BIMBeing: The Journey #30
#30 – Vendor collaboration, not competition…
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.
Software, software, software. Why is it, in the year 2020, that there is still not a single software package or even a software vendor able to meet all of the digital requirements of a construction project? We’ve been designing and building for hundreds of years, we’ve been using computers to assist us since the late 50’s and we’ve been adopting BIM-type practices since as early as the 80’s. That’s around 40 years ago now, and although the term BIM was not publically recognised until the early 2000’s, that’s still an awful lot of time that has passed.
It’s quite astonishing that, in spite of vast improvements in construction technology, there’s still not a ‘complete’ package offered by any individual vendor. A modern project has a vast array of digital requirements: software for the design of different disciplines; software for coordination, collaboration and issue management; software for planning and sequencing; software for construction monitoring and management; software used in capturing the construction process (such as point cloud scanning); software for compiling digital handover information; and finally, software for facilities management. Each stage of a project has very different requirements, but BIM is supposed to be bringing them all together, focussing these processes around the information models. But currently, it’s just not happening, it’s still so bloody difficult.
It’s not only looking at software to fulfil different functions either, it’s also incredibly difficult to chose between the array of options available for each and every task. Countless times we’ve been looking for a platform to perform a specific function and we end up stuck between lacklustre options, none of which are capable of delivering 100% of our needs. We always seem to be choosing the ‘best available’ fit, never the perfect fit. We have to trade off the different flaws in each available tool to see which will impact us least – surely there is a better way.
There is no ‘golden solution’ as it stands. To my knowledge, there is not a single vendor that can fully provide all of those above requirements, or even half of them. As a result, we have to shop around every time we implement another process or enter another project stage. We end up managing our processes across several different packages, simultaneously – it’s a real headache. As a minimum you’ll experience the following:
One package doesn’t talk to the next and therefore our ‘single source of truth’ BIM model is in fact several sources of truth. For example, using a design issues management tool is great, take Revizto for example, but if the site team are using something completely different we’ve got no link between design and construction issues. Inevitably, issues get missed, mistakes are made and we start to double-work each problem by reporting and solving it twice, in silos. This is not BIM, this is not a ‘single source of truth’.
Each different package that you use requires some level of management. Whether that’s the initial setup of loading models and drawings, continually updating information or managing issues and comments, there is always something to do to keep the things moving. Worse still, each piece of software has different requirements, so every single one requires it’s own process. All of this takes time; the more packages that you use, the more management you must endure. If you’re not careful it can become an almost full-time job just to keep the different platforms up to date; it’s very inefficient.
Every platform is different, and many do not work well with one another. For authoring platforms, many will tell you that IFC is the answer to this – I’m saying otherwise. The issue with anything ‘interoperable’ is that it’s never a perfect fit for anything, it’s a ‘this is the best we can do’ situation. IFC is certainly no different, with each piece of software producing IFC in an entirely different way, with varying results. It’s also true outside of the authoring tools as well. Many management tools boast BCF capability for example; this is just IFC all over again. It’s manual, unintelligent exporting and importing of data from one platform to another. More management, more time, more miscommunication and yet another opportunity to confuse everything.
A key issue is for the users; flicking between different software packages is very inefficient, especially when each one works differently. The less technical users will suffer the most, particularly those that do not use the platforms every day. It becomes very frustrating when you open up a piece of software and have to fumble from function to function to try and get the result you need; it’s even more frustrating to then switch to a separate piece of software and start the fumbling process all over again. Once more, we’re very inefficient. From my experience, the more frustration a user experiences the less and less likely they are to use the tool. I’ve seen many give up entirely – now you’re paying for a tool or service that isn’t even being used. Worse still, half of the team may be using it whilst the other half do their own thing; we’re in silos again.
Time and Cost
From implementation and management to the users learning how to use a tool, the time investment is significant. Couple this with the cost of purchasing/licencing multiple pieces of software and suddenly our ‘tools for efficiency’ are having the opposite effect. The time it takes just to test a new piece of software, learn how to use it, produce a workflow, put together a business case, get the cost agreed, set the project up and then induct the team is simply huge. Doing it time and time again is just not acceptable.
I could probably go on, but I already feel as though I’m preaching to the choir; I’m certain that many of you feel this frustration.
It’s around this point where Autodesk will stroll in and tell you that they can in fact do absolutely everything, that their platforms are perfect and you need not look any further. They’re not fooling me, nor anybody else; anyone that’s not employed by Autodesk will tell you that this is simply not true. Whilst Autodesk do offer many solutions, they still can’t do everything. More to the point, some of what they are doing is far from perfect as well. They may be the market leader for many things, but it’s still not the all-encompassing solution this industry needs in order to effectively manage its projects.
Where is the solution to this software conundrum then? The issue, for me, lies in competition. There are so many companies out there, so many software vendors and solution providers that are doing things incredibly well. But they’ve all got flaws somewhere, and they’re mostly very niche, so none of them can do everything that we need. The things that one company can’t do very well, another company is doing. The parts that the other company can’t do is being done by somebody else – and so it goes on. Independently, there are digital solutions for almost everything. Collaboratively (that being the ultimate aim of BIM), it’s just not happening.
Competition certainly has it’s place, it drives people to innovate in order to get that winning edge. Competition fuels some of the best advances in technology, there is no doubt about that, but at this point in time the industry doesn’t just need competition – it needs collaboration. We need this to be a team sport, not a solo sprint. If more companies would embrace their competitors, rather than going head-to-head with them, we could see real progress. Not just competitors, but companies that perform different roles as well. If more companies would work together, we would reduce the number of options, but we would improve the quality and functionality of those options 10 fold. It’s very idealistic, but I see it as the only real way to make the industry truly efficient. Most of the solutions that we need already exist, we just have to gel them together.
Of course there is always the possibility that Autodesk will continue with their world domination, buying up every piece of software in the industry until they control every person, every project, every thing. I’m not sure that this is the answer either, but who knows?
If you’re a software vendor, or ‘solutions provider’ as many prefer to be called, take a step back for a few minutes. Think about what your tool is very good at, and then think about what it can’t do. Link the “can’t do’s” to other companies and solutions that already exist, rather than trying to reinvent something. Imagine what you could achieve if you brought together enough software vendors to eradicate all of those “can’t do’s” you have listed. It’s an interesting prospect, right?
Collaboration, not competition. That’s what the industry now needs.