I am a manager of construction information, tools and people .
I believe that hands-on manipulating of project information by all project participants is the key to achieving any meaningful improvement of the AEC industry operating within the post-gambling-era.
I consider myself to be a model-based construction information practitioner (shortened to a ‘BIM- meddler’) rather than an ‘expert’ or even ‘specialist’.
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
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
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
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: http://debunkthebim.blogspot.ae/2014/07/pdfs-and-bim-trilogy-of-posts.html
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
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.
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
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
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’
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
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
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.
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:
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:
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
PDF as a digital file-format is generally frowned upon by
those in charge of creation and management of project information within the AEC
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
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
Yes, one can search and sort large numbers of files by
name, author, revision, discipline or whatever on their platforms but these type
of metadata and the searching engines are of limited use for, say façade-subcontractors
that need to quickly locate ALL relevant (but ONLY) relevant sheets from the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Picture of a recent Autodesk event I went to.
It was a sad gathering, regardless of the the story the
pictures try to tell;
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
There was one thing that got my friends GM slightly anxious
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
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
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
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!
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
·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.
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 new Abu Dhabi (Airport) Midfield Terminal is
currently under construction.
It is a large project, blessed with an elaborately spec’d,
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Maybe those last
2 decades will prove to be too big a gap to bridge for the AEC industry and BIM.
This can be seen as a probably not surprising bi-product
of my self-preservation instincts kicking in at the end of a challenging year.
One can say, I got totally BIM-med out over it, an
unhappy culmination of two decades of vigorously pursuing an elusive
professional target with at best- mixed results.
I now got myself a job that has nothing to do with BIM.
I am staying away from most online or real-life BIM
interest groups. My contributions to my own blogs had been muted to an almost
full silence and I never upgraded to ArchiCAD 17, though I expect the launch of
18 to be soon.
I still fire version 16 up every now and again, nothing
quite like this little tool to check over things I need to be absolutely sure
about in my current job, that has – as noted before – no relation to BIM.
So, with such a high level of BIM-abstinence mastered, it
could be considered a sign of weakness for relapsing into thinking BIM again,
but for a person of few skills and even fewer hobbies, this could be just the right
thing to ponder over, on a peaceful Thursday night.
One trigger that made me reach for the BIM-keyboard
tonight was a BIM report that had been forwarded to me by a well-wishing friend,
aware of my professional interest in the topic.
A scientific looking, chunky publication of 60-something
pages it offers a myriad of serious-looking BIM behavioural theories for an
entire region, based largely on the survey of 400-something AEC professionals.
I am not one to get terribly excited about surveys, in
fact the ones related to BIM I avoid even more than others, but this set had sparked
a rekindled interest to formulate the ‘true level of BIM advancement of an
entity’ through numbers, somehow.
The other prompt for me to pitch in the debate of
quantifying BIM uptake within the AEC industry had been a series of recent
encounters with people working for large multinational AEC companies claiming
that their organizations were now ‘doing BIM, whole sale’, ‘full on’ or in a
similar way, implying a deep and widespread commitment.
Start scratching the surface of some of these entities
and you’d see that BIM capability can be easily limited to a small group of
up-trained CAD technicians, headed by a self-styled BIM manager or even worse,
by lsemi-formal relationships with modelling back offices.
When the mother-ship’s staff numbers reach into multiple-thousands
working over many continents, these capabilities are often just a drop-in-the
ocean of BIM ignorance.
So, for those that advocate for high level of mandated BIM
for government clients, here is a suggestion: why not establish a calculable
BIM coefficient that will reflect the ratio of BIM saturation within any one
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