Thursday, June 27, 2013

Back to Autodesk University 2013 - 3 Classes this year!

The powers to be at Autodesk University have decided to give me another shot...I've got three classes this year:

Class ID: MP1304 Class Title: Revit in the Process Project World
Class Type: Lecture

This lecture is about how we are centering our process project designs around Revit, and how we are using it along with other tools to develop a more complete project and deliverable.

Class ID: MP1507
Class Title: It's a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD, Revit MEP World
Class Type: Lecture

Since Dr. Shots was outlawed last year, we decided to go with a different theme for my annual tips and tricks class - so expect the unexpected...

Class ID: MP1523-L
Class Title: Fast Track for AutoCAD MEP Power Users
Class Type: Hands-on Lab

The good news is that I actually get to attend some classes and do a little more networking. I'll also have more time to meet with people, so I'm looking forward to a little more networking. If anyone's interested in meeting and comparing notes, give me a buzz - or just send me a message through the AU contacts site.

We'll see you in Vega$!

later - David B.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AVB Part 2 – On a Clear Day….You can See the Data….

To start this analysis of Autodesk versus Bentley off, it’s best to start with a little perspective. First up, I’m a layman. I’m not the smartest guy in the room, nor do I want to be. But my job requires me to be two things. First and foremost, I’m an analyst. It’s my job to objectively understand the what, how and why for our design approach. Understanding what it takes to get a project out the door, meeting the code and client’s needs, are first and foremost. Putting the art into the project, while important, is a bonus, but critical towards gaining wider acceptance for future work.

Once you gain knowledge of how things work, as the analyst, I have to take that information and figure out how to make it work better. It’s at that point the specialist begins and the subjectivity kicks in. We develop the solution and implement it, train it and support it. Most cases, we’ll get it right, sometimes we get it wrong…but then the analyst kicks back in and we start over.

And all of this is based on understanding the information that we receive. In today’s society, information is everywhere – in our personal finances, in our job, in our culture…even in our refrigerator. And it’s out there, unfiltered, for everyone to see. Just ask Google, Facebook, the IRS and the NSA how important data is…they live and exist off of it.

How that data is shared is what drives nearly everything we do. And we’re constantly in overload, being bombarded daily with information, whether it’s personal, professional or trivial. It’s being able to pick out the relevant data is what keeps us from going nuts.

So, to make BIM work, you have to create filters, and understand information sources. All too often, we don’t get it the way we need it, so for my own sanity, I had to break it down into categories. Here’s my stab at the 100k foot perspective on information or data.

Personal – the priority in everyone’s lives is the personal information that relates to everything you believe and do. We see the world in a lens of information that directly pertains to us as individuals.  Personal information is raw data, and it’s what affects most of our decisions.

Here’s an example. My wife is a mortgage loan officer, and in order to make a decision about getting a loan approved, she needs to know personal information – where you live, what you make, what your bills and expenses are. One of the things she’s good at is helping people interpret their personal data, and make decisions about what they can and can’t afford. I know she’s a rarity in the world, but she does care about the people she works with, and tries to help them not get into a bad financial situation. But it’s all based on the raw data they provide. If it’s incorrect, or falsely provided, it can affect their lives in profound ways. But if you don’t know the raw data about yourself and what you do, then it’s hard to make decisions correctly.

Apply this to BIM. The personal data is the specific information assigned to an environment that we are designing around. This could be specific information about a piece of equipment, or the area requirements of a room. If the data is incorrect or falsely presented, it can cause all kinds of problem. Have you ever gotten a set of plans or specs that don’t match how something exists in the real world? That’s what I’m referring to. Getting this personal data correct, and making sure it’s properly filtered and shared, determines the success or failure of a design project.

Mutually Shared – at this point, you are entering into a relationship where more than one person is involved. Two or more people have a mutual understanding about the provided information, and they both agree on it. This requires common knowledge of personal information, and agreement on how it’s presented.

In the BIM world, this is the relationship between multiple design sources. And it’s the most broken part of the system, since the majority of our design tools aren’t made to communicate with each other. Sure, there have been some attempts – IFC, for example – but it isn’t seamless. Part of this comes from the inherent human nature and desire to protect their personal information and intellectual property.

The other part comes from the way it’s presented. In most design applications, all the data is shared. Take a look at the Revit DB link tool – it dumps everything right down to the lines used to cheat, and make something look different (or more like the way we did it in CAD, to get the documentation to look pretty). Every CAD file, model, detail is nothing more than a graphical database. It’s easy to share this, but sometime we’ll get stuff we really don’t need, or isn’t relevant. This causes overload – and can also allow for items to be missed, or misinterpreted.

Mutually Beneficial – there’s a big difference between shared information and beneficial information. Just because data is shared, doesn’t mean that it provides a benefit. If the data is in conflict, then it can affect the design. An example would be a specification that states one manufacturer for a part, and a schedule in a drawing that says something else.

At some point, you have to decide what information is mutually beneficial. In our world, we are deciding what data needs to be shared between databases, design programs, specifications and client applications. It’s one thing to share everything, which is what happens now. It’s more important to filter this list to what’s mutually beneficial, and needs to be coordinated.

So let’s back up and look at these parts. In order for us, the end user, to gain productivity, reduce costs and increase accuracy, we have to start with the personal information. We have to assimilate it and share it with multiple sources. And we have to make it mutually beneficial, so we’re not overloading each other with irrelevant facts, that don’t affect the outcome – the design.

So how does this pertain to Autodesk versus Bentley? Simple…step back and look at both companies. Look at their product offerings, and how they approach the design world. While there is commonality, mainly along the output side, everything else is pretty different. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the common threads are too thin. Even internally, you look at different products within the Autodesk world, and see the silo effect – for example, class definitions and properties in the Plant 3D/P&ID products, versus categories and parameters in Revit, and object styles/property set definitions in AutoCAD Architecture/MEP. Bentley’s not immune to this either, but both products have infrastructure in place that makes determining and sharing the mutually beneficial information tough to do.

What BIM is doing is affecting the tools we use, and how we gather this information. BIM is not software, it’s a process – we’ve said this a million times. And it’s the “I” in BIM that needs the most work, mainly due to both company’s different perspectives on how we need to handle the information.

Next up – we’ll look at this in more detail, and talk more about the silo versus silo-free approach.

CORRECTION: Norb corrected me on my previous post. Bentley does allow you to use the ESC key to cancel the current command (although it’s not the default – so there). Look under Workspaces, then Preferences. In the Input section, you can change the right mouse button to all ESC to cancel the command. OK – when I’m wrong, I’m wrong…but I ain’t sayin’ I’m sorry…yet..

Thanks – David B.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Let’s Get Ready to RUMBLE…Autodesk versus Bentley in the 21st Century…Part One…

Man, if you have told me 5 years ago I’d be in this spot, I would have said why the heck wasn’t I there two years earlier…I’m loving working at Gannett Fleming, mainly due to the great work environment and attitude of the employees. And it’s given me a chance to step back and take a look at the whole big picture of where we are in the design world right now. There are some parts that make me just go “wow” and other parts that make me go “c’mon…”. And that’s what my next series of articles will be about.

You all know I’m an Autodesk guy. We’re family, no matter how dysfunctional it may be. I grew up with them, and they’ve made my career…so you know what camp I’m in. But out in the real world, I’m faced with different priorities – with number one being to make sure I take care of my team, no matter what the circumstances are.

Enter the Bentley…we do a lot of work with government agencies, and as most of you know, they’ve had a long standing relationship with the brothers from PA. We have several projects where BIM has become a topic, but because they’re bound like Siamese twins to Microstation products, we had to make a decision – take the work on that platform or leave it. It ain’t smart to turn down opportunities like this, so you know what we’re doing. And besides – we’re already good at the design part, so I’ve been psyching myself up by saying it’s just a tool, and we can do anything we set our minds to. One saving grace is that most agencies that are not tied to GSA are just now figuring this out, so it looks like we're all going down together...or up, depending on the outcome.

So last month, I did the unthinkable – I went to the Bentley LEARN Conference, which was an experience for me...going to the "dark side". On a comparative scale, you can tell who owns the market by looking at the annual conferences. I had classes where there were only 5-10 people on the buildings and electrical side, with the most in one class being about 30. I’ve had bad classes at AU that had double that number, and that still doesn’t come close to the body counts we pile up in Vegas every year.

One thing I noticed right off the bat – Bentley users are every bit as loyal as Autodesk users…actually more like Ron Paul supporters (if you’re not into politics, you may not get that joke). My other observation about Bentley – please forgive me for this – is that they’re more like the hot Brazilian model that has multiple personality disorder. They’ve got some sexy stuff going on, but can’t decide who they want to be. But I was also really surprised to see familiar faces from the Autodesk world. Apparently, we’re not the only ones having to learn how to live in both worlds and get the most out of them...go figure...

And here’s my equal time for Autodesk. Yes, we’re family. And like the drunk on Saturday night hanging out with his pals, you know I’m going to be the one to say “I really love you guys…” before passing out on the floor. But like family, you got your own issues with identity…and I’m blaming the short attention span, app-based world we live in for doing that. You’ve gotten away from taking care of the core, and are playing around with these hot little numbers like Force Effect, Flame and Photofly. I know I’m the old spouse that will always be there when you get done with your infatuation, but come Monday, you’d better be ready to get back to work.

For this post, I’m going to keep my observations down to a couple of generic points, mainly about the user experience. Autodesk wins this hands down, but it doesn’t mean I totally dislike what Bentley has done. For starters, the ribbon interface that’s common to most Microsoft-based applications make learning these tools easy. And having common mouse button functionality also makes program hopping work smoothly. For example, being able to pick it and right click to change objects has been a mantra of mine for years. The context sensitive ribbons are making me like them more now, especially since they always show up in the right (side) place.

Microstation – c’mon. After all these years, let the ESC key get you out of a command. I know you want to be yourselves, but this ain’t 1990. I like the toolboxes, but give me something to replace the exclusive cryptic letter entry keys. You shouldn’t have to type in Y to get a feature similar to otrack – make the tool visible and clear on the screen. DOS is dead, guys…
Every tool should be available in specific graphical areas, especially ones that control alignments, snaps, etc. And the tools should follow the workflow process. For the most part, they do that in the toolboxes, but finding something anywhere else was pretty maddening.
The view controls in AutoCAD and Revit and view cube trump Microstation navigation, although I didn’t have any trouble getting around once I figured out the view number icons. Overall, the bottom line is that the user interface is in bad need of overhaul. Get out there and study ribbon technology – if you want to be competitive in the future market, you’ve got to figure out a way to make the user experience easier, not harder.
Now I will say this – since my focus is going to be the Substation and AECOSim products, the hook feature you have in substation is an improvement on the snap tool, since it can control direction. Sort of like the connector in Revit, it gives you a little more flexibility when it comes to adding a wire to a connection point. But it’s going to take a lot more than that to impress me. I could go on for a while, but it’s time to wrap this up.

And my next topic will cover one of the most important concerns I have in regards to BIM applications – the “I” and the relationship with the data. Bentley has definitely been playing in the database game a lot longer. What Substation brings is linking data the way AutoCAD Electrical, AutoCAD P&ID and Plant 3D should have brought to the Revit world...let's leave it at that. There are definitely two approaches going on, but I’m going to spend a little more time figuring out how Autodesk and Bentley plan on handling this before I comment on it. It’s one of the deciding factors in who’s going to be the real player in the market in the foreseeable future, so let’s see what these guys - both companies - are going to do about it.
Happy BIM’ing – David B.