Over the past month, I have heard and read quite a bit about Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD 13:
- First, I read Lachmi Khemlani’s AECbytes review, telling me that, for the first time, a commercially available building information modelling (BIM) application now included server-based collaboration that potentially allows team members to work together in real-time.
- Next, I encountered Amonle architect John Allsopp who has opted to use ArchiCAD 13 as the BIM ‘engine’ behind a new collaborative “virtual design studio” business. Indeed, John spoke (from Barbados via Skype) about this initiative at the recent Be2camp@WorkingBuildings2009 event in London that I helped organise – memorably describing his business as a “micro-multinational”. (I hope to be meeting up with John shortly to learn more about his business and its use of social media.)
- And, today, I’ve been reading David Chadwick’s CAD User Online review of ArchiCAD 13, in which he tentatively suggests “Graphisoft may have found the ‘Holy Grail’ in BIM collaboration“.
What makes ArchiCAD 13 so exciting is its BIM server component. This helps maintain a complete, up-to-date BIM model of a project centrally. Team members work on copies of the model, but instead of the whole model being synchronised by copying the model back and forth, synchronisation is achieved by exchanging only the differences between the central model and the federated copies. This approach is not new (indeed, when I was at BIW, the company developed a similar ‘differencing’ or ‘Delta file’ exchange to help overcome broadband constraints on sharing large CAD files), but it is, I think, the first time it has been applied to a commercially available BIM solution. And by reducing file exchanges from megabytes down to kilobytes, it opens up the potential for construction teams to remotely share rich levels of design information almost regardless of their geographical location and on sub-optimal broadband connections.
Regular readers will know that I looked at the idea of CAD software being delivered as a service (CADaaS – see CAD in the Cloud) several times before switching focus to BIMaaS, and the pairing of BIM with ‘differencing’ technologies (also used in some server acceleration solutions – eg: Riverbed) may begin to convince sceptics that it is possible to deliver data-hungry applications and data via the web. Graphisoft is showing that broadband need not be the constraint that many think it is.
Update (20 October 2009): PS – Interested in how BIM is being adopted by a medium-sized architectural practice in the UK? Read this AECbytes article by Rahul Shah of MAAP Architects.