Friday, August 28, 2015

Sparkie, Bricky, Drippy, Chippy and all fluent in BIMmy!

I have a lot of respect for the trade-workers within the AEC industry.  
Regardless of whether they are one-man-bands or work for large corporations, they are the ones at the coalfaces of projects, make things happen where the rubber hits the road.
Even though it is ‘well known’ in western societies that their rates are unreasonably high and workmanship mostly shoddy (heard a ‘plumber nightmare story’ recently?) their chargeable hours carry the burden of much more than what it would be reasonably expected to go for overheads.
The small operators lug the costs of working in a volatile industry, expensive tools, taxes and regulations, uneven cash-flow, bad weather. The ones employed by large corporations are burdened by disproportionally large armies of managers with often disproportionally large income expectations.

They do come in all shapes and sizes, of course. Some are better than others, the ‘cowboys’ of the industry often outnumber the ones that just try to make a decent living. Some are innovators, others are not, some are in it for the long haul and others are not.
There is no escape from the fact that there are the foundations of a pretty wobbly industry.

But if they thought en masse, things can’t get much more overwhelming, from what they need to be dealing with daily anyway, they were wrong, of course.

As the lukewarm BIM initiatives of the world are failing to impress with results of their efforts, the BIM spotlights get more and more onto the supply chain.
Many of them may have thought for years, that by occupying the bottom of the food-chain of the AEC they’d be off the hook for a while from needing to fully embrace this ‘BIM-thing’ – after all a painter is a painter, a sparky, a sparky – if they’d wanted to go into IT, they’d probably have chosen a different career path.
But no.

The global initiative of BIM has had a checkered history, having been around for a quarter of a century (I know, the term did not exist then, just the approach) – it has never really gotten a foothold within its host, the global AEC.
A good idea, an enthusiastic minority and relentless missionary activities of those, had little chances to succeed over the speculative – mafia type industry. Rather than accepting failure, and looking for new magic to save the industry, we keep on seeing new BIM activist emerge, paddling the same old scheme of the ‘good idea, enthusiastic minority and relentless missionary activities’, yet still can’t make the failed recipe work.
But new generations of would be AEC-revolutionaries and various government mandating helps the flame stay alive.

And there is now another boost to the campaign: blame the subbies for it not working. (they are too busy making buildings to question the claim for a while anyway)

Or putting it more politically correctly:
“But if we want to get through to a Level 3 BIM, we’ve got to take the whole supply chain with us and at the moment I don’t feel from the feedback I get that we’re doing that very well as an industry.” (ref 1)
The important message of the quoted sentence for me is it implying that ‘we’ have already reached Level 2 BIM (whatever that means) as an industry and for ‘us’ to get to Level 3 BIM those subbies must pull their weight too.

Sure, the same article calls onto the BIG guys to help:
“I think that a lot of the framework was paid for and promoted heavily by the Government. They took the lead which was a brave and right decision. I can’t see it at the minute – and I’m no expert, don’t get me wrong – but I can’t see the same level of commitment and investment coming from the Government, coming down to the supply chain. It’s so fragmented and varied in so many different ways. It’s a difficult way of being able to figure out how to reach out to them – i appreciate that.
That’s where the major contractors have to have such strong relationships, that they’ll say “we’ve educated our own staff, we’ve invested in the technology, worked out the processes, gone through Level 2, started to work out what we’re doing, but have to bite the bullet, sit down with the subcontractors and educate them, nurture them because otherwise they won’t understand, and when it comes to us demanding information and data, the shutters will go back up again.” ” (ref 1)

I have a suggestion:
How about leading by real example? For a start, reformat the goals of Government BIM Mandates to leave the subbies out from anything ‘compulsory’.
Focus on and prove the existence of a genuine, working, Level 2 BIM, led and performed by the Engineers (and other AEC Consultants) and Main Contractors of the world.

Picture from here:

Refs from here:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Paper-free Construction – A Catalyzing Epidemic by Design, that will invigorate the stale, global AEC industry

I like to claim to have been working with BIM for over 20 years.
Together with many other BIM enthusiasts, we’ve been trying to fix the AEC industry for decades now, by adding various amounts of BIM magic to it. The results are still pretty dubious. ‘The jury is still out’ on how well BIM has been doing, and even if the proverbial jury was not out – I’m definitely not convinced that it is making a noticeable dent on the performance of the global industry.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of BIM. It is just no longer the solution to the ‘problem’.
Once it may have been, 20 or so years ago – but when the conditions were right, it did not really caught on – and now it is too late. The cost and effort needed to make it work on any level is prohibited for most, within a dippy industry that does not value long-term investments into tools and approaches.
A bit like trying to force the entire financial sector speak fluent Latin in order for the Share market to become more honest, transparent and productive.

It is time to look at our options to rejuvenate this industry in a different way?
Wise people sometimes say, the solution to a problem could as easily be in taking something away as adding-on something else.
An over-salted soup may be made palatable by the additions of herbs, spices or certain vegetables, but reducing the salt in the first place could be an even more elegant solution.

Like, with fixing up an unpalatable soup once it is already spoilt, we’ve been forcing BIM onto the AEC like an unwelcome additive, expensive and feeble, still hoping that it’ll restore the murky stew.

Even though construction projects tend to take longer to create than any average soup, there is still plenty of opportunity in starting anew with an improved, less salty recipe.

Is there something obvious in the industry’s processes that could be taken away without damaging the host and assisting its healing?

The paper, for example?

The concept is simple: Create paperless environments within the industry, enforce them and gradually increase to cover larger and larger areas until they reach a critical cover, of no return.

There are a number of rules for the creation and operation that must be followed for these paper-less environs to function successfully, these I’ll omit in this writ- up, to keep the focus on the knock-on effects, should this approach become the norm.

Unlike with BIM, where the results are mostly measured in what they do to individual projects they’ve been applied to (saved money, saved time, found xxxxx million clashes) – the success of the Paper-free Construction Approach will be measured in the number of people affected by it and what they’ll do once infected.
Since, unlike BIM where even on huge BIM projects (like airports and Malls) most project participants manage to avoid full (or indeed almost any) immersion in the approach and at best become supportive bystanders, in PFCA projects everyone on the project becomes truly paper-free too.

These paper-free thinking and working people, once at peace with the approach will demand and incite developments of meaningful digital tools, in turn raising the ‘coolness factor’ of the industry by a couple of notches.

There will be the symptom called ‘Touched by PFCA’ – applied to those that had delivered a project in a paper-free way, no matter if as a consultant, a construction worker or a client representative.
In contrast to BIM campaigns, where somebody touched by BIM, may talk enthusiastically about their experiences (or not), someone that had survived and thrived in a Paper-free project will pass on the ‘disease’ with a lot of passion.

A newly ‘cool’ industry will attract more paper-free thinking/working people, that will then stimulate its growth even further.

The catalyst of the paper-free environment will in fact sweep over the industry like a ‘good’ epidemic.
Ironically, a new generation of a (more successful) BIM will be the natural progression from a Paper-Free craze.

Image from here:

Monday, August 3, 2015

In the event of an emergency (recession), first ditch BIM.

Analysts interested in the wellbeing of economies related to the AEC industry are usually at pains to explain, how it is by its nature cyclical, consequently the fortunes of those working within construction will go up and down in regular intervals.
Sometimes the lows get a bit too low for everyone’s liking and the word ‘crash’ appears on the said analysts’ reports, as well as in the daily lives of those too dependent on the health of the industry.

As someone that had weathered one or two of those storms in my professional lifetime, where some blizzards I escaped only by a narrow margin, as well being a (so called) BIM enthusiast  – I take a special interest in observing how well various BIM initiatives do, when the dial of the industry heads South, as it seems to be doing now, again.

My sad conclusion is, that BIM does not do very well when its umbrella industry hits turbulent times.
I see that, when things slow down and developments ground to an almost halt – there  are usually very few project-owners that will carry on insisting on ‘adding cost’ onto their overstretched budgets by enforcing any type of BIM requirement .
Government clients, often the most vocal BIM mandators in good times, will also retreat hastily from anything BIM.  

Never mind, that BIM is supposed to save money and make things more efficient – faced by consultants, contractors and others, themselves keen to keep their cash-flows in the black and armed with ‘take it or leave it attitudes’ – BIM tends to be the first ‘project luxury’ to get dropped.

Those keen on retaining the illusion of being the ‘innovative players’ within the industry, will promise to return to experimenting with this ‘BIM thing’ once the industry settles into a better trend, but when that really happens, they are likely to be too busy to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, doing BIM things only superficially and so the cycle keeps carrying on, giving any meaningful BIM little chance for developing into anything sustainable.

I do wish for this cycle to break sometime, for BIM to become the true answer to the global industry’s plight for help,  when things get tough.
To have the players look for the ‘smarter’ for once, as opposed to just the ‘even cheaper’, when the margins thin down.

After all, what better environment to release the shackles of archaic methodologies of ‘drawing based documentation’ than recession hit projects hungry to still deliver win-win results for all involved despite the harsh environments they find themselves in?
What better opportunities to let the underdogs of the BIM-skilled world shine amongst their
non-BIM literate peers, than impossible to complete projects-turned into success stories?

An opportunity for enterprising players to employ outdated versions of Sim games to refine the design of large developments on, at fractions of costs and with high precision, a chance for some others to cut the paper as the medium  fully out of their processes and turn loss-making projects into profitable ones? Projects destined for arbitrations and claim-wars, into vibrant money makers and time savers?

Unlikely to happen.
BIM is the ‘stiletto heel’ of the AEC industry.
In good times, it is kind of a status symbol,  cool and funky, though often expensive and worn by the jocks, simultaneously glamorous, uncomfortable and impractical.

In an emergency, downright useless.

In an aircraft emergency, can one slide down wearing them an emergency slide?
That says it all, for BIM.

Picture from here: