AECbytes Newsletter #55 (February 9, 2012)
A couple of weeks ago, Graphisoft, developer of ArchiCAD, released a new white paper called “Get There Faster with ArchiCAD,” which attempts to identify the most important criteria that architects should be looking at when selecting which BIM tools they should work with, as well as clarify the advantages of ArchiCAD over other BIM tools. While Revit is not specifically mentioned, it is obviously the main target of the white paper, being the leading BIM competitor to ArchiCAD. This AECbytes newsletter summarizes the content of the white paper, and analyzes it in the context of the current BIM adoption in the AEC industry.
Of course, while not every white paper put out by a vendor needs to be analyzed, Graphisoft’s white paper comes at an interesting time in the industry, with BIM adoption on the upswing and many firms rushing to it headlong. It provides us with a good opportunity to reflect on our use of BIM more deeply, revisit the criteria that are important in determining which solution to adopt and why, and also think ahead of the future of AEC technology, of what we want our BIM solutions to do.
The Graphisoft white paper on ArchiCAD first makes case the BIM adoption, emphasizing that moving to BIM is a must for firms willing to rethink their business strategy and find new ways to add value. BIM has undoubtedly disrupted the design profession and changed the AEC landscape, with architectural firms being challenged to play radically different roles in the building process. Now this insight, by itself, is not new for the AEC industry—BIM has been gaining momentum for several years now and most of the larger architectural firms have already switched to using BIM for their new and upcoming projects. The AIA continues to have its own annual BIM Awards, which is a competition open to all firms rather than internal to one firm. Also, BIM is rapidly gaining momentum among contractors as well, with the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America) hosting BIMForum events not just once, but three times a year. While BIM may not have fully percolated down to the smallest AEC firms, it is only a matter of time before it gets there and replaces CAD as the default technology used in the AEC industry. The benefits of using BIM have already been well documented in countless articles, papers, and reports; the industry really does not need added convincing that it is indeed the next step in our technological evolution.
However, what is not so clear-cut or undisputed is the best way to get there. This is where Graphisoft’s new white paper comes in handy—it summaries the main criteria for choosing a BIM application for firms that have not yet decided on how to go about doing BIM. While many of the top architectural firms have already committed to using Revit as their BIM application, Graphisoft’s list of criteria should be helpful for those that have not yet decided or for those looking to expand their BIM repertoire. These criteria include greater agility, enabling new firms to get off the ground, established firms to transition at their own pace, aggressive growth firms to expand and fully transform to BIM, and everyone to work the way they want to; fully leveraging hardware, including micro-processing, 64-bit support, cloud computing, servers, and other examples of the newest computing technology for fast and efficient processing and sharing of data; optimizing people, so that unique talents are focused and utilized, small teams produce like big teams, and collaboration happens in real time; differentiating your firm, so that firms deliver new products and services, customize workflows, and capture and leverage unique expertise and institutional knowledge; and doing all of the above with less risk by choosing a proven, mature product that scales to growth and changing needs.
Needless to say, all of these are also criteria that ArchiCAD satisfies, and the rest of Graphisoft’s white paper shows how ArchiCAD meets each one of them. For example, ArchiCAD enables greater agility for firms by being a flexible, scalable, and purpose-built BIM solution that lets a firm transform their business at their own pace. For leveraging technology, ArchiCAD is optimized for 64-bit, multi-threaded, 8-core multiprocessors for high-speed processing of project data. It also supports both the Windows and Mac platforms, which is a big plus for firms that want flexibility in their choice of platform. For optimizing people, ArchiCAD’s BIM Server that was introduced in version 13 is a top-of-the-line collaboration solution that still remains unmatched among BIM solutions. It allows everyone on the project team to work on the entire model, all at the same time, and 24/7, regardless of their geographic location, thereby allowing a firm’s resources to be configured for optimal efficiency and cost management. Firms using ArchiCAD can differentiate themselves by customizing their workflows, capturing, protecting, and leveraging institutional knowledge, and providing more valuable and useful data to the owners commissioning their projects. And finally, the deployment of ArchiCAD reduces risk since it is a mature product and proven technology, and supports open standards such as the IFC to connect with applications for fabrication, construction estimating, facilities management, and other BIM software, making it easy to extract and move data back and forth between different applications.
The white paper concludes by positing that moving to BIM is easier, less risky, and ultimately more profitable with ArchiCAD.
There is no doubt that ArchiCAD has a lot of good things going for it, which have been captured in my product reviews of every release of the application, starting with ArchiCAD 9 in Sep 2004. I also provided a detailed analysis of it vis-à-vis other BIM applications in my BIM Evaluation Study Report that was published last year. Its Teamwork functionality for collaboration that was introduced all the way back in ArchiCAD 13 released in 2009 is still exceptional, one that Revit has not yet caught up with, despite more recent developments such as the release of the Revit Server and the Bluestreak application integrated within Revit that allows instant messaging to make its worksharing notifications more efficient. ArchiCAD is also ahead in the modeling of organic building forms that are still BIM objects, a capability that was strengthened even further with the introduction of the Shell tool in its most recent release, ArchiCAD 15. It also included an expanded Roof tool that allows complex roofs to be quickly and easily created with any change made to one part being automatically propagated to the connecting parts, the ability to create and edit a model in 3D perspective views that are more natural and intuitive for architects, and dedicated support for renovation projects with a new Renovations palette. It continues to be the only BIM application that supports both 64-bit and full multi-processing, has an excellent quality of Help documentation for learning the application including lots of video tutorials, and includes many useful in-house and third-party add-ons, including EcoDesigner for energy analysis, an MEP Modeler, and BIMx for virtual, interactive exploration of BIM models. It also recently released a BIMx app for the iPad, which was very impressive in its ability to navigate through ArchiCAD models on a mobile device.
Of course, ArchiCAD also has its share of limitations, which are discussed in more detail in the BIM Evaluation Study Report. The most critical from a usability perspective is that it lacks Revit’s intuitiveness and ease of use; but this, of course, is entire a subjective assessment and one that ArchiCAD’s “power users” may not agree with. ArchiCAD also does not have Revit’s parametric conceptual design capabilities, which are very powerful and sophisticated and could be used by architects to explore new building forms they may not have been able to do earlier. A case in point is HOK’s Delhi Control Tower project, which was described in the article on HOK’s 2nd Annual BIM Awards published last month. Needless to say, none of ArchiCAD’s limitations are mentioned in the white paper or what the application is going to focus on in upcoming releases.
Ultimately, I think that it's going to be hard for ArchiCAD to compete with Revit's leading position in the AEC industry and Autodesk's might and muscle by simply being just another BIM solution like Revit. Its best hope is to incorporate substantially different capabilities that Revit does not offer to AEC users. This means providing even more efficiency benefits than BIM currently does. For example, why is it that even with BIM, we need to model every single aspect of the design? We do, of course, use 2D detail drawings rather than model every single nut and bolt in the building. But by and large, we do have to model every space, wall, beam, column, truss, door, window, MEP equipment, furniture, and so on. Is this really necessary? Why can't the software that we use model out the details, given a high-level representation of the building as conceived by the designer? Why can’t it solve some low-level problems, such as optimal layout of rooms in a hotel or hospital, given the spatial boundary within which they have to be accommodated, and leave designers to do more higher-level thinking? This would seem to be the next logical step in the evolution of AEC technology, but none of our current BIM applications show any of these capabilities yet. It would be good for ArchiCAD to make a start on more intelligent capabilities like these, and thereby differentiate itself from the rest of its competitors, including Revit.
While Graphisoft’s white paper serves as good reminder of ArchiCAD’s many strengths, the real question ultimately is whether it is going to make AEC firms change their mind, or simply dismiss it as marketing propaganda by a technology vendor that is currently the “underdog” in our field. For those who have the latter point of view, it would be good to remember that the Mac was also the underdog to the PC for many years but is now enjoying a resurgence in recent times. So the idea of an ArchiCAD resurgence is not that far-fetched, especially if it can indeed demonstrate capabilities that Revit and other BIM applications do not have. Of course, those capabilities are eventually likely to appear in other BIM applications as well, but there is always the advantage of being the pioneer in any field, which is hard to beat.
Graphisoft’s white paper has nicely summarized all of ArchiCAD’s many strengths as a BIM application. Ultimately, however, Revit has a head start since its developer is the market leader, Autodesk, and this is what makes it such a formidable competitor. Revit was new and substantially different when it was first introduced to the AEC industry and subsequently acquired by Autodesk. In contrast, ArchiCAD is in danger of being seen as the “old fogey” of the industry, and even though the white paper emphasizes that “its software code is actually more modern than other, newer products,” it needs to show evidence of newness in its approach to BIM, of providing something truly unique that AEC users cannot get with any other BIM application. Graphisoft can always take some inspiration from the slogan of the company it looks up to, Apple, and try and “think different” when it comes to its BIM offerings.
In any case, my advice to AEC firms would be to implement, if possible, more than one BIM application to avoid being locked down to one solution and one vendor, even if is the market leader. This is especially true for larger firms, given their size and the large and diverse number of projects they handle. Even for those who only love one solution and are comfortable with that, it can only be enriching to learn that there are other ways to do things.
Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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