Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Creating the Next Big Thing

We've all had that aha moment.

The one where we look at something that's missing in a work flow, tool or technology and say to ourselves, "Wouldn't it be great if...?"

I attended a couple of general high tech conferences recently (not necessarily related to AEC) and was really excited to see where technology as a whole is headed. Though some of these tools may or may not find their way into the AEC industry, it became very clear to me that the need to consistently explore, vet and deploy technologies that may have value is becoming increasingly important for our respective professions.

In stark contrast, (mostly due to the proximity in timing of the events) I attended a tech forward conference for the AEC industry...and wow what a difference. Most of the "innovative" solutions out there were software tools that have existed in our fields for quite some time with new features or bells and whistles. While this is valuable for tech vendors to consistently improve their tools, there wasn't much in the way of WOW. This isn't a dig on vendors and I'm usually easily impressed... but the huge difference between the tech conference and this event was shocking. So my question is this:

"How can we create an atmosphere of wow in the AEC community that consistently rewards innovators and young companies who are pushing the boundaries in our profession?"

This is a hard question to answer I'm learning.

The significant difference between the technology sector as a whole and the AEC sector is that the general tech sector has a small army of early adopters just waiting to try the next big thing. *Think line three blocks long for the new iPad or xbox. While in the B2B world (AEC), we are usually slow to test and pilot and even slower to adopt tools and technologies that may significantly impact our value proposition.


I think there are a few good examples of great companies that are becoming early adopters of promising technologies. As well as some bright spots of innovative start up companies beginning to push the boundaries or redefine those boundaries. Though I don't believe it is nearly enough.

We need to start thinking like a community aligned towards a similar purpose of improvement and value. Not individual companies that latch on to a new tech, up sell it to the market through PR campaigns and then get on to the next thing without truly investing in that tool or technology and going deep to explore its value.

Ultimately, we need to understand that the danger in remaining a long sales cycle or shallow cycle (use and lose) industry that is slow to adapt and change is that it will not draw that next generation of start ups brainstorming in their garages... into the design, construction and operations markets. Rather they will focus on other markets with lower barriers to entry.

So how do we create this atmosphere of wow and early adoption? Not sure I have the best answer yet, but I do know some of it begins with starting to understand that being sold to by the "little company that could" is ok and I encourage you to have a dialog with this community. You may learn something or you just may believe its the next big thing.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reality capture & Why does laser scanning matter?

Haven't posted for a while, but wanted to capture my thoughts on a recent project we did where we were looking to accurately "capture" information about an existing lobby space. The project was a tenant improvement project in a four story building lobby, where the goals of the effort were to accurately gather data about what actually existed in the space, in lieu of relying on traditional as-built reference documentation, which is often outdated or rarely updated. The other effort we were looking to eliminate was the amount of effort we typically would put into in-field verification efforts. As a team, we discussed the options and laser scanning seemed to be the most viable, both from the perspective of speed to capture and the high degree of accuracy as a product.

Laser scanning an occupied facility had its own challenges, but what came out of it as a result was pretty remarkable. The last time I had looked at laser scanning technology was over two years ago and I was absolutely blown away by how far the tools and software had come since then. In less than three hours we had completed the hi-res laser scan of the lobby space. Within the laser scanning software, (this laser scanner was a FARO scanner) we were able to isolate and assign faces and model elements to the point cloud data. In turn, the composite of all of the faces and geometry showed deviation from the original plans in many significant areas. One of them being the mullion spacing at the curtain wall which would have proved costly in the field. Another aspect of this effort that I was impressed with was the openness from this team to use the laser scan data. In my experience on other teams without laser scanning, each entity did what they felt needed to be done to capture any as-built conditions and then began designing from that.

With laser scanning the equation was quite the opposite and we have seen a number of project stakeholders step up and request the laser scan files and models. Some of these were a bit of light bulb moments for me as the mechanical engineer wanted to see where supply and diffuser vents were currently located, the electrical engineer wished to see the height of the custom lighting that was suspended from the four story atrium to better inform their lighting design and the subcontractor responsible for the glass guardrail installation performed his takeoff directly from the laser scanning software environment. Couldn't find a good link to the FARO viewer, but here is Leica's (http://hds.leica-geosystems.com/downloads123/hds/hds/cyclone/brochures-datasheet/Cyclone_PUBLISHER_TruView_DS_us.pdf )

Lastly, when we presented the scan to the owner the tool had layered on top of the point cloud file hi-res photos that reminded me very much of what it was like to navigate in BIM. One of the main differences was the ability to measure, in the software. As we were navigating we were able to measure distances with a high degree of accuracy as essentially we were just measuring from one point to another.

Needless to say, it was great getting to be a part of this effort and fascinating to see how far this technology has come in such a small amount of time. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next two years holds in this space.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Really Proud to Coach this Team! NSAD First Place!

Great news and a great effort by an integrated team. Proud to have coached this Virtual Design and Construction Team!

News Story on Yahoo! Here

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Augmented Intelligence

How do we connect A to B?

Or does A even connect to B? Or more importantly, how can we use A to make a better decision about B?

Recently, I have become absolutely fascinated with the potential around cloud based collaboration backed with massive amounts of meaningful and sort able data provided in collaboration with computers. It's interesting to see the dialog shift away from Man vs. Machine to >> Man and Machine vs. Big Issues. Isn't this really what the promise of technology is? The ability to team the calculative (CPU) with the cognitive (human mind) to make better informed decisions that can have a huge impact.

So what does it all mean? Of course, the rise of Big Data has begun....or at least now we are focusing on how to better use the millions of petabytes each year that we generate to create value. Why this trend is relevant, is that for the first time in our history we are now able to capture, collect and sort huge amounts of data relatively inexpensively. So what do we do with this "stuff"?

To be fair, I'm not sure (how's that for honesty?)... but this trend has some fascinating possibilities. Particularly, in the areas of system to process mapping. While, this may seem to be arguably the "least sexy" of the big data trends, allow me to indulge this opinion further.

In an ever increasing manner, there is an interesting counter culture to a movement away from big software products to solve their smaller issues or repetitive pain points. This is hopefully evident in the rise of the quantity of apps that exist now versus 5 years ago. And though there are a rising number of conversations on data storage and cloud based apps. Do apps work? Is there a place for them within the AECO industry? Largely, I think the answer is yes.

Apps; unlike traditional out of the box software that ride on "fat clients" mostly ride on "thin clients". Thin clients are apps that use the processing power of other servers, and in many cases these servers are cloud based. This virtually unlimited processing power (though you pay for it through a service like Amazon web services) opens up a number of possibilities to process and connect large amounts of data about what we do and the decisions we make and their results. Additionally, we can now display, filter and sort this information in meaningful ways to better inform our processes.

One of the projects, we are working on now is actually investigating, who uses what information throughout a project's life cycle. This study will begin in design and follows all the way to operations and maintenance. What will be interesting about tracking the access to this information through various stakeholders, will be to challenge our constructs around information exchange and seeing if "A" does in fact connect to "B" or if it actually connects to "Q" (and thus, that we have no idea what we're talking about). Either way we are using Big Data around file accessibility to find if we are making the right planning decisions... more importantly and probably more fun is the surprises we envision coming from this exercise. I look forward to sharing the app after this project.

I've attached a great video from Sean Gourley on Augmented Intelligence. Check out the part where he uses his software Quid to make information 3D. Interesting stuff as we usually go the other way around, so to speak in BIM and model content creation.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Team Building with Marshmallows

Great TED talk video from Autodesk Fellow Tom Wujec showing how certain personality types think and interact around a tactile team challenge.

I can't help but love the Kindergartner's scores! Imagine what they could do with Rapid Cost Modeling...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Five Truths on BIM

In my experience in using BIM, I have become keenly aware of a number of "truths" in the arena of VDC. That said, I'm heading to the zoo with "my zoo" in tow today so I'll make it a quickie if possible.

Truth 1: The Owner owns the information (model).

If you're under contract to an Owner to design, construct and/or operate a building, they own the models and the information, just as they own the building. Our role as designers, contractors and operators is to be excellent stewards of this data as it passes through a building's informational life cycle and to optimize its use.

Truth 2: More information is not better. The RIGHT information is. 

Take a door for example. The Architect is interested in:
- code compliance
- was it sustainably sourced?
- the doors hourly fire rating
- available finishes
- hardware styles
- security level

As the responsibility for the door passes from design to construction, the information needed by the Architect to make good decisions is not the same information the contractor needs. The contractor needs to know:
- how many of each door there will be?
- does the warranty on the equipment match the specification?
- are there local suppliers?
- what are the costs of the doors?
- what is the availability and delivery schedules?

After the door is installed, the facility manager needs to have a certain level of information to do their work. This (on average) is about 10%-12% of what is aggregated throughout design and construction. Information such as:
- When do I oil the equipment?
- Where do I get replacement hardware?
- How do I program the lockset?
- How do I get to the warranty information?

The faster teams understand that some information is needed for the entire informational life cycle and that some has a shelf life; the faster teams achieve real clarity around how to pass useful information to the next project stakeholder. This eliminates the old way of heaving massive amounts of useless data "over the fence" to other team members to sort through and creates a deeper dialog of coordination in project teams.

Truth 3: Subcontractors should NOT run 3D coordination sessions.

We work with some really good subs and while I am sure that most of those are capable of running clash detection meetings themselves... it is our job as construction managers to own the coordination efforts. This theory is due to a number of reasons and experience, but the main reason is when coordinating with multiple trades it is far easier to have a "third party" unbiased approach to systems routing and configuration.

In my experience, I have found that the sub that runs the meetings rarely moves and has other trades move around them. This is particularly true when the project is in the thick of things and everyone is experiencing a bit of project fatigue. Secondly, on contract delivery vehicles such as CM@R, CM led DB, IPD and even hard bid where the CM's or GC's carry the majority of contractual risk; the majority of risk mitigation efforts should lie with the major risk holder. If a CM isn't doing this they are letting a subcontracted party manage their risk with no reward model and this is never a good decision in any business.

Lastly, relying on subs to run coordination meetings creates inconsistency to these efforts. As most CM and GC firms work with different subs on each project, there is a lot of value in providing consistent deliverables for your internal staff, so they aren't re-learning what a set of deliverables may be for each new project.

Truth 4: Establishing a learning culture is more important than creating BIM standards.

For many organizations, this is a toughie.

As new technologies enter the market on a daily basis, successful firms are finding that there is more value to establishing learning as a priority, rather than standards.

Standards, while useful in some aspects of a coherent look and feel or deliverable process, often become outdated before they are widely adopted. For this reason, I encourage groups to look at how to create "one page guidelines" that allow for flexibility and creativity around a process rather than a 213 page BIM standard on model creation. Creating a guideline allows for new technologies and processes to be inserted into a workflow to optimize output. When you create a standard, the clay has already set and there is little to no room for innovation.

Truth 5: If you aren't engaging your CA or field staff in the process you will lose.

One of the most repeated questions I hear is, "How do we take all of this great stuff we've done in the virtual environment and replicate it in the field?"

I have found that the answer to this question is, engage your field team. The team that is going to be responsible for construction administration, or construction management MUST be plugged in to the process. Otherwise your results are often going to be sub-par. Why is this?

Well, to understand we have to begin thinking like a project superintendent.

Here is a guy or gal who has "x number" of years experience in building structures and now they are being told by some VDC operator how to build their project from what a computer is telling them. Guess what?

There's no buy-in. In this scenario, there is no background being provided on the history to the decisions or directions along the way that could very well have created a solid product (this has to do with Truth #2). Thus the confidence level in that deliverable is zero, nill, nada.

Now think about how valuable it would be to have this same human database of information be able to participate in the coordination process with time tested input and real world experience. I won't give away the ending if this is news to you, but it will change your perspective real fast....also as a heads up this will often be where you will get some of the best ideas your organization has ever had.

That's it for now. I may do a part two, but we are going to go look at some monkeys. Let me know your thoughts and Happy New Years!