What differentiates the outcome of similar products is the set of back-end activities undertaken – the value chain. This is no different for the building industry, which is too ripe for innovation. Thus, we’re about to break down the value chain of a holistic AEC firm.
This smarter way is founded on three tenets:
The value chain of Smart Building Technology is founded on Integrated Project Delivery This is a unified process that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices. It helps optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency throughout the entire project life cycle.
In the IPD, there’s a Single Source of Truth, via which every party generates and exchange data. This guides the entire value chain. Deep analyses and insights from the data inform all the activities of a holistic AEC firm. This is a direct benefit of the Integrated Approach.
The governing factor of the entire coordination activities of a holistic AEC is efficiency. Every activity is appraised by this bottomline. Nonetheless, the open information sharing and collaboration involved in the IPD improves efficiency.
BUT WHO ARE THE KEY PLAYERS OF THIS SMART AEC FIRM?
Our analogy here is that the Smart AEC Firm is responsible for the design/delivery coordination. The company coordinates with a wide array of other players via its value chain. Thus, at the center is the holistic company. On one side is the Manufacturers and Suppliers team. On the other side is the Client/Users team.
The players at this end of the value chain fabricate and supply the various building components and technology systems. This also includes the product representatives and distributors. Coordination with these parties is started right from the design stage. This is to ensure that specifications and details are in synch.
THE SMART AEC FIRM
The primary activity of this holistic company is Design Coordination. The core design team is ideally comprised of Architects, Engineers (Structural, MEP), Programmers, Interior Designers, Cost Analysts, Project Managers, and Specialty Consultants. Other members of the team include the Field Engineers, the Accounting/Inventory Staffs, and the Management Staffs.
This end of the value chain include the Owner, the Facility Manager, and the Occupants — if different from the owner. The entire coordination starts with the players here. This lasts through the life cycle of the project. The BIM Planning and Facility Programming is a discovery process of the players here. They are carried along through the entire design — to handover — process.
BUT WHAT IS THE SINGLE SOURCE OF TRUTH?
A major feature of the IPD is the open sharing of information. This is achieved through a single source of information — known as the Common Data Environment (CDE). This is the central repository of information, from which all parties collaboratively access information. This implies that the diverse tools involved in the IPD can access the right — up-to-date — information at all times. Defined rules determine the file naming convention, authors, and permissions.
These are the features of the CDE:
A primary feature of a good CDE is being cloud-based. This is for diverse reasons. Firstly, a large amount of data is generated through the coordination activities. Thus, a cloud storage is both more secure and has more storage capacity. Secondly, cloud storage ensures accessibility to all parties at all times — without any downtime.
Not every information is needed by all parties. Some are sensitive, some others are unnecessary. To keep the process lean and to ensure security, a good CDE offers a folder-by-folder access/permissions definitions. When a party accesses the platform, s/he only gets to see the information s/he has access to. Permissions are defined by roles — can you view, edit, comment..?
A good CDE can be viewed on the desktop, on mobile, tablet, web browser, dedicated apps etc. Because the data are stored in the cloud, it saves small devices the processing challenges. This helps ensure that every party can access required information through the interface most convenient for them — at any time and anywhere.
So, let’s Break down the value chain of this Smart AEC Firm into subsystems
1. Planning Tools
Every successful project begins with a plan. For the IPD, this begins with a BIM Execution Plan. Planning informs the later decisions in the entire value chain, as well as every other tool to be used. A core planning activity is Project Management. This entails such responsibilities as Cost, Time, Quality, Contract Administration, and Safety Management.
There are dedicated tools for this; a good example is CoConstruct.
A. Time, Scope and Cost Management
For a successful planning and project management, the identified project goals must be defined — the scope. They must also be achieved within time and budget. A good planning/management tool helps to forecast the implications of any changes, on these primary disciplines. The timing is broken down into a Work Breakdown Structure spanning the entire execution timeline — in synch with the IE Worksheet.
B. Resource Management
During BIM Planning, the supporting infrastructure to achieve the project gets defined. This includes The Facility Data Needs, The Technological Infrastructure Needs and The Human Resources. These resources span the entire length of the value chain. Thus, care must be taken to ensure every necessary resource is accounted for and integrated into the project plan.
C. Quality Management
A very important element of the Execution Plan is the Quality Control Strategy. Every party in the value chain is responsible for the quality control checks of their datasets. A confirmation document accompanies important deliverable submittals.
2. Design Tools
Historically, building design has moved from the era of Documentation (CAD) to an era of Optimization (BIM), to an era of Connection (BIM+Cloud). Ultimately, this is leading us to the era of Generative Design. The impact on design tools is a web-based collaboration amongst all parties. The existing tools might not change but would add more generative/computational design features.
Examples of BIM-compliant design software include Autodesk Revit, Archicad, Navisworks, Infraworks, Robot Structural Analysis, Tekla Structures, Bentley MicroStation, Inventor Professional, CostX, Nastran, Synchro, Bluebeam etc.
A. Web Interface
Design tools started out as desktop-based. Over time, they leveraged the power of the cloud for more resource-intensive operations. Through the single source of truth residing in the CDE, the next-gen design tools would have a web interface. This is the aim of an ongoing project — Project Quantum by Autodesk. The aims are simple: Ubiquity, Accessibility, and Collaboration.
Information-sharing is a primary tenet of the IPD, and interoperability is the focus of the era of Connection mentioned earlier. Through the CDE, every involved party can access the information generated by other parties. This is because they are all synchronized to the single source of truth.
Generative design is a reverse approach to design — begin with the end. This entails ‘scripting’ requirements into the design software, which in turn generates diverse options based on specified constraints. Thus, producing better designs, that might otherwise be inconceivable to the human mind — at a shorter period of time. This could as well be applied to just certain parts of the building, such as a complex facade.
3. Field Management Tools
The emergence of the connected BIM (the cloud) has narrowed the gap between a real building and the digital version — the design. The implication is that field management becomes a coordination and verification process — to ensure the upcoming building is at par with the design intents.To ease information flow, field management tools have become mobile apps that have access to the CDE. An important element of field management is Reality Capture. These tools help report information in real-time.
A. Deep Analyses
A core feature of field management tools is Deep AI (Artificial Intelligence) Analyses. This gives actionable insights that otherwise could be expensive at a later stage. This usually comes in the form of visual reports. Analyses of field data go beyond field decisions to facility management and design decisions for future projects. A very great field management tool is onTarget.
B. Mobile Interface
Another important feature of a good field management tool is a mobile interface. Mobile apps leverage such features of the mobile phone as mobility, camera, internet etc. to synchronize with the CDE in real-time. Other notable field management apps are Smartvid.io, eSUB etc. These all integrate with BIM 360 Docs — which is referenced here as the Common Data Environment (CDE).
C. Reality Capture
There is no better way to validate field processes than using reality capture. Starting from existing conditions modeling at design conception to as-built documentation after construction. Reality capture has replaced traditional survey tools due to its improved efficiencies and ROI. Important field management tools that employ reality capture include SiteAware and HoloBuilder.
4. Inventory Tools
As mentioned earlier, the Manufacturer/Supply side of the value chain fabricate and supply the building components. By implication, the holistic firm operates a very lean inventory. The inventory tools synchronize with the design tools for quantity take-offs, specifications and estimates. These tools also help with requests management, order tracking, personnel management, record keeping etc.Important tools here include Sigma Estimates, ManufactOn and Sage Timberline.
A. Works Order Management
A fundamental aspect of the inventory is order/requests management. This entails placing requests, assigning personnel and resources to the requests, tracking the request, and completing the request when done. For IPD, this involves generating quantities and estimates from the design tools — via such tools as Sigma Estimates.
B. Procurement Management
The next stage after successfully raising the works order is to make the purchase. For the IPD, this mostly entails coordination with the suppliers — whose data are synchronized via the inventory tools — e.g. ManufactOn. Just like the works order tool, these tools are synchronized with the CDE — e.g. BIM 360 Docs. Thus, a robust inventory tool performs all the tasks.
C. Parts Management
On the arrival of the building components, they would be accounted for in the inventory. For an efficient and lean value chain, these components are supplied on an as-need basis. Thus, the inventory is just for record purposes and not for stocking — with such tools as Sage Timberline.
5. Business Management Tools
The summary of this writeup is that the value chain of a Smart AEC Firm can be broken down into five subsystems/units. Planning, Design, Field Management, Inventory and Administration. It is obvious at this point that the firm is design-oriented; hence, data-driven. Therefore, the business management tools cannot operate in isolation of the other subsystems discussed so far. It is only imperative — for a smooth value chain — to use all-in-one tools that integrate the entire processes together. A good example is CoConstruct.
A. The Brand
The intangible outcome of the entire value chain is the brand reputation. Thus, this goes beyond the logo, color theme, marketing and all. It is a direct outcome of the SHARED values and vision of the company. Nonetheless, there are popular branding tools out there such as Venngage, Canva etc. These tools help with storing and creating contents for the company — standard colors, fonts, pictures, logo etc.
B. The Team
It takes the right team to coordinate the entire value chain — efficiently. However, recruiting and retaining the right skills go beyond tools. Integrated Project Delivery is multi-disciplinary: Architects, Engineers, Programmers, Interior Designers, Cost Analysts, Project Managers, Specialty Consultants, Field Engineers, Accounting/Inventory Staffs, Management Staffs etc.
Thus, An Innovative Company Culture becomes the unifier.
C. The Innovation
Technology evolves rapidly, and The Smart Way is founded on technology. To stay up-to-date with the latest tools and technology takes an innovative team. Innovation goes beyond the final product to include the delivery processes, team management, business direction — to even birthing new ideas and products…