Collaboration: standards, viewing, plus industry education

Lachmi Khemlani, founder and editor of AECbytes, recently attended an AIA conference in the US, and her latest AECbytes newsletter describes some interesting sessions, including ones on business processes, automated code checking, digital project workflows and cooperative design. To give you a flavour, I’ve picked out a couple of items.

Business processes

The business process session featured presentations from 700-strong Cannon Design and US retailer Crate & Barrel.

Cannon Design made a concerted effort to move all its data to a web-based document management system, looking at both self-hosted solutions (Primavera and Meridian) and ASP (ie: SaaS) solutions (Constructware and eBuilder) before selecting Primavera. I was interested in the “critical problem” identified by Cannon’s Gustavo Lima:

Imagine an architect and a contractor working on a project. Both would like to use their own project management solution for collaboration on the project, so that they can also look at this data when mining information across all their projects. If they agree to use one solution, say the architect’s, the contractor would then have to re-enter all the project data in their system as well, so that they have a record of it. What is needed is for project management data to be easily shared across systems, but no such interoperability is even on the horizon yet. In that respect, project management lags far behind BIM (building information modeling), which at least has the IFC and the start of the National BIM Standards.

(From my perspective, the interoperability that Lima/Lachmi wants is on the horizon – at least as far as the UK vendors’ group, the NCCTP, is concerned. The long-term ambition for its data-exchange standard is the ability to share information across systems, as well as managing more short-term bale-out/bale-in import/export scenarios.)

Crate & Barrel mandated use of Adobe Acrobat for all its deliverables as well as reviews in the last seven years. The implementation resulted in a 70% reduction in shipping costs, decrease in clerical work, and dramatic reduction in review cycles. This presentation also highlighted the double-entry quandary, and added another issue: the non-intuitive nature of electronic markups, given the industry’s reliance on marking up hard copies of drawings. Crate & Barrel’s John Moebes acknowledged that this was a problem, and suggested large or dual monitors to make electronic markups easier. Lachmi adds:

“The ideal, of course, would be to not have to mark up drawings at all, which is possible with BIM, but only when we have the ability to convert BIM models to formats such as PDF and tag RFIs to the objects in the model. Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet.”

Dilemmas of cooperation

Lachmi’s analysis of a discussion about collaboration and BIM rightly focused on some people and process issues, rather than technology:

“there are still some additional technological challenges to collaboration such as large file sizes, secure access to the model, an effective way for multiple team members to work on the same model, better interoperability between different tools, better integration of the modeling process with other workflows such as project management, and so on. But all of these are far from insurmountable and should eventually be resolved. What we really need to work on is better education on collaboration, which is missing in most schools teaching architecture, engineering, and construction. Integrated design and construction courses are rarely taught, and this is a huge challenge. If collaborative practice is the envisioned future of the AEC industry, that future is not going to be realized unless collaborative and integrated design become an integral part of AEC education.

To illustrate the challenges, the conference included a case study where the owner wanted an integrated project delivery approach (see my recent post: Integrated Project Delivery – US guide). The scenario included:

  • design and construction fees based on an open book reimbursement verified by an independent auditor
  • additional compensation for the team based on the building’s energy performance measured after 2 years
  • project based on an aggregated BIM model jointly shared and owned by all the participants
  • owner would not pay for any change orders related to coordination (BIM was expected to eliminate all coordination issues)
  • single insurance policy for the project
  • dispute resolution would be handled by a single Board comprised of one representative each from the owner, architect, and general contractor.

It seems that this was too radical an approach for many session participants. Most felt the financial benefits were not very compelling (“firms are looking for profits upfront and the idea of delayed compensation does not work well for them, especially when it is tied to the performance of the building”). The change order clause raised issues about who’s in control and who owns the IP (intellectual property) related to the project. Owner representatives liked the integrated project delivery idea as the building performance basis should guarantee a better building for them. But other attendees, most of them architects, were resistant, showing that

“we still have to find good business models for cooperation and integrated practice. The technological solutions are available—what we need is to come up with agreements that are not only fair to all the players, but are also highly incentivizing to them.”

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  1. […] as I’ve written before (for example, see Software incompatibility bar to interoperability, Collaboration: standards, viewing, plus industry education and Integrated Project […]

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