Interview with Lachmi Khemlani, Part 1

I had the privilege of interviewing Lachmi Khemlani, Ph.D. and Founder and Editor of AECbytes (aecbytes.com). The following is a transcript of our recorded conversation. This is the first part of a two-part blog post.

Aarni: Could you tell us about yourself and why you became interested in AEC information technology?

Lachmi: I did my bachelor’s degree in architecture in India. I worked as an architect for a couple of years, drawing with a traditional CAD system. Frankly, it was quite boring and not very intellectually stimulating. I then enrolled in a computer programming class for systems management. I found that I really enjoyed that, and I felt that I was using my brains. When I completed the diploma, I got really interested in computing and thought that it would be nice to find a way to synthetize both architecture and computers.

At the time, I had no plans to get out of India. There was a British Council library in the city where I lived and they were advertising scholarships to Cambridge University to study further. I applied for one of them and got it. I went to Cambridge to study for an MPhil in architecture. The focus of my course was energy-conscious building design. With my background in computing, I was able to develop a software tool for energy analysis. It was a small and useful tool, but quite a challenge from a programming point of view. I really enjoyed doing that, and I thought that maybe I could do a PhD to pursue the subject further.

I went back to India, but applied subsequently for a PhD at Berkeley. The focus of the PhD was computing in architecture. That’s how I got interested in AEC technology!

Aarni: What is AECbytes?

Lachmi: After I had completed my PhD in the US, I was wondering how best to take my research interest further. My research was in the area of how to create an intelligent building representation that can support analysis. It was closely related to what is now known as BIM. I was not really interested in becoming a faculty member and getting into academia. I wanted to stay in the industry.

While I was exploring potential job openings in the Bay Area where I lived, I thought I should learn more about the industry. I started writing the bi-weekly “AEC Tech Newsletter” for Cadence Magazine. As time went on, I started doing product reviews as well. I always thought of it as a temporary thing. I met a lot of people in the process, went to a lot of conferences, and talked to vendors. In 2003, after Cadalyst acquired Cadence, it seemed like a good time for me to see if an online-only AEC publication was doable. And it has been, actually!

AECbytes is a good way to take my research further because I can explore what I want and write about topics that are of interest to me. Hopefully, the publication is interesting and useful to readers as well.

Aarni: The global BIM market (software, training and services) will increase from $1.8 billion this year to $6.5 billion by 2020, according to a report by Pike Research. Have you seen signs that could support a projection of double-digit growth annually?

Lachmi: I don’t keep track of financial figures. But going by my own experience as an architect, it is a lot more fun and a lot more efficient to design buildings using BIM rather than using CAD. So I see it as a kind of natural progression. Just like we went from hand drawings to CAD, we are now going from CAD to BIM. BIM feels like a logical next step for the industry. I think that sooner or later, everybody has to get there, and more and more people are realizing that. So, it is not surprising to me that a research report like the one from Pike Research predicts a huge increase in the global BIM market.

I would say that probably in the next 20 years, most of the industry should have transitioned to using BIM. I would be very surprised if, in twenty years from now, CAD was still being used.

Aarni: In many countries, government agencies have taken a leading role in promoting and requiring the use of BIM. Why are governments seemingly more active than private clients?

Lachmi: First of all, I don’t think that in the US, that is necessarily true. Here the government came into play later, after many private companies had already started using BIM. I don’t think that the government pushed it as much, although now they are mandating the use of BIM in projects.

Given that governments are owners of buildings, they have to design, construct, and maintain them. They know that it makes a lot of sense to implement BIM for themselves as owners, first and foremost. I think that they also see it as their responsibility to steer their country towards better technology in this field.

Aarni: Many companies, especially SMEs, are still on the fence with BIM. Is the only way to get business value from BIM to use it for inter-company collaboration, or is there a business case for BIM in a standalone setting?

Lachmi: Many small companies are run by older people who are so used to doing things in a certain way that they don’t feel the need to change. From their point of view, this makes perfect sense. People who are commissioning them to do the work are not demanding that they deliver projects using a certain technology. Why should they bother, especially when they have to deal with a big expense upfront, get new software, train their staff, follow a different process, and so on? It seems a lot of work for a small company with limited revenues, and not worth the effort.

Currently, we don’t have all the regulatory staff in place, either. For instance, if you have to go to a city council to get permission, they are still quite happy getting drawings. They don’t mandate that a building model be submitted for code checking. As long as it is not mandated, I doubt it is going to happen.

Part 2

Photo © Lachmi Khemlani