BIM Journal Interview - Frank Weiss - Aconex



How has the platform evolved of late? How is it different to a year ago? What has changed?

There have been several under the hood changes in this time, especially in relation to viewing capability. The platform is especially fast and reliable nowadays. Users can find all of the information they need on their pc or tablet very quickly, with no lag, and remain completely in synch with one another.

Also the linking capabilities between objects of a model and their related documents has been improved as well. You can assign these in the online tool which really helps when a construction worker needs this additional information quickly.

Above all else, in general we are completely watertight when it comes to the bigger picture of bringing models and associated project documentation together. Which really helps when it comes to allowing new users and clients to really share information quickly and reliably with a full audit trail.

This platform uses open standards throughout, or are native developments of your own involved?

We have been convinced for many years that the openBIM approach is the right one to take and people should work with the best tool that they have available. We doubt one vendor has the best capability to offer everything for everyone (even though there may be some that want to create that opinion) but we believe it is just not true.

Also, 90% of SMEs are really 5 to 10 people who cannot afford to work with different tools. When we speak about openBIM we primarily mean formats like IFC and BCF and we have updated our platform over the years to always reflect this, so people can stick with their authoring tools and run clash detection and publish these report into Aconex, and in Aconex we maintain the clashes such that we can assign people to fix them and track it all too. The platform is compatible with all external tools as well, it doesn’t matter.

Yet openBIM certification is not possible for CDE’s correct?

Yes, it only applies to BIM authoring software, as far as we know there is no institute globally that offers certification for a CDE.

The lion’s share of industry has already adopted an openBIM mindset going forward. What does it mean for smaller software vendors and the larger household names?

Well I think the challenge does not lay with the smaller companies, I foresee it having more of an influence with the larger ones. Because the larger ones wanted to create their own environment for themselves to maintain a closed BIM paradigm, which is of course in their own interest and exclusively so.

This is understandable from their position in the market, but we like to give the analogy of the United Nations here. Consider China, Russia America, France, Spain and Germany for example, and the Chinese begin to try to force all of the others nations to speak Chinese. The language itself is fine, but it’s simply not going to happen.

For small companies it is important for their own survival that we have open standards.

What is in store going forward? What developments are in the pipeline? What can the market look forward to?

Actually, what we observe when looking at the wider market is that there are a couple of different trends worldwide. Sure BIM is definitely in fashion and wherever you go everybody is talking about it - but not everybody understands it or is behind it. To some, the BIM model is just a geometric model, which is not a new opinion either. Here in Germany alone several general contractors have been using this technology for many years, but the architects didn’t pick it up so it was never called the BIM process until they did.

This really gives a hint to the maturity of markets. Which for us boils down to the emerging areas and demands in the market that we would really like to pursue. For instance, if we look at the UK now, the pioneering firms are creating the asset data so it is all in accordance with the EIR and the BEP, and that an asset owner should describe what they want, and with all of the details. For us this granularity is crucial in a CDE, a true Common Data Environment. Because this is not just about documents and metadata and models it is of course about really having the data available to help a client to work through the targeted asset structure, which then forms the complete asset information model (AIM).

We have the experience here from spending time investigating the overall Infrastructure Lifecycle Management (ILM ) or Plan Build Operate (PBO) lifecycle because if you want to set up a CAFM solution this is exactly the asset data that is needed.

So we will continue to invest in the data in the platform because after all it is all about quality - what is the value of a model if you don’t know if it is really honouring the overall requirements? These concerns are what we will be focussing on and implementing later on. Also if the client has defined their asset structure, how they can observe the progress on the platform as it happens and (as is already in the platform) take care of the whole handover process.

Controlling the handover process, so that the client can really control and monitor that everything has happened in terms of quantities and content, is of course what really makes sense here as a whole.

Where does Aconex sit in terms of culture and outlook with regard to the BIM movement and the wider industry?

Well we all have to understand that BIM is a journey not for one company but for the whole industry. One that has to be undertaken by the players that are active right now, otherwise certain companies from Silicon Valley will show up and do it, so to push It forward we need vendors like Aconex with a presence worldwide to continue to promote the message of openBIM.

We do this through all of our staff and our sales consultants too, plus we regularly link up  with leading BIM Consultants worldwide as part of our strategy to leverage the brightest brains and thought leaders in the business to not just discuss and improve but also to challenge our own insight. Plus we like to champion the cause, meaningfully, on an international scale too and we are long time buildingSMART members in many territories which helps us to tie ourselves further to global standardisation and to work together.

There are many traditional and emerging job roles in the market. What comments do you have regarding these emerging and, sometimes, ill defined roles?

Well if you look at the overall BIM landscape I would say that there are 5 major components to make BIM a success;

  • Technology: Authoring, CDE, semantics.

  • Standards, such as PAS1192 or company specific

  • Processes

  • People, Education, Training

  • “BIM Manager”

But the latter is really a placeholder for a couple of different roles and from our understanding it really is quite different in the markets, globally, how we all define it.

For instance in France, what is funny to observe that a person such as a document controller or planning coordinator overnight has become the BIM Manager. Which isn’t meant in a negative manner, it is just an observation. But in parallel with this, organisations with knowledgeable BIM Consultants who helped in the standardisation process have morphed into what we see as a kind of BIM Consultant, who is more or less an external party advising a client of the whole BIM journey, items such as:

  • What do you need in terms of budget?

  • What is your IT blueprint?

  • What knowledge do you need to have?

  • What education and training do you need?

  • What is the journey for your specific organisation in terms of a pilot project or two or three projects?

  • What is the investment case?

  • What are the BIM use cases you should pursue? and how to involve other parties etc.

Before they do a full rollout. This role can also be done by a so called BIM Manager, but now we get to the point where the BIM Manager role kind of breaks apart into different pieces. Such as a BIM Coordinator or a BIM Engineer etc. It really depends on the size of the project.

Often, on a big project you have more of these roles, like an overall BIM Manager, which from our understanding should be like an advisor to the client and oversee the overall setup, and then of course you have several overall BIM Coordinators who are representative of every party in the project - the contractor, the planner and the other experts.

So in short this means that the higher the role the more it becomes an advisory position and it gets more and more detailed the further away from this you go, the details in the specification and how to model for example. Plus questions such as:

  • Should we do a closed BIM approach or an openBIM approach

  • What will be the impact of either?

  • What should we pursue?

  • What is the end result that we would like to have?

This last point really depends on the client and if they are looking for a cradle to grave solution, such as a governmental institution or a company with a portfolio to manage, or is it a one off project? These objectives are completely different.

To summarise I think there is no overall answer in terms of what we observe right now.  I suppose it is pretty much down to different standards institutions to really shape out and describe what are the job descriptions and to offer training to qualify as a BIM Manager or a BIM Coordinator or a BIIM Engineer? Of course there are training providers who are strong in this area that are already doing so.

What is your USP over your rivals in the market at the moment?

Well there’s an easy answer for that - size matters.

Aconex is the biggest collaboration platform in real estate and construction by far. We are present on all continents and we have over a dozen data centers worldwide. Plus we are aiming for FedRAMP and IRAP certification, meaning that we will get the approval to serve the most sensitive/ critical projects in the world such as nuclear power plants and military installations. Something we owe to our clients like Bechtel, Fluor, AECOM, Burns & McDonnell and others who are currently pursuing worldwide rollouts in their organisations. Initiatives like this bring us a clear USP.

So I always try to avoid any so called ‘feature fishing” which often becomes tedious like  comparing car specifications, we are striving for a new level. We are aiming for the Tesla of the CDEs. Which is not easy to do to be fair but thanks to the cooperation and rapport we have with our customers, not just Tier 1 but at all levels of business, we are firmly getting there.

Give us your personal opinion of the BIM markets globally?

Well what is difficult to answer here is that when we speak about BIM we assume that we all share the same context, but for some it is just sharing models and very little more.

So we have observed a couple of clients who purport to be utilising BIM on a couple of projects but as a matter of fact they are really just using model data instead of drawings, which means the size is five to ten times bigger. Plus they hardly use the document register when managing these model files. Although it is a definite step up in the BIM maturity matrix, so to speak, but it’s not the way that we understand BIM management. For some it is just about model coordination at the moment, yet for others it’s about data management too.

If pushed I would have to say that Finland and Norway are probably the most ahead of all the markets, but they aren’t really broadcasting their achievements at all. Even though their market is small they are very knowledgeable and it is hard to find a non BIM project over there.

Another very mature market is the Netherlands. They have something like a 7% demand from the public side with 93% coming purely from the BIM business case. It is also a very mature market insofar as they would all like to begin to really link their data with one another. Which is a great pleasure to see and to understand how they want to tie the whole initiative up, collectively, in the concept of Smart Cities, Smart Living and Smart Homes.

After all we don’t do BIM for BIM’s sake, really we are serving the methodology of the next phase, a higher purpose, which of course is tied into sustainability and better urban planning.

If we compare this to the USA and California especially, they are knee deep into the design process a the moment and it is probably quite hard to find parties who cannot deliver even partial models. However, it is pretty much isolated to the design phase - we haven’t seen it being fully implemented by the contractors in the construction phase wholesale. Plus a few attempts to get it running for asset owners is also in a very early stage.

In EMEA it is different again, with Qatar and Dubai pushing it a lot.

In Australia New Zealand I suppose I would have to say that BIM hasn’t fully landed there yet, but there are some early adopters and it is about to really take off. This will probably get an even bigger push when an official standard comes along of course.

Many thanks. Any closing comments that you would like to add?

We believe that BIM is a game changer in the market but something that we believe is not very widely understood, and by that I mean deeply understood. So much so that when we are at conferences we meet largely the same people who are often early adopters, but the majority of the industry out there are still in their current business operations really.

Of course they observe what is occurring, but our appeal to the industry would be that we should stand up and work closely together for our future, all of us. In fact there is a good analogy here, when we compare construction to Silicon Valley. If there is no innovation for 3 to 6 months in SIlicon Valley people fear for their jobs. If there is no innovation in construction, 25 years later people fear for their jobs. I think this really captures the culture and also the challenges that we have to overcome.

Every change creates fear and we want to reassure the market. We are open to all and we believe that this will help us to create a better world, to have more time for every one of us in work and in private. But we have to do it smart, and we have to do it together.

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