Practical Shortcuts for Your Firm's Daring Move to BIM

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Evolving Architect // "Practical Shortcuts for Your Firm's Daring Move to BIM"

READER QUESTION:

"My office is now moving to Revit. What are some best practices for implementing Revit as well as ways to encourage reluctant coworkers of the move in order to make the transition smoothly?"

THE GROWING IMPORTANCE OF BIM

The simple fact is that the profession of Architecture is moving towards Building Information Modeling (BIM). While several firms have made the daunting switch already, many have not.

But, Architecture is still a business. The client's perception of what they need from an Architect is a significant factor to consider here. As BIM becomes widely accepted throughout the industry, our clients' desire to implement its advantages increases accordingly. Architects provide services, and as such, must consider the needs of their clients first. It's no longer enough to end up with a great design anymore. The methods of how one gets there are almost equally important.

Because the industry is generally looking in the direction of BIM, making a transition is simply a way to keep up with the changing times. I would imagine that there are a few champions of hand-drafting out there, but that time in the production standard for the profession has come to an end. In order to stay competitive, firms now must look to ways in which the industry is leading them.


HOW TO BEST STREAMLINE THE TRANSITION TO BIM

The hard truth though is that the transition to BIM from 2D computer drafting packages such as AutoCAD can be difficult and poorly executed if done improperly. In many cases, firms have one opportunity to make the switch, not several.

Here are five tips for how to streamline your office's switch to BIM. While not a comprehensive list, these suggestions should allow you to understand what you're up against and how to best tackle major issues as they arise. Believe me, this won't be easy, but at least the following shortcuts will help make the path more manageable to traverse.


Shortcut 1

UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS

As a firm, you need to understand and communicate the benefits of BIM to your team. In general, we're more likely to fight against what we don't know. The more your team understands about the technology, what can be gained by making the switch, and why it makes sense financially for the business, the more likely your team will move in line with your intent.

Some primary reasons for moving to BIM that could be discussed with your team include:

  • Mandatory Requirements for New Projects
  • Efficiency in Project Documentation
  • Coordination Troubleshooting
  • Ability to Work with Others Who Already Use BIM
  • Looking Toward the Future of the Industry

Explaining the importance of these ideas to your team will likely motivate them to engage in the dialogue and ease into the transition from their current media to BIM.


SHORTCUT 2

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE STARTUP COSTS OR REQUIREMENTS

There is potentially a heavy up-front cost to implementing BIM Firm-wide. if your office doesn't currently have the proper infrastructure necessary to support BIM (it likely doesn't in fact). Servers must be able to function at high levels in order for files to be shared by employees. Local computers must be of a high processing, RAM, and video card capability in order to run BIM programs like REVIT. For current recommended specifications to use REVIT, see Autodesk's website.

Think of the investment as something that can be implemented over time, not necessarily something that has to be purchased all at once. Eventually, when your entire office moves to BIM, all of the requirements will need to be met. But in the early stages, it may be cost effective to simply upgrade computers, software, and servers as needed and over time.

That said, however, in order to run BIM programs like Revit, there's no getting around it - You MUST have a plan that upgrades likely every computer you own. The requirements change often and you should consider that your current computer is likely outdated. If it isn't, it likely could be by the next software iteration.

Don't get stuck trying to create workarounds for every little issue because your computer can't handle the fundamental needs of BIM. You'll lose efficiency, become disgruntled with the process, and possibly even abandon it. If you plan the transition out well, the computer and server upgrades you make will need to happen far less frequently.


Shortcut 3

TRAIN PROPERLY

Something you probably don't want to do is purchase a whole lot of nice, new hardware, software, and shiny servers just to have everyone sitting around and twiddling their thumbs because they have no idea how to use the programs.

Once you've begun seriously planning the switch to BIM, scheduling time to train your office on how to use the program should be one of your next concerns. Identify those who you want to use BIM in the near future and provide the training that will jumpstart their ability to use it efficiently.

Training comes in many forms. You could have your office learn from someone on your staff who is already acclimated to the program. Or you could send your staff for special training courses by a third-party. Depending upon the investment you're willing to make, it may benefit your firm the most to do a bit of both.

Having the initial training outside the office in an objective environment with instructors who are well-versed in how to teach BIM will far outweigh the impact of sitting in front of a computer screen in-house, trying to work through the help section. In order to continue and maintain the necessary level of knowledge beyond the initial training, having someone on your staff to coordinate BIM in the office and troubleshoot your issues will also be extremely valuable to you in the long run.

Imagine for a moment that you don't spend any or much time at all training your office to use BIM. The inefficiencies of production and backlog of time it will take your office to get up to speed and find their way will add up quickly. You'll wonder why BIM isn't acting as the silver bullet you thought it would, and you may abandon the idea altogether.


Shortcut 4

CREATE STANDARDS

Standards, especially in the beginning of your office's transition to BIM, can be priceless. Someone will need to take the way you already produce drawings, renderings, etc. and determine how to translate your current standards into those that are compatible with BIM.

In most cases, creating standards for your team, their working files, and ultimately their resulting product sets will save you time in the long term and establish through lines for your staff that makes the transition to BIM that much simpler.

Start with the easy stuff: titleblocks, text styles, and lineweights. Assuming that you've already spent several years in active practice, you may have the 'look' of your documents already established. Develop a formal document that catalogues all of the standards you intend to enforce.


Shortcut 5

IMPLEMENT SLOWLY

If you're already in business, you likely have projects that are partially or almost all done. These aren't projects worth remodeling in BIM just because you have it now. BIM is about efficiency, not the lack of it.

Instead, wait until you have a fresh, new project to use it on. While it does help to keep the project simple, you can really start implementing BIM on anything. If possible, try and use a project that is a new-build, has a straightforward design, and uses repetitive detailing.

You will in all likelihood lose money on the first project you use BIM on. There is a steep learning curve for BIM and you'll need to get your team to adjust to the new standards along side the ins and outs of the program itself. Don't be discouraged. Simply understand that you're building up your team on the first project or two in order to be extremely efficient on the third.

As a bonus tip, try and pick a first project that has a long schedule tail. Trying to learn a program and implement it correctly will be nearly impossible with an aggressive project deadline.


MY RELATIONSHIP WITH BIM

A few years ago, I was an advocate to move my then firm into BIM, Revit specifically. I knew from conversations with colleagues in and outside of the office that Revit was something that the firm would need to adopt in order to stay relevant and competitive. Because of the nature of that firm's work, request for proposals (RFPs) had even begun to demand Revit/BIM as a minimum prerequisite for many of the jobs the firm wished to pursue.

As it happened, the firm had just recently been awarded a job to design new housing along the Buffalo River in South Buffalo, NY. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to begin implementing something like BIM. The project presented itself as an opportunity to test the software under controlled conditions. The design would be new, modular, and straightforward. There was even a backup plan in place to abandon Revit for the tried and true AutoCAD were the attempt at using BIM to fail miserably.

After the decision had been made to go all in on Revit, the firm hired a third-party company to evaluate the office's hardware capabilities and knowledge of the staff. The firm was then outfitted with new computers and software on a phased plan. The first to use Revit were given priority in order to move the firm's production to BIM over time.

Some of the staff already had a working knowledge of Revit and how to use it on an actual project. Those were the key players that led to Revit's success. That's because there is difference between knowing the program and knowing how to use the program as an Architect.

After a while though, the entire team began to jive with Revit. The once elusive and scary program had increased staff productivity in no time. The first project moved forward and then another project was started in Revit, and then another.

BIM isn't necessarily an automatic win, but when implemented properly, it's as close as you may ever get to one.


SOME ADVICE

If you're about to switch to BIM, evaluate and audit your office's capabilities both in terms of hardware and staff knowledge.

If you've just made the switch to BIM, establish standards your team can enforce to become a well-oiled, efficiency machine.

If you've been living with BIM for a while now, take some time to evaluate what is working and other areas you may need advanced training or help with.


FINAL THOUGHT

You can haphazardly make your way to BIM, but you'll likely find that the simple shortcuts you can take in your journey to get there will make all the difference in the world. Others have already trudged through this process. Don't feel like you're the only one.

Take advantage of the skills and knowledge of your staff, plan out the entire transition, and make the switch before the industry leaves you behind.

Michael LaValley

Buffalo, NY