How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BIM

Bob Borson —  October 20, 2011 — 23 Comments

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Today’s post is written by Randy Deutsch, a nationally recognized leader in the advancement of BIM and IPD, he speaks & writes on their social implications on the AEC industry. BIM + Integrated Design  is one of the the websites that Randy maintains and is a wonderful resource for all things related to Building Information  Modeling.

I wanted to write a book—not about technology, or business models, but about architects … and charge $79 for it …  in the worst recession architects have ever known.

I wanted to write a book about architects and how they’re adapting in a time of accelerating change in the design and construction industry.

While many were focused on BlogTour 2011 and Japanese erasers, I surreptitiously wanted to write about how architects are adjusting to the constantly evolving technologies and work processes and how they’re impacted by the advent of Building Information Modeling (BIM) into the workplace.

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BIM adoption and implementation are no longer the main challenge most firms are grappling with as they were a few years back. Today, it’s money. But it’s also the social implications of the technology and associated work processes on firm culture and workflow brought about by implementing BIM. (And money.)

Of the triumvirate of business, technology, and culture, culture was by far the least studied, analyzed, and frankly, exploited. It was also the least understood. So, using my sepia ink-filled Mont Blanc fountain pen, I set out to rectify this situation.

While many were gushing over lush photos of Giant Leopard Moths, the business and technology cases for BIM were made and largely accepted. It was about time that somebody made the cultural case for BIM. That’s what my book set out to do.

By the “cultural case” I mean human habits, social intelligence, and firm culture — these were taken for granted and were the last frontier for garnering the greatest gains from the technology and work processes. Human factors such as personal initiative, mutual respect, trust, human nature, ownership and authorship, comfort with work processes, workflow, impact of technology on design, work habits, preferences, identity and role, personality, legacy, collaboration and communication—all of these seemingly inconsequential peccadilloes impact the efficiency and effectiveness of your BIM efforts.

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Moving ahead, it will be increasingly necessary to align the attitudes, mindsets, and work habits of architects in order to continue – not only survive, but excel in this new environment. Helping architects and their firms thrive in this environment would be the purpose for, and focus of, my book.

So, until BIM use is ubiquitous, until BIM permanently enters the lexicon and architects start thinking in terms of BIM’s impact on all trades, until Bob Borson starts using it—until that day comes … architects with $79 and time on their hands will have this book to guide them.

This book originated with something I overheard. Charles Hardy, deputy director of the General Services Administration (GSA), put it bluntly when he said that “BIM is about ten percent technology and ninety percent sociology.” And yet to date, 90 percent of the focus in training, education, and media, has been on the innovative and admittedly visually appealing technology.

But 90 percent sociology? If that’s the case, why are we spending 90 percent of our time attending webinars, seminars, and conferences on the technology? Why are 90 percent of the websites, user groups, and blogs devoted to the software?

Think about it. If the difference between a successful BIM implementation, and a failed or even potentially catastrophic one, has as much or even more to do with the mindsets and attitudes of those who use it as it does the technologies and work process the technologies enable and require. But how will these necessary practical, attitudinal, and behavioral changes come about?

By threatening to discontinue beer Fridays?

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Perhaps we’re asking the right questions but focused on the wrong outcomes? That’s because it’s mastering the process—not the technology—that leads to exceptional results, both aesthetically and financially.

Where were the answers to my questions—ten in all—concerning what it is like to be an architect that works in a BIM environment?

  • How is it different from the way we used to practice?
  • How is the workflow changed—and what exactly is meant by “workflow”?
  • What’s with all those large screens and monitors?
  • What exactly is a Big Room or iRoom, and do I need to have one?
  • What’s the difference between a BIM manager, an IT manager, and a CAD manager, or a BIM operator and a BIM coordinator?
  • Who do I hire, who do I mentor, and exactly whom do I select to work in BIM? Is it necessarily the employee who excelled at CAD, or is CAD expertise a potential impediment?
  • When will Bob’s T-Shirts for Architects introduce a “Bn” BIM Ninja t-shirt design?
  • Is it true that BIM takes as much social intelligence as technical competence?
  • What changes to the workplace should I expect?
  • How will we share data among the parties involved?

This is where BIM and Integrated Design can help. By addressing these 9 pertinent (and 1 rather impertinent) questions and putting our acceptance and use of these new technologies back on track by making them manageable, understandable, and approachable in people terms.

Still not sold on BIM? Ask yourself this:

  • Are you curious about BIM but would like the facts/know what impacts are involved—the full picture?
  • Do you have the software but feel that you are not completely utilizing it—or are utilizing it less satisfactorily than you had hoped?
  • Do you find yourself in transition between the old way of doing things and things to come?
  • Are you already running with the technology—but have run into roadblocks, unexpected issues that you would like to resolve effectively, once and for all?
  • Have you mastered BIM but would like to learn more about how others use this knowledge to leverage integrated design in practice?
  • Do you perchance have $79 and some spare time on your hands?

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I would like to thank Randy for writing a post for me that brings up some important considerations for any firms currently thinking about BIM and how they have positioned themselves in the future marketplace. I have added an image of Randy’s very well received book just above. Just click on the picture above to be brought to Amazon where you can take a closer look for yourself.

Cheers

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  • http://www.amerismail.com Amer

    BIM is such an amazing program. We’re using for our projects here. Too bad I’m too busy coordinating and have yet to use them properly (apart from the training I’ve had months ago). Its the absolute future and it makes life so easy.

  • http://twitter.com/CornerstoneArc Cornerstone Arch Grp

    Great post Randy. We are in the process of implementing BIM in our firm. I am reading your book now and I am finding it very helpful. As for the fountain pen, I’ll stick with black ink in my Lamy! Thanks Bob, keep up the great work with LOAA.

    • Randy Deutsch

      Thank you! Great to see you here as a well as all over Twitter.

      Funny what you write about the fountain pen: prior to posting, I ran a search on “architect” and “fountain pen.” Lamy (with black ink) had the most hits. Monte Blanc? Not so much (not since the ’80′s, anyway.)

      Good to see you’re keeping all of your tools fresh!

  • DH

    We have been a fully BIM (Revit) office for 8 years now– It has most definitively changed the way that we work and think– at least about the building process. As more and more clients require it (all of our state College and University client have now made it mandatory) BIM will be as ubiquitous as CAD. The real change will come when we begin to use BIM with computer driven fabrication technologies (already in use for steel fabrication)–  this might just revolutionize the construction industry whole cloth— Perhaps the way that computers changed graphic design and printing–

    • Randy Deutsch

      Thanks DH for chiming in here. Heartening to hear how your company is running with the technology and work process, for being early adopters - and that your state government is mandating the use of BIM (we’re seeing more and more of that.)

      As for digital fabrication – I agree, that’s the next frontier. Once again, California seems to be leading the way on that front, with outfits such as http://www.becausewecan.org/ out of Oakland, CA fabricating directly from Revit files. Keep up the great work and outlook!

  • Kevin

         That’s an interesting question and seems to open a wide range of comments.  Some constructive….some not so constructive.  And I can see it from both sides.  I actually got started in BIM early on in my career since we design all of our systems in 3D so I’m light years ahead of anybody else in our company.  And coming straight into 3D drafting (not the same as BIM as some like to think) from the field I have the insite like a lot of the “old” guys have.  We used to throw our drawings up on a light table and sort out within a course of meetings who goes where.  For the most part the field guys would get the work installed and very little information ever came back to the drafting department.  It became a “field fix” if you will.  I think now with the BIM technology everybody actually sees  that there is quite a bit more than just moving a duct over a few inches so you miss some piping.  Now you actually see there is a dozen trades on the opposite sites not to mention great architectural items that cannot be altered.  So often you have to start sending out RFI’s for answers.  And the entire field has this mentatlity that the BIM model is the gospel and they will not move if that is where they are in the models.  This takes time to investigate and involves a number of key project players.  I think modeling is a great technology and I use it religiously.  But sometimes I think people forget that construction project have variences…not only in the field but in the modeling.  There has to be give and take on all sides. 
        As far as workflow.  I run a CAD department.  I have been working numbers for the last few years on BIM projects.  Just something I like to do for fun I guess!  It is my estimate so far that what we used to bid a project for detailing time alone has tripled.  I can actually take an original estimate and mulitply it by 3 to come out with an idea for pricing.  I think the problem is that the BIM side of the industry is a wide open book.  There is nothing to regulate the coordination.  I have seen projects coordinate $1000 worth of work for months.  Something that could have been done in the field in a matter of hours.  I am currently looking to see if it really helps in the field.  In the last 5 years I have seen it helped in certain situations but for the most part I cannot tell where it has reduced installation or schedule times.

    • Randy Deutsch

      Thanks Kevin for sharing some of your experiences working with – and in – BIM. As for variances – if I understand you correctly – the beauty of some of the software applications is that you can set the perameters to acknowledge pre-set variances, where you will be warned if you are getting too close to someone else’s work. Not fool-proof, and certainly no substitution for keeping these variances top-of-mind ourselves, but nice to know it’s covering our back.

      I feel your pain concerning detailing in BIM – but again, this is an area that a few have been able to make great strides in – to the point of profitability and increased efficiency. The fact that you’ve been monitoring the process and keeping data is huge – just knowing that this is an opportunity area for improvement should make it relatively easy to address and solve. If you can’t find resources online to help understand how others have solved the detailing in BIM problem, a good BIM consultant can help. Happy to recommend one.

  • Thomas Whisker

    Your spot on Randy!  I used AutoCAD Architecture in graduate school and when i pushed for it’s use (we owned 10 licenses already) in my firm I was met with skepticism and resistance.  It took me a year and I final made headway into getting Revit and a pilot project launched. 2 years later every project was a BIM (well at least for us) project.  One of the things many architects cannot get past is that unless the owner wants it and everyone on the team is using it, then it has no value.  We found that by using BIM tools, everyone on the team was now participating – including the Project Manager – who typically couldn’t tell a pline form a line.  More importantly, BIM makes us think as architects.  How does this wall intersect with this roof at this condition?  You think in 3D and 2D all at once.  It makes us better architects because we are now engaged in the building and thinking beyond just getting a drawing set out.  It is taking us back to the days of craftsman that architects once were.  Thanks so much for this and will be dropping $79 to find out more!   

    • Randy Deutsch

      Thanks for the kid words, interest and support.

      All fantastic news, Thomas – and I hope this gets to you in time (sorry for the delayed response) because you sound as though you completely “get it” (in fact, you sound like already read the book!) No book for you!

      Or, if you already ordered it, perhaps consider passing it along to someone who might benefit from the heard-earned lessons you’ve had the opportunity to attain over the years. In fact, have you considered writing on the subject yourself?

    • shtrum

      Your comment about BIM allowing you ‘think in 3d and 2d at once’ reminded me of the movie Marathon Man.  Dustin Hoffman was method acting and to stay in character he wouldn’t shower so he’d always appear exhausted.  Lawrence Olivier only shook his head at the explanation.  To him, an actor should be able to act exhausted, and not have to spend every moment looking exhausted.

      Just 2 different forms of acting by 2 great actors, with similar results.  Good discussion.

      • Randy Deutsch

        Marathon Man is one of my all time favorite movies – great analogy. Thanks Thomas for adding to the discussion!

  • Lisa League

    Good post.  In my experience, many people see/use the (M)odeling, but not the (I)nformation aspect of BIM; so long as they rely on separate systems they’re missing the benefit. 
     
    Also tough to do when not all the consultants, MEP, etc. not using, too. Then you’re just exporting out AutoCAD drawings for everyone.

    • Randy Deutsch

      Thanks Lisa. This issue – modeling (using BIM for visualization and clash detection only) vs. the next frontier of using the information for analytics – is one that I tackle head-on in my book. Lots of helpful suggestions for getting there – but the real issue is that people have to be open to collaborating with others. To do that they have to “let go” - but many continue to work in their silos: control central. Little by little we’ll get there.

      The resources – training, tutorials, books, technology – is finally there for all consultants. What are they waiting for?

  • shtrum

    Crotchety old guy here (there’s one in every bunch . . . ).

    Don’t mean to disparage Randy’s work or abilities, which i’m sure are considerable.  But more to offer the other side of the argument; the continual trap architects keep falling into.  The next Big Shiny Thing.  i remember graduating right when computers took over hand drafting, and the argument was less paper and more productivity (neither happened).  LEED was supposed to be a green new world and energy-conscious developers (must’ve missed this).  Archicad was a forerunner of BIM 15 years ago, and nobody cared (it was also a miserable program in this capacity . .  . although as a cross drafting/modeling/rendering platform, it was ahead of its time). 

    i have no doubt BIM will slowly morph and take over the profession.  But i question the thrall with which many in the profession embrace these BSTs.  Especially when they use the argument that clients continuously require faster/better/cheaper.  Because as a good contractor knows, you can always get two of the three, but never the third.

    • Randy Deutsch

      Given all you’ve  experienced up until now, you have every right to be skeptical. The problem stems from a combination of hopes and promises that have been made over time that the BSTs – as you so aptly put it – will swoop in and save the day for the design profession and construction industry.

      Not so with BIM – because its a case of mistaken identity. Because BIM isn’t a thing (a noun) - its a process (a verb.)

      Our profession and industry is in crisis mode – owners are looking for increased value while society demands less waste. BIM – the technology that enables the collaborative process – can cynically be called the next Big Shiney Process (BSP) except for the fact that – unlike CAD (sorry) – it works. Yes – some of what BIM purports to do today is aspirational: we’re working together right now to use the information in the model (analytics) to do less harm to the environment, build more efficiently and effectively. If it is still a bit of a leap of faith until we arrive there – my book attempts to show the way we can get there – with or without the BSTs!

    • Anonymous

      I kinda agree here. The ultimate litmus test for anything is the result or final product irregardless of the process. Being a runner, the ultimate measuring stick for a training program is the goal race time. Same with architecture but then it’s a finished building.

      Some firms I’m familiar with use 100% BIM now and I don’t see any difference in their finished building designs from those projects of theirs that were designed pre BIM. Same is true comparing published projects (Note: I pay closer attention to housing as that’s what I do). Those we see published today aren’t any more creative then those designed 20 years ago. And there’s certainly been no giant leap forward.

      There’s more factors here then visual I know as Randy mentions below and maybe those have improved but the visual experience, the creativity of solutions and what gives a building a “soul” has remained unchanged. And after all isn’t that what seperates us from engineers? Isn’t that what one of the definitions of architecture really is?

      Doug

      • Randy Deutsch

        Hi Doug,

        You’re right in acknowleding that working in BIM has benefits beyond the visuals – inclusing fewer (if any) RFIs and change orders – because all of that potentially can happen earlier before shovel hits the dirt.

        Read a great line last night in the great new book, “The Real Architect’s Handbook”:

        “Subvert the signature of the software, unless you consciously want the architecture to convey this signature.”

        http://www.amazon.com/Real-Architects-Handbook-Things-Architecture/dp/1463527357/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319212462&sr=8-1

        BIM (nor CAD nor the pencil) makes buildings any more beautiful: you do. You give the building its “soul.” BIM frees you up to do that (if wrestling with so many dialog boxes doesn’t kill your soul in the mean time ;)

        BIM (unlike CAD or the pencil) – because of its parametrics – does away with so much of the busy work that architects are freed-up to have more time to design (at least that’s the goal.)

        Many who don’t work in BIM still don’t realize that when you model a door it shows up – with all of its associated info – in the door schedule, and when you change the door the schedule changes. That time-savings can be ‘saved’ or ‘spent’ in additional design time.

        And the early design stages are also the most important phase to have additional time – because that’s when changes cost the least,  and have the most impact.

    • http://twitter.com/SteveCliche Steve Cliche

      I agree with your thought on architects being attracted to shiny things. I find that architects tend to embrace “new” technologies in order to portray themselves as thought leaders (keeping up with the Joneses), without fully realizing what they are getting themselves into. Our firm has always been at the front of the line for new technologies and we have been using computer software (GDS and Autocad) since 1985.  We have been using BIM (Revit) for years but I still find myself doubting its capabilities as a “drafting” program.

      • Randy Deutsch

        Hi Steve,

        What you write rings true for me. But to one point: you wrote

        “architects tend to embrace ‘new’ technologies in order to portray themselves as thought leaders (keeping up with the Joneses)”

        Sorry – but I’m a stickler for mixed-metaphors. Real thought leaders (even if one hates or distrusts the newfangled term) are at the forefront of thinking – they help to move the ball forward, in however small increments. Then, next, they telegraph their findings in tweets and blog posts, books and in ther work. Without them, I’m afraid, we would as an industry be stuck. On the contrary to ‘keeping up,’ they’re the ones who tell The Joneses what to do in the first place!

  • http://businessofarchitecture.com Enoch Sears

    This is it- the social/cultural aspects of BIM that not many seem to be addressing! I can’t wait to read your book! Thanks Randy for all of your hard work in getting this book to the presses. I can’t imagine what it takes to get a book published. The question I have is, as a young architect, how do I position myself for the future to be part of this process/reshaping?

    P.S. Tara Imani is giving away two free copies of Randy’s book on her blog: Indigo Architect, although even at $79 it is a steal.

    • Randy Deutsch

      Thanks Enoch for your kind words and support, and for recognizing the trials of getting a book to publication.

      To answer your question, there are huge opportunities for emerging talent within firms, and you are right to question positioning to best be able to benefit from these. Learning the software is important, but as important as training is being involved with moving the process along: by joining local BIM and IPD groups; by serving on BIM standards committees; by meeting with peers to discuss the latest articles or books on the topic; by grasping the benefits and challenges of the technology and work processes and be  able to articulate them to others; and by identifying a manageable project to work on and get started by working on it. There’s a couple interviews in my book that illustrate these points better than I can here. Hope that helps!

  • http://www.dma-sf.com/ Modern architect

    Only
    a few blogger would discuss this subject the way you do.
     

    • Randy Deutsch

      I assume this is a good thing? Hope so…