM-ers from one side will have their set of views. Professionals of various ages that freshly found a promising-looking niche will have another set.  Between them is a range of highly dissimilar answers to the same question.

Regardless of whether BIM is considered to be new or old, nowadays neither small nor large companies dispute that it is being ‘practised’ globally, on private as well as public projects, across the entire building-creating industry.
Even within geographical regions that are considered to be slow-adopters, there is detectable BIM activity amongst the industry stakeholders. Entities of various sizes and various industry roles are jumping anew into BIM waters. This is because of either a mandated requirement, or a company choice to innovate. Those charged with managing the process of BIM implementation within these organisations will often look for other, more BIM-mature regions for clues and advice.

And there lies a potential trap.

The everyday meaning of ‘maturity’ refers to a stage of development achieved on a fairly well defined scale. Taking human development as an example, this is based on hundreds of years of observation and medical research where, while tolerances do exist, the extreme-ends of maturity levels are reasonably well known and agreed on.
More recently in IT, the maturity of tools, approaches and systems is often classified on a more open-ended scale of progress. A ‘mature technology’ in that context may not mean the absolute pinnacle of development for the particular field, but purely something that is more advanced than its predecessor, or a contemporary example of lesser values.
This little subtlety in interpretation of a particular ‘qualification method’ is rarely a problem within the IT industry as most participants are used to working within an ever-changing field that will unlikely reach its full potential in the near future.

On the other hand, the AEC industry is much more conservative when it comes to its tools, systems and approaches and it is not unusual for ‘best practices’ to have survived for hundreds of years, be that in the areas of ‘real building’ or in communication systems supporting the construction processes.
So, when something is classified as being of a ‘Mature BIM’ character, for most participants of the AEC industry this means having reached the level that is the ‘best that there is in BIM’. Just being a bit more advanced in adopting BIM than say an organization that is still considering taking it on, is not enough.

The impacts of this practice can be dangerous for those taking ‘maturity’ as an absolute, and dangerous for the overall future of the industry as well.
Both will suffer from possibly setting the bar of aimed BIM performance too low, based on the adopted experience of ‘mature’ practitioners, without allowing the benefit of the doubt that these experiences, while valuable, cannot be called ‘best practices’, due to the comparatively low numbers of participants, short relative timeframes and lack of measurable and robust results.
The new recruits of the BIM approach will constrain themselves to what others had done and in turn the entire industry will be reluctant to go where no one had gone before.

So, if ‘mature BIM’ is not really a ‘fully mature BIM’ but a BIM that is maybe only a bit more advanced than another BIM, how can the various levels of BIM practised by various industry stakeholders be measured?

They can’t and shouldn’t.
While I personally have developed a set of reliable tools that will enable me to distinguish between a real BIM-mer and a pretend one, be that an individual, a company or an entire region, I rarely share these tools with others.
Instead, I encourage them to face the fact that selecting the right people for making BIM work within their organisation is not an easy exercise.  Checklists and ‘boxes to tick’ will be of little help.
Similarly, to successfully hire a BIM services provider will require much more than reviewing their portfolio and listening to their PR spins.
Apart from suffering from a sense of righteousness, that will in time be seen to be false, reckless emulating of others’ BIM experiences, often in spite of one’s own misgivings of their value and ‘maturity’, can also lead to long term serious and detrimental material and legal consequences.

I also argue that no individual, company or region should embark on any type of BIM implementation without truly understanding and believing in the reason ‘why’ they were wanting to be doing BIM, in the first place.
This goes for an individual starting to learn a modelling package, a company setting out to develop their own BIM standards, or a Government deciding to mandate wholesale BIM deliverables and processes.

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 fa├žade-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 semi-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: