Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading about layoffs at IBM...

Here are some thoughts – my father was a “lifetime” IBM’er…he was the epitome of Big Blue, and fit into that society perfectly. It was different generation, where engineers were held in the highest esteem, but in most cases, working on the drafting board would be beneath them. So the society employed thousands of draftsmen (since the majority back then were men), the “non-technical skilled labor”. And boy has their business model changed – no more Industrial Business Machines, as it was when the company was founded. So they’re not the manufacturer they used to be – but they are still trying to stay relevant to the market, so their business model is always evolving.

I’ve got news for you – that paradigm and “society” has already been changed. So many of the tasks and tools used by the “non-technical skilled labor” are out of date…and so are the users. If the draftsmen didn’t learn how to become designers, then they worked themselves out of a job.

And that’s what frustrates me about the article I’m reading. The laid off staff is sending the information about the layoffs to a union. In this case, the union is trying to protect jobs. But maintaining out of date jobs is only serves union leadership, and not the workers. My question to them is, what are you doing to bring that worker up to speed in today’s market, so they can help the company compete in the global market?

While I consider myself conservative, and mainly would support companies over unions, they BOTH serve a purpose – the union, especially in hazardous industries, need to make sure that companies are not sacrificing worker safety and the environment for profits. But I’m also a firm believer in merit pay – if you not only do your job, you look for ways to improve the job or process, and make it better for the company AND the worker, then you should be rewarded, with raises and promotion. I don’t believe that doing the same thing well for 50 years, is the only basis for moving someone up. And this is where corporations and unions need to do a better job of working together.

So, in the case of IBM, the union has no legs here. If IBM has figure out how to replace a manual task with an automated one, then they should be allowed to do that. If it means one less job, that’s the company’s decision – not the unions. This is just one example of leveraging technology like BIM to improve the work process and help the bottom line. Ideally, this would open up more opportunities in other areas – offering more for the same money, such as the BIM model itself, if the relationship with client warrants it. And if their share of the market has dropped, then keeping those jobs only speeds the overall demise of the company - it serves no purpose, and hurts far more than it helps.

And eventually, the market changes – which is the great thing about a democratic society based on free markets. Somebody is always looking to make the next big thing. Just ask Kodak how important it is to understand the market for photography, and how to keep up. We’ve got a bunch of Hasselblad camera equipment, and an old Remington box camera, that cost a small fortune – since they were the best on the market at the time. Now, you can’t get $50 for the Remington, since nobody uses this type of camera anymore – it’s all digital, so now it’s only good as a conversation piece. Film? Forget about it – and this is just a fact of life.

Like it or not, we ARE competing against other countries now, rather than just each other. Countries like India support the development of companies that offer the same type of labor force at a fraction of the rate of US labor. And why wouldn’t they? The cost of living is lower, the cost of education is lower, so the overall cost of the services is of course, going to be lower. If the quality and results are the same, then the only correct answer is this – we have to offer more – and better – information and deliverables than our overseas competition. And we WASTE far more now than we ever have – not just materials and resources, but time and money. In order for us to stay competitive, you’ve got to address the waste in all areas.

In the past, this is where the US set itself apart from other countries. You only have to look at the advancements in our military to see that a determined America, with the belief that we ARE better at what we do that anyone else in the world, can accomplish. And this is what ticks me off about both corporations and unions. Too much emphasis in the unions are based on maintaining the status quo, while corporations need to focus more on improving their own workforce instead of just using it.

At my job, we are working the way it’s should be done. We’re reviewing how we do things, training our workforce to be better at what they do, and investing in people – like family. We’re going to be better than anyone else at what we do – because we’re working together to do it. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll learn from them. And we accept nothing less than excellence in what we do, which is what it takes to be a successful company from the president to the copy room. To me, these folks are the epitome of American exceptionalism – which is why I love working here. The bar is high…

So let me ask you this –

How many of the architects and engineers today believe we should still be on the drafting table, with draftsmen (or CAD people) still creating reams of drawings…and errors…and inconsistency in the documentation?
How many people can do without their mobile phone (actually mobile computer)?
How many car companies can compete by assembling their cars by hand?
How much electricity does your windmill generate?

While Thomas Edison lit up the world, he’d be turning over in his grave if we weren’t trying to improve on his brilliance. It’s time for all of us to “lighten” up, and learn how to work together better – for our own good…and get back our competitive advantage. We’re not serving anyone by trying to preserve outdated methods and jobs. Like I’ve said before – you’d better educate yourself, if you want to survive in today’s market.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Updated on the Revit Shared Parameters Converter...and failures

I really love this tool - that's why I covered it in my AU class last year. It's extremely helpful when you start to use families from manufacturers, or if you're trying to get the Autodesk out-of-the-box families to align with your custom schedules. But as we've been using it more, we keep coming across file failures. Unfortunately, the program only tells you which files failed to update, and doesn't say what caused the failure. We've figured out a few things on our end that could be causing the failure, and are adopting this process:

- Copy the files you're updating to a new folder on your c: drive, and create the destination folder where you want the updated files located. Do this by logical group - pumps, tanks, etc. should be edited one group at a time
- Set your log location to the destination folder, and then pick your shared parameter file. In that file, start with common number or text based items, for example, that you know won't exist in the target files. In our case, these are scheduling parameters that are simply informational parameters, so they're set up as common discipline, text and numbers, or discipline specific parameters that are NOT associate with a connector associated parameter.
- Make sure you pick each of the parameters you're adding and set them to the correct group - for whatever reason, I kept forgetting this step...ugh...
- Run these easy ones first - the successful conversion will show up in the destination folder, and the failures will show up in their own failure folder - so you can open these to see what happened (or didn't, in most cases)
- Re-run the tool with parameters that are likely to be associated with a connector, and may already exist in the target family. This is where we're finding the failures, with items like voltage, number of poles, etc. There doesn't seem to be a specific reason why it fails - sometimes it works, others it doesn't. Run this against the families that were created in the destination folder (make sure you create a new destination folder for these files)
- Run the tool again - if it fails this time, take the files in the failure folder and burn ', actually you'll have to manually edit these - which works every time.

Shared parameter converter helps you with the majority of your files, but you will hit some roadblocks - we still use it to handle the bulk of the conversions, but don't get discouraged if it fails...and Autodesk - how about a little more detail about the failures themselves...please?

thanks - David B.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valves and other Schematic Symbol/Model combination families...

I'm starting up a support, work on tweaking the default Revit MEP libraries (starting with valves) that have to show a schematic symbol in large scale (re:1/8" and larger), and the 3D model in smaller scale (1/4" and smaller) views. I've got a few ideas - so if anyone wants to join in, send me an email at You can also join our group on Google plus, just follow this link:

Working everyday to make Revit work better for we all got more time to go fishin'...

thanks - David B.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Back to the blog...and Autodesk turns 30!

Been taking a break from posting for a while, it's been a busy winter...had a few thoughts on the last several years...

Autodesk turned 30 a few days ago, and it's amazing the impact they've had on the design industry. It's definitely been an evolution. Who wouldn't miss the Carol Bartz days of ready, fire, aim...but that was part of the creative spirit that they needed to make the product as popular as it is.

And today, it's been run more like a solid business than most software companies and start ups. While some software companies (like facebook, google, etc. ) are all about the personal information, Autodesk has become the holder of the real world data for the places we live, work and play in. From the part design in Inventor, to the BIM models in Revit and ACAD Arch/MEP, right down to Navisworks and beyond...the early concept of the AutoCAD centric model has evolved into an optimum design platform.

And there's both good and bad in it - the early days of Autodesk fed the creation of many businesses, especially in the reseller channel. In my earlier days, there were over 400 resellers - from loss leaders just pushing boxes to true consultative businesses, like CADre - which I'm still proud to have been a part of and gave me my platform to grow. Unfortunately, businesses evolve...and things change. You don't hear a lot about companies selling drafting tables, triangles and t-squares anymore. And in the near future, I would expect Autodesk to change the reseller relationship even more. With today's internet and the evolving business model, it doesn't make sense for Autodesk to continue to push a part of their revenue into the channel.

Because of this, I expect to see more of the "new business" model - companies that are analyzing the data external to the design firm and owner, and working to make the designs more efficient. Companies like IES, and products like Vasari - these will help push new forms of business that become the support structure of the design world. It's no longer about the tool itself, but instead about the results generated from the tool.

And the channel has changed - we realized a long time ago that 30-40% margins weren't going to be the case forever, and worked hard to develop consulting services. In the future, even implementation services are going to become more scarce as the design industry learns that a) it's better to have an expert on staff and b) the methods used by applications like BIM become more common and expected.

So where does that leave that industry? I expect you'll continue to see them evolve into service providers for modeling, such as conversion from 2D to 3D models. The point cloud technology is pushing this as well, but sometimes, you just gotta model it. I'm still on the fence about the accuracy and overhead of that technology, but I could be wrong. Personally, I expect most to go the way of the Bentley reseller channel - a few service providers, but most going away - if the owners don't have the future goggles on, and evolve into the new business model, they've got no one to blame but themselves.

Training has evolved as well - the internet based training materials are becoming even more popular. I've been working with my buddies at CADLearning, and reviewing what they have coming - the level of detail, quality of materials, and relevance to the design industry is better than ever. In my day, we all learned best with 3-4 day classes - but today's generation doesn't need that. They are leveraging the internet, videos and over the shoulder mentoring - that's what's really working now. Even in the college environment, it's amazing how many online programs are out there - that's the future.

The users have to bone up on their education as well. Anyone who is planning on taking drafting courses or certifications - stop it. You're wasting your time and money. At minimum, a 2 year associates will be required to work in this industry. In fact, if I could wave a magic wand, I'd change most of those programs to focus on specialities - like energy modeling, sustainable material design, lighting analyst, etc. Just knowing how to put lines on paper just doesn't cut it anymore. We've seen it start in the rendering and animation field, but there's got to be more emphasis on today's technical tasks. I'm a firm believer that people are responsible for educating themselves - and it kills me to see good people resting and relying on what they did 20-30 years ago, instead of staying current with their skills and knowledge. Blame yourselves if you become one of the "no longer looking for work"...the opportunities are out there for employees that want to stay relevant in the industry, you've just got to put in the work. It sure ain't going to be just handed to you anymore...and anyone who wants to guarantee wages and work using old methodology is just milking the system.

The one thing I'm pretty certain about is that the return to 2D CAD days are gone. We still have some old-schooler's hanging on, but when I see guys like my intern in Harrisburg finish the tasks in BIM in a fraction of the time the CAD-based designer is taking, I'm convinced we're on the right path. If anything, Autodesk needs to take away one important piece of advice - get it all working together and working right.

We're going to still continue to have construction documentation going out in a similar fashion over the next generation or so, so paper will still be there (although it was really cool to see all the tablets at AU this year taking the place of paper handouts - the first real progress towards a paperless society). The model and data has to be ale to easily make the progression from part design, into the building and site, to the contractor for the build, and to the owner for operations and maintenance. It's better, but it's not there yet. The cloud is coming into its own, taking the place of FTP, email, etc. as the main portal where project data is stored, so companies like ours have to learn how to live and play in this world.

I remember some of my first experiences on CAD - watch VersaCAD on a mainframe draw a line - it took forever, and was on a 6" screen. I remember being amazed at the Bentley mainframe, working on big dual monitors (black and white, of course) with a drafting table sized digitizer, converting paper drawings to CAD files stored on tape. I remember paying $5000 for a 486 computer, taking out a loan from a benevolent business owner that helped me get my start.

And I look at where we are today. The design industry is on the brink of the chasm, and is preparing to leap across. The paradigm has shifted, and now we're all along for the ride. And guess what - it's going to be a blast. We won't need government regulations forcing us to be more efficient - our dads taught us well, but now we have the technology to really design better, smarter and more efficient structures and systems than ever before. It's expected now and accepted as common practice. And I get back to Autodesk - and I say thanks...and Happy Birthday. You've made a lot of this possible, and have been the catalyst to real change (sorry, federal government, but it's private industry that makes this really happen - in spite of all the posturing and regs that only serve to drive business costs only politcal soapbox comment for today) don't stop - keep pushing the envelope, and keep helping us make this a better built world for all.

Have a great day - David B.