In Part 1 of Who Is Driving BIM?, we explained how some BIM companies cater to large AEC giants with bundled BIM programs to do mega-projects and try to convince us that the bundling is the best direction for BIM. They use the all-catchy and -encompassing expression of “Sustainable Infrastructure” to justify their bundling strategy. In Part 2 of this blog, we argue specifically why software bundling is not good for most design firms and the future of BIM, because it slows down its development pace.
Talk to any software programmer or engineer and he/she will tell you that Cad and BIM software programs are among the most challenging programs to design. The reason is that they are designed to simulate in a virtual world what happens in construction. It is a complex undertaking and a testimony to the innovativeness and prowess of BIM companies that we are even talking about BIM the way we do today. From that standpoint, we must salute them.
With the praise out of the way, let’s now focus on why software bundling is not a good idea for BIM. If we accept the premise that designing BIM software programs is difficult and complex and that there is always something to do to improve the programs, then it only makes sense for BIM companies to focus on the BIM software programs they know best. BIM can only reach its breakthrough progress if each company is on the top of its game, based on what it does and knows best. They should choose and develop an architecture program or engineering program and focus all their efforts in making the chosen program be the best it can be.
Some BIM companies in the US and overseas in particular understand that and are focused on designing civil and structural engineering programs. Others focus on mechanical, electrical, and fire protection engineering programs, leaving architecture to others, while mindful of interoperability issues. By focusing all their effort exclusively on one or two related disciplines, those companies can create more powerful BIM programs. Likewise, if a BIM company focuses all its effort in architecture, it can develop BIM programs that have a depth and functionality range that far exceed what companies with a bundling mindset can provide.
Take the example of Archicad, made by Graphisoft. Since its principal focus is architecture, the company is able to design BIM tools with far greater functionality range for architecture than offered by BIM programs that have a vocation of being all things to all people. We doubt seriously that if Graphisoft was involved in many other BIM software programs, similar to its competitors, that Archicad would be the BIM flagship product it has been for architects worldwide. Since switching to Archicad, we at SYLLA International are discovering everyday superior BIM capabilities that are only possible from a software company focus solely in architecture.
Take the way Archicad organizes your project and frees you from the tedious chores of generating drawing sheets, numbering them, cross-referencing the building and wall sections. When sheets are moved around, they are renumbered in the proper sequence. For SYLLA International, It used to be a laborious process, fraught with errors. Now Archicad does all of that in the background, and the only thing we have to do is check. It is a big time saver, and that is what we should expect from a mature BIM program, whose maker focuses exclusively on architecture.
Take object intelligence, nothing is as important to an architect using BIM as the intelligence at the heart of BIM objects. Almost all BIM programs today have parametric objects to change their size to fit a design. What is different in Archicad is that it takes it further by imparting even more extensive intelligence and design parameter to objects. A good example is a single door that is parametric: Instead of providing you with an endless number of door objects clogging your library, Archicad gives the architect one parametric door with the option to change it to a flush or glass door or change its finishes. The range of functionality associated with that one door makes it possible to limit the number of doors in an Archicad libraries, whereas in other BIM programs each door type is a cell, making the libraries daunting to navigate. The Archicad object search option and picture preview make it easy to navigate through various objects until you find what you are looking for. Since switching to Archicad, we no longer have to dread libraries like we used to, which is another dimension of what BIM can do to make our work easier.
The curtainwall is another tool that impressed us a great deal. It provides a range of flexibility to design any number of curtainwall configurations. The tool, parametric in function, gives you the flexibility to modify the design, delete and add mullions with panels healing or breaking, insert doors and windows, and change panel materials. It allows you to design just about any curtainwall configuration you can image and modify it with surprising ease that leaves you speechless. If fact, after using the curtainwall tool and getting the hang of it, you can’t help but marvel at the cleverness of its designers. It is quite a tool and a metric to sort out BIM from BIMINO (BIM In Name Only) programs that constrain your curtainwall design to panels of uniform size and spacing only, unless of course you model them yourself, which defeats the purpose of BIM.
These are just a few of the many BIM functionalities Archicad offers that leave its competitors in the dust, gasping for air. Archicad users, bless their heart, take them for granted, but to users of other BIM programs, these functionalities would be a breakthrough that their software companies are not even thinking about, lest they have to re-engineer the very concept of their entire program. The slightest curiosity exposure to the breakthroughs would dazzle the minds of those users and take their breath away, if not, at least give them the fresh air they are gasping for. We are speaking from empirical experience and knowledge and are now breathing much better.
So to what does Archicad owe its superior BIM capabilities, compared to BIMINO programs? To Graphisoft’s single-minded focus and commitment to architecture. While other BIM companies are locked in a merciless horse race to win trophies based on who has acquired the largest numbers of software companies and who has the most diverse BIM/BIMINO portfolio, Graphisoft spends its time and resource honing its BIM tools that have become its undeniable hallmark and have made it a true BIM leader whose footsteps others follow while seeming to look the other way. It is that BIM leadership that attracted SYLLA International to Graphisoft. When it was time to make the switch, we were not looking for a BIM program but a BIM leader who has an authentic history and understanding of BIM and an exclusive commitment to its development and growth. Graphisoft alone fits that billing hands down.
Recent converts to Archicad, whose endurance was tested and shaped by the experience of the programs they left behind, carry with them an understandable apprehension and nervousness about any new BIM program. But soon after their direct exposure to Archicad, they wonder how come a program this powerful can be this easy and fun to use? It almost give you a renewed passion to practice architecture, armed with a much better set of tools of doing so. At SYLLA International, we love our profession of architecture and feel the need to share our story with fellow architects in the US and around the world and to let Graphisoft also know that they are on the right BIM track. A good tool needs promoting to others; the company that makes it needs support and encouragement to stay the course.
We will continue to argue that software bundling and assembly is not good for BIM and its future. It creates a cunning illusion that more is better and that a one-stop shop offering a BIM solution for every infrastructure project known to man or woman is better than individual companies focusing on one or two BIM solutions and putting their best minds into their development. The question is: If you cannot get the architectural tool of BIM right for your users, what makes you believe that bundling a dozen or more programs would do the trick. The answer is no, it won’t, because the programs do not shore up each other’s shortcomings, they compound them. Software bundling then becomes a business strategy designed to mask the shortcomings of the programs and buys its makers the time they need to convince users to accept their definition of what BIM is while working through their own programming chores behind the scene to solve them in an endless release of builds that become a normal way of doing business. Is this what they mean by BIM?
If sometime we get the impression that BIM is not delivering on its promise, stuck in neutral, or in a slow-motion act whose plot loses you, there lies the problem. There is nothing wrong with bundling BIM programs to meet the needs of large AEC giants, but that business model should not be held high as the principal BIM driver for the rest of us. We can speed the development pace of BIM as a whole if each software company chooses the BIM program it has a passion for and knows best, put their resources and best minds to it, and embrace the spirit of interoperability to do the rest. It is a rational business and design argument we are making to free BIM from the inertia of self-serving business models that constrain its possibilities so that we can unleash its hidden power for the benefit of the entire AEC industry.
In our next blog, we will discuss the kinds of breakthroughs BIM needs to go to the next level.