Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AVB Part 2 – On a Clear Day….You can See the Data….

To start this analysis of Autodesk versus Bentley off, it’s best to start with a little perspective. First up, I’m a layman. I’m not the smartest guy in the room, nor do I want to be. But my job requires me to be two things. First and foremost, I’m an analyst. It’s my job to objectively understand the what, how and why for our design approach. Understanding what it takes to get a project out the door, meeting the code and client’s needs, are first and foremost. Putting the art into the project, while important, is a bonus, but critical towards gaining wider acceptance for future work.

Once you gain knowledge of how things work, as the analyst, I have to take that information and figure out how to make it work better. It’s at that point the specialist begins and the subjectivity kicks in. We develop the solution and implement it, train it and support it. Most cases, we’ll get it right, sometimes we get it wrong…but then the analyst kicks back in and we start over.

And all of this is based on understanding the information that we receive. In today’s society, information is everywhere – in our personal finances, in our job, in our culture…even in our refrigerator. And it’s out there, unfiltered, for everyone to see. Just ask Google, Facebook, the IRS and the NSA how important data is…they live and exist off of it.

How that data is shared is what drives nearly everything we do. And we’re constantly in overload, being bombarded daily with information, whether it’s personal, professional or trivial. It’s being able to pick out the relevant data is what keeps us from going nuts.

So, to make BIM work, you have to create filters, and understand information sources. All too often, we don’t get it the way we need it, so for my own sanity, I had to break it down into categories. Here’s my stab at the 100k foot perspective on information or data.

Personal – the priority in everyone’s lives is the personal information that relates to everything you believe and do. We see the world in a lens of information that directly pertains to us as individuals.  Personal information is raw data, and it’s what affects most of our decisions.

Here’s an example. My wife is a mortgage loan officer, and in order to make a decision about getting a loan approved, she needs to know personal information – where you live, what you make, what your bills and expenses are. One of the things she’s good at is helping people interpret their personal data, and make decisions about what they can and can’t afford. I know she’s a rarity in the world, but she does care about the people she works with, and tries to help them not get into a bad financial situation. But it’s all based on the raw data they provide. If it’s incorrect, or falsely provided, it can affect their lives in profound ways. But if you don’t know the raw data about yourself and what you do, then it’s hard to make decisions correctly.

Apply this to BIM. The personal data is the specific information assigned to an environment that we are designing around. This could be specific information about a piece of equipment, or the area requirements of a room. If the data is incorrect or falsely presented, it can cause all kinds of problem. Have you ever gotten a set of plans or specs that don’t match how something exists in the real world? That’s what I’m referring to. Getting this personal data correct, and making sure it’s properly filtered and shared, determines the success or failure of a design project.

Mutually Shared – at this point, you are entering into a relationship where more than one person is involved. Two or more people have a mutual understanding about the provided information, and they both agree on it. This requires common knowledge of personal information, and agreement on how it’s presented.

In the BIM world, this is the relationship between multiple design sources. And it’s the most broken part of the system, since the majority of our design tools aren’t made to communicate with each other. Sure, there have been some attempts – IFC, for example – but it isn’t seamless. Part of this comes from the inherent human nature and desire to protect their personal information and intellectual property.

The other part comes from the way it’s presented. In most design applications, all the data is shared. Take a look at the Revit DB link tool – it dumps everything right down to the lines used to cheat, and make something look different (or more like the way we did it in CAD, to get the documentation to look pretty). Every CAD file, model, detail is nothing more than a graphical database. It’s easy to share this, but sometime we’ll get stuff we really don’t need, or isn’t relevant. This causes overload – and can also allow for items to be missed, or misinterpreted.

Mutually Beneficial – there’s a big difference between shared information and beneficial information. Just because data is shared, doesn’t mean that it provides a benefit. If the data is in conflict, then it can affect the design. An example would be a specification that states one manufacturer for a part, and a schedule in a drawing that says something else.

At some point, you have to decide what information is mutually beneficial. In our world, we are deciding what data needs to be shared between databases, design programs, specifications and client applications. It’s one thing to share everything, which is what happens now. It’s more important to filter this list to what’s mutually beneficial, and needs to be coordinated.

So let’s back up and look at these parts. In order for us, the end user, to gain productivity, reduce costs and increase accuracy, we have to start with the personal information. We have to assimilate it and share it with multiple sources. And we have to make it mutually beneficial, so we’re not overloading each other with irrelevant facts, that don’t affect the outcome – the design.

So how does this pertain to Autodesk versus Bentley? Simple…step back and look at both companies. Look at their product offerings, and how they approach the design world. While there is commonality, mainly along the output side, everything else is pretty different. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the common threads are too thin. Even internally, you look at different products within the Autodesk world, and see the silo effect – for example, class definitions and properties in the Plant 3D/P&ID products, versus categories and parameters in Revit, and object styles/property set definitions in AutoCAD Architecture/MEP. Bentley’s not immune to this either, but both products have infrastructure in place that makes determining and sharing the mutually beneficial information tough to do.

What BIM is doing is affecting the tools we use, and how we gather this information. BIM is not software, it’s a process – we’ve said this a million times. And it’s the “I” in BIM that needs the most work, mainly due to both company’s different perspectives on how we need to handle the information.

Next up – we’ll look at this in more detail, and talk more about the silo versus silo-free approach.

CORRECTION: Norb corrected me on my previous post. Bentley does allow you to use the ESC key to cancel the current command (although it’s not the default – so there). Look under Workspaces, then Preferences. In the Input section, you can change the right mouse button to all ESC to cancel the command. OK – when I’m wrong, I’m wrong…but I ain’t sayin’ I’m sorry…yet..

Thanks – David B.

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