January 2012
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Pushing Stakeholder Collaboration Beyond Construction

This new technology takes the design to all the stakeholders on a project and makes the invisible visible to all, allowing the architect, facility managers, contractors, and even product manufacturers to collaborate freely and in real time in any platform—anyplace, anytime, anywhere.

Nicholas Jeffery

Nicholas Jeffery

COO
VIMtrek

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With any large building automation project, many divergent stakeholders need to have their input considered and potentially integrated into the design-bid-build process. For any significant project there is a large, rotating cast of players, from architects, engineers, and product consultants to building owners, facility managers, and maintenance. Often, these people are spread out across the country, and sometimes even the world, making face-to-face collaboration difficult and functionally impossible.

Even given the best-case scenario, only rarely will you ever get everyone looking at the same thing at the same time. More often, different groups are working on design projects in different times and places, leading to multiple versions of the same design files and documents. Managing the reconciliation of these versions leads to time delays that can cause their own set of issues—never mind the room for human error.

But what if they could all collaborate in a virtual world? What if there was a new modeling technology that allowed all project stakeholders to experience a building—either existing, conceptual, or mid-design—and evaluate, comment, and amend it, planning together in real time? Individual components of this concept might be available now, but the full scope of real-time, interactive collaboration, available from project outset to final completion and beyond, has eluded us.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In the not-so-distant past, teams of architects and engineers worked collaboratively to create drawings of their projects and then worked with specification writers or manufacturers to hunt down and detail every item in a project. Hours and hours were spent tracking down building product data and specifications, only to have these too often swapped by the contractor because they didn’t work on the job site or were out of date. 

Today, automated building information modeling (BIM) has removed much of the research and time wasted, and has eliminated a significant amount of design error. Architectural software has advanced design to the point where data-laden construction pieces can be dragged into 3D representations of towering skyscrapers. A click or two of a mouse can bring specifications, MSDS in full, and environmental data into building models and just as quickly integrate these into design. 
 
Modern design tools allow for a better visual representation of these projects. Autodesk’s Revit® and Google’s SketchUp® create designs using BIM models and a 3D interface to form a clearer representation of the space and design. However, both require a degree of expertise and skill to build, navigate, and work with; and they often leave key stakeholders, such as the owner, contractors, and even occupants, waiting days or weeks for an architectural rendering they can understand to get a better sense of what might actually be built. Then, when they do get the model, it is impossible to freely navigate around, and in most cases the viewer needs to acquire the same application or significant hardware used to make the rendering.

Virtual environment modeling is certainly not new. There are numerous rendering tools in the market that can create stunning images and picturesque walkthroughs of glorious buildings yet to be built. But after the project kicks off, that’s all you are left with: a pretty picture or video and not much else. Ultimately these are tools for selling the building, not for working on the building, and certainly not for improving an existing building. These visuals are for the most part separated from the valuable data and are worth no more than the original rough visual.
  
What designers need is a way to get these data-rich BIM models back in the hands of all stakeholders, so that they may contribute to the design process. Enter visual information modeling, or VIM.

Moving beyond simple BIM modeling, VIM software converts Autodesk Revit files in just minutes to VIM files. These VIM files create an interactive and collaborative environment to work in, much like in a first-person video game (think Halo or Modern Warfare). A VIM file puts users into the project and allows them to walk the space freely and “see” for themselves the potential built environment and do a design check. Obviously, the architect can lock down areas or views that he/she does not want to share, but other than that, the virtual building is free to wander and explore. 

CatNet Systems A virtual project rendering can be examined and evaluated by clicking on objects and reviewing the BIM data, or even analyzing environmental data through plug-ins like ecoScorecard™. Removing the walls or ceilings, users can examine HVAC, electrical, or plumbing systems and make notes of changes needed within the VIM world itself, using the embedded VIMnotes. Better still, these tools don’t require a degree in architecture, or even the host program such as Revit—just an understanding of how to play a video game. 

This new technology takes the design to all the stakeholders on a project and makes the invisible visible to all, allowing the architect, facility managers, contractors, and even product manufacturers to collaborate freely and in real time in any platform—anyplace, anytime, anywhere.
 
This VIM process is not only relevant to building in the early design phase. Renderings can also be created for any existing building, something previously so expensive and time-consuming that it was never done. Facility managers are able to explore buildings from around the world in a true-to-life format, evaluate changes in design, and review performance data. Simple drag-and-drop libraries from companies such as SmartBIM will allow stakeholders to place objects in the space as they see fit and review the look and feel of the building. And with SmartBIM cost-check tools, even the price of projects can be estimated and then updated in real time as changes are made.

Building automation technologies, updates to existing products, and even potential rewiring solutions can be reviewed, discussed, and updated, virtually—all online and in minutes of render time. Welcome to the collaboration of the VIM world.

Nicholas Jeffery, COO of VIMtrek, said, “Architects, owners, and contractors will see a significant productivity gain. A standard model will render in minutes, allowing the producer to share and collaborate via the Internet in real time—this is truly where sense meets sizzle.”



About the Author

Nicholas Jeffery is an International media and telecommunications strategy specialist with over 25 years of board-level experience. His last position before becoming the COO of VIMtrek was that of Senior Advisor of Investment & Strategic Planning for the TMT division of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Nicholas has a deep understanding of emerging markets especially CIS and CEE in everything media and technology related.
 
Nicholas has built, sold and floated several creative agencies in branding, advertising and architecture and created the StarTrust Organization, which worked with the South African Government, World Health Organization, and Mobile/Satellite/ software operators to deliver the technology and Internet to remote and rural schools in the Western Cape.


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