Your first task when switching to BIM
There is no If. There is only When.
While reflecting on ten years of using ARCHICAD, I wrote about my friend Jon. Maybe you clicked on the hyperlink on his name. If you did, you probably read a few of his articles. He’s written some great posts. Two of my favorites pertain to the unyielding march of time; you should read them:
Both those articles address the need to embrace BIM, no matter where you are in your career. They also talk directly or indirectly about the never ending cycle of progress. People fought the transition to CAD and now many people think they can avoid the switch to BIM. Or the switch from merely using a BIM program to thinking and designing with BIM. Or going from thinking and designing with BIM to revolutionizing what one produces…
Wait, what? Avoid switching to BIM!?
For many of us who use ARCHICAD, the concept that people still haven’t switched to BIM is almost unfathomable. ARCHICAD is over thirty years old. Many of us are celebrating ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, or maybe even thirty years of using ARCHICAD. There are people who have been using it for their entire careers. There are people who NEVER used CAD. We have at least one user here in Seattle who told me at our last user group that he jumped straight from hand drafting to ARCHICAD. He got to skip CAD. And he skipped CAD before most of the people around him were even seeing CAD as a serious replacement to drawing all day.
For every user who is a grizzled old veteran, there are many more that are worrying about their first upgrade cycle or excited that they no longer feel like a new user. Plenty of firms will take the plunge and switch to BIM in 2016, leaving the world of flatCAD for good. In the first two months of this year I’ve corresponded with maybe a half dozen firms that fit that description—and that’s with me more or less hiding from the Internet for most of January and February.
Switching to BIM in the Era of Big Data
In 2016, the pressure to get more out of BIM will be greater than ever. In years past we switched to BIM because we wanted new software and thought 3D models looked cool. Or we got a new job and that’s what the firm did. The reasons for using BIM in 2016 are more fantastical. It’s not enough to just do 3D models, to just have drawings produced automatically. The stakes are higher. The goals are loftier. Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, 3D printing, robots, AI: these are all real things. Those were jokes when I started using ARCHICAD in 2006. Now progressive and avant-garde firms are investigating how to incorporate all of those technologies and more. BIM was hardly a term back then. I’m confident I was using ARCHICAD for at least a year, if not two before I even heard that term.
Client demands are greater than ever. BIM standards are more prevalent and demanding. The IFC initiative began in 1994, and IFC2x3 was released in 2006, but it wasn’t until ARCHICAD 15 in 2011 that it really began to matter to hardcore users. And really only since maybe ARCHICAD 17 that the value has been increasing exponentially (though I might argue that it’s as recently as ARCHICAD 18 that the tipping point happened). For those of us who learned ARCHICAD before 2012, we had years before the current obsession with data took over. For those learning ARCHICAD now, you are forced to listen to experts talk about data rather than the best way to do an automatic elevation. And that makes the switch to BIM all that more difficult. The conversation has moved on. The focus of what matters has left the realm of accessibility for most new users. Accomplishments of a new user that once elicited excitement from old-timers might now be met with “that’s nice, but what really matters is the Information”.
As more firms choose to adopt BIM for the right reasons in 2016, I fear that too many will fail to make the transition. And too few will make the leap without heartache, lost profits, and existential trauma. This is because the norm is to buy the software, hear the promises, and leap into the void expecting grand success and amazing output from day one. Companies will focus on what experienced BIM firms are doing and struggle. This is a trap.
When switching to BIM, whether in 1986, 2006, or 2026, we must always do the same first step. I don’t mean step one for some people, I mean step one for EVERYONE learning BIM. ALWAYS. Regardless of the program, though of course we are focusing on ARCHICAD. This is always step one: first match, then exceed.
This is Always STEP ONE
When switching to ARCHICAD, your first goal is to match the speed and quality of your previous solution. Do what you did before, then do it better. Then add more. This is the path to BIM success. Match the speed and quality. If you are coming from CAD and could produce a beautiful set of drawings in 100 hours, then step one is to create an equivalent set of equal beauty in those same 100 hours in ARCHICAD. It’s that simple. When you switch to ARCHICAD make sure you can equal what you did before. Same scope, same cost, same quality, same time. Fix all the points and work hard until before-BIM and after-BIM are just as profitable.
First Match, then Exceed. If you pride yourself on the beauty of your drawings, make beautiful drawings from ARCHICAD a priority. Accept that the beauty might be different. Match the quality of the aesthetics, but don’t try to replicate. Find an equivalent. Feel free to do things that BIM pros might cringe at. I feel strongly that you should never waste time outlining elevations with thick 2D lines to help them ‘pop’. I used to do that, but haven’t for years. And I think it’s foolish. However I’ve been using ARCHICAD for a decade and for a long time I did that. In fact, if I go far enough back in time, I did many types of drawing fully in 2D. When I learned ARCHICAD, we hardly used the 3D model, let alone thought about photorealistic renderings. That’s how I got my speed. That’s how I learned BIM. And that’s what you need to do too. Cheats, work arounds, etc. they are all in service of getting to where you were. If you didn’t offer renderings pre-BIM, don’t promise renderings on your first project or two. Or tell yourself those are bonuses, once you do your job. Or that they are additional services your clients can pay for. Eventually they might be included in your standard offerings (more on that another day), but when you are first learning ARCHICAD, renderings aren’t free. Don’t promise them to your clients, coworkers, or bosses. They are not part of phase one of conquering BIM.
Do not get distracted by other demands but also remember that this is step one, not the final goal. Understand that your initial solutions are not your final solutions. If you need to do anti-BIM techniques to match your old methods, do it. But don’t get comfortable with those answers. Don’t train yourself into a corner. Use shortcuts, but understand that they will have to go. If you do un-BIM things, remember that once you match the speed and quality of your previous methods, your next step will be to strip away the bad habits you used to get there. This is something long term users did in less demanding times. Balance these shortcuts to profitability with the added time it’ll take to remove them before you can move on to what comes next.
If you are learning ARCHICAD in 2016 (or whatever year in the future you are reading this), you must take the same steps we all took—the steps we took in coddled ignorance of the grander possibilities. Those of us who have been using ARCHICAD for a long time had the benefit to grow with the program. You do not (not yet at least). But, you have the benefit of learning an easier and much better program (proof: upgrade calculator). Times change. Programs evolve. People learn. What took many of us years to master, what we spent countless projects developing and perfecting, you get to do almost right away. ALMOST right away. While we had to discover, you just have to conquer. The path is still the same. You learn A before B before C before Z. You can’t skip steps. Not yet. You have to follow the path. Before you can export IFC for clash detection, do a photo-realistic rendering, movie, or sun study, have perfectly coordinated and automatic schedules, or send a model for fabrication, you first need to make an elevation with little to no 2D cheating. A nice elevation might not be why you switched to ARCHICAD in 2016, but it’s what you must do first.
When switching to ARCHICAD, your first goal is to match the speed and quality of your previous solution.
Advice for new users is a perennial topic for me. I love it because I want to help people make a successful transition to BIM. And I know how much fun ARCHICAD can be, once you stop fighting with it. I’ve written many posts and lists about the overall process. Here are two of my favorites:
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