IT Managers: How not to support BIM

During the early stages of a large infrastructure project I was involved in circa 2014, it was decided to deploy Revit Server to support the team of 50+ architects and engineers developing the models for the project. As the company’s offices were split between 2 buildings in the same location, a Revit Server host was located in the main server room in the head office while an accelerator was deployed in the main project office.

This was necessary as there were teams working on the models located in both offices, and the trunk line connecting the two was only 100Mbps, which doesn’t support the traffic that would be flowing on the project, and corrupt Revit files would have been a huge risk. An order was placed to upgrade the trunk line to 1Gbps, but it would take a couple of months so the Revit server solution was essential.

Just getting approval for Revit Server was blocked by Global IT as they favoured the use of ProjectWise that was being rolled out across the business, and they tried to convince us that splitting the models into tiny worksets which individuals could check in and out of ProjectWise would be the best solution. BIM Managers from 3 countries were flown to the UK to be browbeaten into accepting this disastrous workflow, they even brought in one half of the team that came up with the BIM Wedge (it was his idea) to argue with us that using ProjectWise like this was a great idea. The reality, as ever, was that politics were at work and several of the IT bods had hung their careers on getting ProjectWise enforced across the company, and they strongly asserted their authority to stop us from using Revit Server, that they considered a threat to their positions as technical leaders.

Which one do you think it was?

On returning back to the other side of the world, I pleaded our case for Revit Server with the PM, and he escalated up to the regional CEO, who told the Global CEO in no uncertain terms that we were having Revit Server installed, whether the IT goons agreed or not. We won.

Anyway, after a few months of project operations, with multiple models being worked on by the team, we arrived one morning and nobody could access the models, the Revit Accelerator wasn’t responding. The local IT guys, who were not the sharpest bunch reported that there had been a power failure in the server room at the project office, and our server had abruptly stopped, corrupting all the files on the server. “What about the UPS?” I asked the IT guy, he said it had done its job and kept the server running for an extra 30 minutes. “And you were not able to access the server and shut it down remotely after getting the alert from the UPS?” I asked. “Well no, we bought cheap UPSs which didn’t send a power failure notification to the sysadmin”.

Yes Colin, they really are that dumb

This was bad enough, but the next cock up was a classic. The Revit Server installation was on a dedicated PC, and during routine checks the IT guys found that the hard drive was getting full, so had a look at the file system and deleted the folder with the most data, our Revit Server model store… It was a cock up of epic proportions, thankfully we were able to restore the models from local copies on people’s hard drives, otherwise we would have been screwed as we later found out they were not routinely backing up the server.

A lesson learnt, don’t trust IT people to do their job, they often don’t.

Autodesk are taking the piss

One of the most frustrating things about working with BIM tools is how pathetically bad they are, especially tools from Autodesk. Take Revit for example, it was the love child of an old, but smart, for its time, architectural tool called Pro Reflex which had its roots in the 1980s, and parametric mechanical CAD with its constraints and relationships. Its developers maintain that there is no Pro Reflex code in Revit, despite taking the source code with them when they left PTC to establish the Charles River Software, later renamed Revit Technology Corporation.

The guy who sold Pro Reflex to PTC, and therefore knows what he’s talking about, disputes the Revit developers’ claim that no code carried over into Revit, and has documented proof that there are definitely traces of 1980’s Pro Reflex code and design in Autodesk’s flagship BIM tool.

Whatever the merits of both of these claims, the fact is that as a parametric mechanical CAD tool, it is primitive and slow when compared to the modern ACIS 3D kernel from Spatial or Siemens’ Parasolid engine. And as an architectural tool, it does not allow architects to develop the buildings they want to design without resorting to developing special tools to make Revit do what they have asked Autodesk to make it do, but they have refused to spend any money on it. This, and price gouging on licenses, led to the Letter to Autodesk from prominent UK architects demanding action from Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk’s CEO, and covered in detail by Martyn Day in AEC Magazine. Things have got so bad that HOK, who are a Revit house and BIM pioneers, abandoned their Enterprise Agreement with Autodesk and are evaluating alternatives to replace Revit.

Those of us that work in large firms know how hard Autodesk are squeezing the balls of their EBA customers, the price of a usage token has risen over 70% in the past 3 years to more than 1.10 USD (Revit is 6 tokens a day), which has focussed the minds of CFOs and COOs in the tier 1 companies, many of which are formulating strategies to teach Autodesk a lesson. Autodesk University meetings will be very frosty this year.

Navisworks is another Autodesk product not developed in-house, but by a company in Sheffield, UK called Lightworks, that developed Navisworks to allow 3D models from multiple incompatible vendors to be combined in a single application. It was acquired by Autodesk in 2007, and has been a cash-cow ever since, receiving minimal updates and new features. Another example of Autodesk taking the piss. iConstruct wouldn’t exist if they weren’t taking the piss out of their customers, and remember that Navisworks Manage was one of the most expensive tools they sold.

But my biggest beef with Autodesk is that they have all these tools and products, and rather than making sure that they are able to be used collaboratively as a priority, few products are able to be used together except on a very basic and limited way. Revit’s monumentally stupid coordinates system for example is the cause or more lost unproductive hours than just about any feature on any piece of professional software.

Revit’s coordinate system will take it’s toll on almost every project, no matter how well you craft the execution plan or provide templates and strict instructions on how to link models together. On a recent project, the architect created his initial model, from which all other models in multiple applications (Revit, Plant3D, Civil3D and Bentley tools) took reference for the location of the model. A couple of months into the project, the architect decided to lower his his model by roughly 300m as they fucked up the original coordinates. As a consequence, chaos ensued and many many manhours were spent accommodating the fuckup by the architect, in some apps this meant starting again from scratch.

Autodesk’s cloud BIM collaboration platform is not much better. Trying to get models uploaded has brought document controllers to tears on one project, and the latest model collaboration integration with Navisworks promises much but doesn’t deliver. Want to collaborate models from other applications than Revit, sure they said, you can use IFC. What they don’t tell you upfront, is that it will only accept IFC models generated from 4 applications, and 2 of them are Revit, and MagiCAD for Revit.

Want to link in a Plant3D reference into Revit? It’s a horrible kludge of a process. Link an IFC model from Bentley Open Buildings into Revit? Not possible. Navisworks into Revit? Useless. Open a Revit model in Formit? Not a chance. Infraworks? Inventor? 3DS Max?

Autodesk is a $3+ Billion company that acts like a snake oil salesman, peddling tools that promise much but deliver little in the way of value of compatibility. It will soon discover how much is customers hate them.

Get me the turds/hour analytics, STAT!

Sometimes you wonder if the people writing project BIM requirements are taking the piss. I can excuse the LOD 600 requirement that was included in an RFP a while back as plain ignorance, or even an affectionate Spinal Tap tribute. But when Toilet Data is included in the list of requirements for future property management in the BMS system, you have to wonder why?

The befuddled BIM hero who sent in this contribution suggested a potential use “I can imagine the top management wanting live dashboards giving them Tph (Turds per hour) metrics, so they can fine tune the thickness of the canteen sandwiches…”

Digital Twins – The new, unwanted buzzword

First there was “Virtual Building“, a Graphisoft trademark they use to differentiate between ArchiCAD and what was referred to as “Flat CAD”, the 2D drafting board analogue from Autodesk, which was launched the same year as the visionary Hungarian BIM tool’s first iteration, Radar CH.

Next there was BIM, Building Information Modelling, coined by Autodesk in their 2002 white paper, attributed to Phil Bernstein.

Software vendors love a hype wave to follow, re-branding their tired old products with the latest buzzword to try and shift more licenses by scaring customers into thinking they will miss the wave and lose out to competitors. “SuperDuperCAD-X, the market leading CAD/Virtual Building/BIM/Level 3/VDC/Digital Engineering/DfMA authoring tool is now leading the way in Digital Twin capability!”

For years they were banging on about BIM will reduce costs by 50% but all that happened was a “BIM Team” was created in the business, and then treated like “drafters”, glorified tracers (if you don’t know what is a tracer, ask one of the old guys in your organisation). As there was zero engagement between the engineering teams and these BIM jockeys, designs being done in 2D, even drawn up in 2D CAD before handing over to the BIM guys to do their stuff. You might as well have thrown money down the toilet.

BIM added costs without benefits. And now there is Digital Twins.

The thing is, we already have digital twins, in scenarios where it makes commercial sense and add value. A digital twin of a building is just bollocks. The cost of setting up and maintaining a digital twin with all the sensors and stuff is significant, and to be honest, you don’t really need a fully detailed BIM model to make use of it. Just some floor plans, PDFs.

The CAD companies promoting Digital Twins will be really pissed when the market decides they don’t need all that BIM modelling bullshit and just need dashboards and databases.

When is a Questionnaire not a Questionnaire?

Consulting for the lazy

Hong Kong’s Construction Industry Council (CIC) are tasked with implementing the government’s BIM initiatives and have employed US bean counter led engineering consultancy AECOM to drive the development of a case requirement study for 3D and BIM Data.

Never one to spend a dollar on a task if they can get someone else to do it, and gain an unfair advantage at the same time, AECOM have basically asked the BIM people invited to make up their own questions, to provide them with valuable data that would allow them to bid for and win future projects more efficiently.

Tell us what you know about BIM, so we can do it better. Example 1

Not content with finding out what you know, they also want to find out what would make their bids more effective for future projects by identifying gaps in the current processes they can exploit and wow the clients with their boundless knowledge and BIM chops.

All your base are belong to us

Much BIM. So Collaborate

Clients who know nothing about BIM Part 1.

This wishy-washy BIM requirements “specification” is taken from the terms of reference for a major expansion to an airport terminal. This is the entirety of the BIM requirements for the project.

The could have just put in a clause, “just give us some BIM please”.

Such BIM

Fool me once, shame on — shame on you

Shame on you

It never ceases to amaze how badly organised some larger companies are. Here’s an example of an HR drone’s shotgun approach to recruitment, sending a mail about a job to a BIM warrior who left the company a few month’s earlier, and who is currently employed in a more senior role. I’d like to think this was an isolated incident, but FFS I received a similar mail a few weeks later.

Fool me twice

Let’s get things started

 

Yes Gordon, it is as bad as it looks
Yes Gordon, it is as bad as it looks

To get things started, the BIM Weasel sent me this email exchange recently, which demonstrates a promising level of BIM fuckwittery from the Project Manager.

From: Manager, Project 
To: Weasel, BIM <bim.weasel@*******.com>; Engineer, Lead <lead.engineer@*******.com>
Subject: RE: New Project BIM PxP – essential reading

Lead Engineer,

There is no need for you to read this document.

Regards

PM

From: Weasel, BIM
To: Engineer, Lead <lead.engineer@*******.com>
Cc: Manager, Project <project.manager@*******.com>
Subject: New Project BIM PxP – essential reading

Lead Engineer,

May I suggest that you read the following document carefully, if you have not already done so? It is central to the proper delivery of this project: New Project (Airport Stuff) – BIM PXP.pdf

Regards,

The BIM Weasel

Digital Delivery Specialist