Interview with Lachmi Khemlani, Part 2

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 second part of a two-part blog post.

Aarni: Are certain types of projects more suitable for integrated BIM than others, e.g. complex or large projects?

Lachmi: I definitely think that the bigger the project, the better it is to do it in BIM. It seems like such a waste of time to do all the elevations, sections, and so on, separately. Collaboration between different disciplines is also harder using drawings. If all of the designers use models, you can put them together, do interference checking, and so on. There will be fewer conflicts in the construction site.

As for smaller buildings, like residences, it depends upon the designers. If the designers are smaller firms, they probably won’t start implementing a new technology until it is mandated. However, if they had resources to invest in modelling technology, they would realize its benefits.

Every building project can benefit from the use of BIM, but the most benefits will come for the bigger projects.

Aarni: Companies want to acquire BIM software that meets their needs today and in the future. How well do AEC software companies understand the business needs of their customers and where should they do better?

Lachmi: I think they try their best to serve their clients’ needs, otherwise nobody would buy their software. Especially if you’re talking about a firm that is not the leading firm in their field, they would actually have to go out of their way to respond to their clients’ needs because, otherwise, they would be left behind even further. At the same time, they have to serve their existing clients and not force them to transition too soon. It is like a balance between being profitable by satisfying existing customers and going out of their way for new customers.

SketchUp has been so successful because it is easy to use and is also very intelligent because it infers a lot of things automatically. Many AEC software vendors don’t offer that much intelligence in their products. Why can’t a BIM application be smart and do a lot of the tasks for you? The vendors should look at BIM with a fresh approach.

Aarni: Who or where are the top innovators in the BIM market (software, training and services) at the moment?

Lachmi: The vendors keep making improvements, which are kind of essential, but I don’t find them extremely innovative. To me, re-thinking something is innovative, like the iPad or SketchUp, when they first came out. I do think, however, that some of the design work that is done using BIM and the way the contractors are using it on site is the real innovation. Using the tools to their fullest potential and sometimes even stretching the tool for the project, that is really innovative.

Just to give an example, Autodesk had to implement a lot of features in Revit so that the designers could use it for the Freedom Tower (the initial design of the World Trade Center). That, to me, is innovation — when you are demanding so much from the tool that the vendor is forced to do their best to mould the tool to respond to your needs.

Aarni: Some technology companies have been able to create ecosystems that play a major role in their success. How could BIM become a platform that nurtures an ecosystem of developers, product firms, service providers and customers?

Lachmi: I definitely think so. You can think of BIM as similar to an operating system, like a platform where things build on top of each other.

Aarni: Should such an ecosystem be based on open software?

Lachmi: Apple is not open but the company has still managed to create its own ecosystem, in turn providing employment to a large number of developers.

Openness in the AEC industry would be nice to have, but mostly from a theoretical point of view. What I have heard from people who are actually working on projects is that they don’t particularly care about openness unless it affects them directly. If everybody in the project is using Revit, for example, they don’t care if it’s open or not and how well it supports IFC.

Aarni: Is AEC information technology all about BIM, or are there other technologies that companies in the industry should be aware of?

Lachmi: As I mentioned earlier, if you think of BIM as a platform, many things can be built on top of it. For example, if you mandate that submissions need to be in BIM, you could have automated code checking. That would be really interesting and would move the industry forward. Also, if you can have generative design and BIM come together, the application could be smart enough to generate some designs for you given certain parameters. That could be a really innovative thing to look out for.

Aarni: Could mobile computing create something new?

Lachmi: Definitely. I think it could greatly benefit construction. All the mobile technologies are good for viewing content, having some markup tools, taking photos on a construction site, and so on. I’m not so sure about design and engineering. In terms of the creation of the design, I think a desktop or laptop computer is best for that. Designers still need to spend most of their time at the desk, creating designs and doing analysis.

Part 1

Photo © Lachmi Khemlani