Model solution to collaboration, communication

July 01, 2002 |

While the turnout at this year's A/E/C Systems show, June 3-6 in Anaheim, Calif., was lighter than recent shows, what did appear were increasing signs that significant steps are being made with object-based modeling software. Overall, the show drew more than 5,000 registrants searching for products and solutions from vendors and speakers.

As the first A/E/C Systems show since both the end of the dot-com mania and the Sept. 11 attacks, certain themes persisted on the minds and lips of attendees and presenters. For many, the words "collaboration" and "communication" continue to be the prize, and designers, contractors, consultants and vendors all presented their version and their vision, with some ground-shaking promises. "We have an opportunity to fundamentally change the relationship between the players in the building process," said Phillip G. Bernstein, vice president of the Building Industry division at AutoDesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif.

Central to Bernstein and others attempting to forecast the industry's direction were discussions centered on data-rich models, who will ultimately create them on a regular basis, and who will reap the benefit. Attendees speculated that it would be architects looking to team with contractors, contractors looking to team with designers, or a design-build team who would realize the prize.

"We're looking for contractors that 'get it,'" says Lawrence Rocha, vice president and chief information officer with architect Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo (WATG), Honolulu. "It's a lot of work [to create the models], but we see the value. We're probably less than a few months away from sharing with contractors." Rocha added that WATG's CEO, Ronald Holecek, has talked with Webcor Builders President Andrew J. Ball. "That's a huge step," he said.

One key limitation to creating models is that other basic processes must first be up to snuff, say some industry experts. "If you want to do world-class intelligent modeling, make sure your other processes are in line first," said Ken Stowe, manager of business development for AutoDesk's Building Industry Division, and a former director of project services with contractor George B. H. Macomber Co., Boston. "Don't try it if your CPM [critical path method] schedule is full of holes. You'll just make a gorgeous picture of chaos."

One reason WATG may have met with Webcor is that it's a contractor that they apparently think "gets it." "We learn a lot about the building and see a huge value by creating the 3-D model," said Jim Bedrick, director of AEC information services at Webcor Technologies, Gilroy, Calif., a technology consulting subsidiary of Webcor Builders. Looking forward, Bedrick adds: "We could see ourselves building it one way, the architect building it another way, then seeing how the models compare. But right now compensation does not support collaboration. A big effort plus a lot of time spent means we lower our fee and make less money. It doesn't make sense."

While more and more team members look to the owner for guidance, some attendees questioned who would ultimately teach the yet-to-be enlightened owners that there is a financial incentive to enforcing collaboration. "I often see owners very complacent about process excellence," adds Stowe. Other audience members said that if owners are making money or saving it using the design and construction process as it currently exists, they aren't likely to push and pay for the extra cost and effort of creating data-rich object models.

Software for the building lifecycle

The facility management perspective played an increasingly stronger theme at the show, as exemplified by the show tagline "Solutions for the Total Asset Lifecycle." Speakers and attendees noted at least three issues driving the continued slow march towards integrated, object-based building models:

  1. Security —Concerns since Sept. 11 are heightened, and more than ever facility managers and occupants need to know their buildings inside and out, how best to protect critical floors or sections, and how to get all or portions of them productive after an attack. For future potential terrorism targets, increased safety at these buildings will be a top priority, and integration of control and safety systems is an issue that many building control technology suppliers are moving towards.

  2. Efficiency —With the economic downturn, more pressure is on building owners to increase efficiency with decreased resources. That also means being pressured to get more out of automation. Some analysts say facility managers must broaden their current focus beyond reducing both electricity costs and contact labor costs, and take a comprehensive approach. This would include using integrated building automation system (BAS) tools (see BAS products, p. 98) to increase their return on assets and reduce operating costs. Many facility managers, however, are leery of investing in BAS because of the upfront costs and staff training requirements.

  3. Selling the data —One attendee mentioned knowing of architecture firms also involved in facilities management that are now doing what data-gathering companies, such as publications, have been doing for as long as there have been reprints. They are reselling data about facilities they designed back to the owner on a subscription or piecemeal basis.

And while at least a dozen vendors debuted varying degrees of increased connectivity with other products, the larger BLIS, or building lifecycle interoperable software, movement, again won kudos from the popular CAD-oriented publications as a best of show award. The goal is to continue to progress towards seamless data sharing amongst the vendors adopting IFC (industry foundation classes) standards, such as Timberline, GraphiSoft and Visio.

Ultimately, the gathering, processing and dissemination of construction information holds the promise of being not just extra work, but extra revenue. "The creation of this information is more than just the critical means to an end to construct a facility in the physical world," said A. Buddy Cleveland Jr., a senior vice president with Bentley Systems Inc., Exton, Pa. "Information we are creating has the potential in and of itself to become a very high-return asset."

The upcoming complement to the show, Computers for Construction 2002, lands at the Dallas Convention Center, Texas, October 22-24. The 2003 A/E/C Systems show will return to Washington, D.C., June 2-5.

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