Democratization of Technology

March 28, 2017

Within the world of BIM, it is easy to forget that there are still outsiders. Some of us are so familiar with LODs, BXPs, and terms like clash detection that it’s easy to lose touch with our audience before even getting started on the topic. It’s an easy thing to happen as we speak an entirely different, ‘techy’, language. From students joining the industry, to consultants that are still migrating, there are many players who still get tripped up in vernacular and are therefore unclear as to the true possibilities. The most important demographic, the clients, are still perplexed by all the techno talk that gets thrown at them in proposals. The Design Technology team at DIALOG views this as a tremendous opportunity. Their team has started to refocus their training, standards, processes, and communications to help break down the barrier between project teams and technology. In some cases, using technology itself in more human ways. Technology is now helping to form a bridge between people and the designs.

DIALOG, a multidisciplinary design firm, has long been one of the leaders in BIM within Canada. The international practice started using Revit in 2008. They adopted BIM because they knew that the process is not about software and new gadgets, but more importantly, about improving what they do and how they do it. They have used the process in completing projects as large as the Calgary Airport Expansion, and as small as your neighborhood bank branch. DIALOG sees Technology as an opportunity to enhance effectiveness on their projects. They are using technologies like Revit Servers and Citrix to allow their teams to work seamlessly across all five studios, including their latest addition in San Francisco.

Moving into the ‘future’, DIALOG is refocusing from the basics of design and documentation of projects, to asking how they can leverage the models and information embedded within them. As early adopters of cloud hosted Revit models, digital model review and integration of virtual reality, they have seen how technology can allow their clients to understand the design. It helps inform clients, and that’s really important as it means design decisions are better.

"When we walk into a pitch with a client, hand them a set of an Oculus Rift VR head set and tell them we can walk them through the concept… they know we are serious about our technology. BIM is not just another CAD platform. It's a process that enables us to do more." Krigh Bachmann, the Manager of Design Technology at DIALOG explained. "To us, BIM is more than just technology. It is about connecting people with the information they need to do their job. Yes, the process relies heavily on technology and can lead to some pretty cool innovations, but in the end, it's about leveraging it to produce better design solutions and ultimately have more coordinated projects with efficient communication… and this saves time and therefore money.”

"We have also started exploring Augmented Reality. The developer kits we have, show the potential for this emerging field, but it's just a matter of time before we will be able to walk a client through the design in an empty room or have x-ray vision to coordinate systems behind walls on site." Krigh explained.

Krigh, who joined DIALOG last year, learned about the need for clearer understanding from his experience working in the UK with BIM Level 2. An active member of the BIM community, including sitting on the BIM for Local Governments group, he learned first-hand why it became a British national mandate for large projects in 2016.

"What I took away from my experience with BIM Level 2, is how important it is to have the framework to build a common language. Just because two groups say they can use Revit or deliver a BIM project, does not always mean it’s an apples to apples solution." Krigh explained from DIALOG’s Toronto studio. "We know there is a need for a central group to promote BIM, develop standards, and educate our industry. This is one of the reasons why DIALOG is an active member of groups like CanBIM and BuildingSmart Canada."

Krigh went on to explain that some of their clients are already getting their feet wet and ready to dive in fast. "My work in the UK taught me to talk to our clients about their goals and desires with projects and less about the technology that would deliver them. We have started working with real estate groups, post-secondary institutions, and even municipal transit groups to help them and their teams understand BIM and how they should be asking for it as part of their RFPs."

“Next opportunity for us is to work with owners and leverage BIM for facility management (FM). DIALOG understands the importance for timely exchange of coordinated project information from the owners’ perspectives. We are also aware that leveraging BIM in an owner organization for FM is a complex challenge. It involves multiple FM functions, different FM technology and databases, and information requirements of FM personnel. Currently the handover of project information to the owner at the end of the construction is problematic in terms of ensuring it captures the information reflecting as built conditions. Poor project information fidelity and lack of proper handover of the information in reusable format contributes to poor building operations and maintenance performance. More clients are approaching DIALOG for guidance on BIM for FM.”

DIALOG understands that there are still missing pieces and that not all of their clients are ready to fully integrate BIM, “We start by talking to them about first steps and about how they can achieve best practices by using BIM on their projects. Learn to walk before you run."

DIALOG sees this as an example of how they are moving on from the low hanging fruit. BIM had its roots in design geometry and spatial coordination. They see the need to move towards more data driven design on their projects too and enlisted the expertise of Mark Cichy, who is now their Director of Computational Design. He has been rapidly developing their Internal Knowledge Network for staff using software like Dynamo, Grasshopper, as well as coding platforms like Python and C#. Most people associate these tools with the whimsical designs of the likes of Zaha Hadid. DIALOG is certainly pursuing similar efforts, but is also intently focused on computation’s pragmatic use in optimization and efficiency. DIALOG also utilizes computation to engage their Clients in the process of design, with a high degree of interaction between Owners and Stakeholders – the technology assists in the exploration of conceptual strategies and the analysis of data metrics to generate quantitative and qualitative AEC solutions.

“We are only at the beginning. It’s not long before everyone, be it clients and other firms, run with this, and find new ways of using the technology to bridge people with designs.” Krigh added. “A lot of people think of BIM and think of 3D Models. We look at it and see data and data is the new oil. But where others are just looking to extract it, we are focused on ways to refine it first and ensure it is usable in its purest form. Something that we, our team members and our clients can use to drive their organizations forward.”