IPD and the CloudAECbytes Viewpoint #81 (November 14, 2016)

Chris France
President, Advance2000

My 2010 article, “BIM and the Cloud” article published here in AECbytes was all about new technology (high performance workstations in the cloud) being adopted by firms so they can collaborate between all their offices effortlessly.  At that time, Revit was the primary application driving this need for real-time collaboration. In 2016, the need is so much more than Revit.  This article will highlight what has changed with BIM cloud technologies and how they are being used for Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). 

What is Integrated Project Delivery?

From the AIA, http://www.aia.org/about/initiatives/AIAS076981:

IPD is a method of project delivery distinguished by a contractual arrangement among a minimum of owner, constructor and design professional that aligns business interests of all parties. IPD motivates collaboration throughout the design and construction process, tying stakeholder success to project success, and embodies contractual and behavioral principles listed in more detail on their website.

From the AGC, https://www.agc.org/integrated-project-delivery, Integrated Project Delivery For Public and Private Owners defines IPD in the following two ways:

IPD as a Delivery Method is a delivery methodology that fully integrates project teams in order to take advantage of the knowledge of all team members to maximize the project outcome. Integrated Project Delivery is the highest form of collaboration because all three parties (Owner, Architect, Constructor) are aligned by a single contract.

IPD as a Philosophy occurs when integrated practices or philosophies are applied to more traditional delivery approaches such as CM at-Risk, Design-Build or Design-Bid-Build (where the owner is not party to a multi-party contract). In addition to not having a multi-party contract, IPD as a Philosophy is characterized by "traditional" transactional CM at-Risk or Design-Build contracts, some limited risk-sharing (e.g. savings splits), and some application of IPD principles.

My Definition:  Let’s all work together from start to finish to get this structure built.

Hopefully your firm reconciles the differences between the AIA and AGC contracts as I will not be talking about that here.  Your principals have decided to enter into an IPD project by forming a legal entity.  Now someone (you?) must figure out how to get all the design and construction technology working.  This technology strategy and infrastructure must facilitate real-time collaboration between MULTIPLE offices of MULTIPLE firms engaged in the IPD project. 

These considerations that I discuss come from real world client projects and my operational knowledge of these technologies.  When I refer to specific technologies, it is not an endorsement as there are many good products that can be used to implement an IPD project.  These are just the technologies that we have used for our client projects.  You will learn how to navigate various choices so that you can have a successful technology implementation for your IPD project.

First, Some Definitions

Applications:  The computer program that an end user interacts with to achieve a business goal.  Applications can run on a Server (Windows/Unix), a webserver, or a PC/laptop/macbook.  AEC applications run on all of these platforms.  IPD projects would be much easier to implement if everything ran on a webserver, but unfortunately as of this writing most AEC applications run on a Windows PC.

Data: While you work in an application, your activity can be saved for future use by you or a team of individuals.  An application will save data as files and databases, and the trend is towards more databases and less files.  Personally, I believe data is your most important asset and should be protected like nothing else in your infrastructure.  It is the only computer asset that you cannot replace if it goes bye-bye.  For an IPD project, it would be your models, renderings, photos, animations, videos, and documents that need to be saved and protected.

Infrastructure: This is all the system-level hardware and software (“plumbing”) that you need to run your applications and store your data. For an IPD project, this would be your PCs, laptops, servers, routers, switches, fiber, circuits, firewalls, windows servers, storage arrays, and communication technologies.  By the way, for a typical firm the cost of infrastructure is 80-90% of an IT budget.  Only 10-20% is required by the applications and data.  It is with these infrastructure economics in mind that cloud strategies were implemented to drive down the cost of the infrastructure.  Small improvements here yield big paybacks.

Distributed IT: This would be your traditional IT deployment that was dictated by the PC Software makers.  You have PC’s in every office, along with a local server, printer, plotter.  As you grow, you stamp out the same configuration for all your offices and then connect them over wide-area circuits.  Most people think of “on premise” when they hear distributed, and that is generally true.   With the proliferation of “cloud services,” firms are realizing that they are building a distributed “cloud” infrastructure which may not be what they intended.  Distributed IPD was the world in 2010.

Private Cloud: This is where you have all the IT you need to run your project in one data center that is accessible to the entire IPD team (all companies).  Your applications, data, and infrastructure are all there.  This could be in the firms’ facilities or outsourced to a data center provider.  I say “private” as opposed to “public” because that is what you need to run all your applications in one place.  You are not going to able to run Bentley applications in the Autodesk cloud nor put your workstations into Azure (yet?).    A private cloud must be able to run EVERYTHING.  Otherwise, you are getting into a hybrid cloud.  This was available to the AEC industry from 2010 to present.  Let me remind folks of the big WHY, as to WHY the AEC industry needs a private cloud for their IPD projects.  The AEC industry has a TON of data associated with a project, in some cases terabytes (TB) that must be shared with many people within many different firms.  Until all AEC applications are re-written from PC apps to Webserver apps, everyone is forced to move data around to all the people that need it.  A private cloud stops this madness.  Bring the people to the IPD data rather than continue to move this IPD data around to all the locations that need it.  Today, there is no better option to centralize AEC data than a private cloud.

Hybrid: When a firm has a traditional, distributed IT but would like to start taking advantage of various cloud services, they end up creating a Hybrid Cloud.  No two hybrid clouds look the same.  It all depends on which cloud services the firm chooses to deploy.  They might eliminate their on-site PBX and replace it with Skype-for-business or other hosted VoIP solutions.  Or they will keep their applications distributed on their PC’s and centralize their data/files with a technology like Panzura.  The combinations are endless for hybrid options.  I’ve even seen some clients where half their project team was on Panzura running in their local office and the other half was running in a private cloud with a Panzura device local to the private cloud.  Another reason we’re seeing more hybrid clouds is that a firm has just made a sizeable investment in local, distributed technology and they want to use it until it ages out.  So they end up putting new stuff in a private cloud and wait until the local stuff ages out to move it to the cloud.  There are now lots of dots and you can connect them any way you’d like.  Hybrid clouds started popping up on a mass scale in 2013-2014 as a reaction to the private cloud services being offered.  Opportunities were created to build bridges from old technology to new.

IPD Strategies

The main IPD strategies to choose from are Distributed, Hybrid, and Private Cloud.  Cloud technologies have exploded the number of choices for a firm since 2010.  Back then, I was focused on deploying cloud technologies for a single firm.   Now imagine you must integrate, link up, or share Applications, Data and Infrastructure BETWEEN firms while keeping everything safe and secure.  These firms that must work together in an IPD project may have chosen all different IT strategies (e.g., distributed, private cloud, or hybrid) which makes this a very complex and costly task. 

Notice that I’ve organized around applications, data, and infrastructure.  There is an entire industry and body of knowledge built around IT Enterprise Architecture (EA).  These are the basic building blocks for EVERY company no matter size, location, in-house, or outsourced.  All companies make these decisions—sometimes they are aware of their decisions, and sometimes they are not.  My goal is to make you aware of all your cloud choices so you can do what is best for your IPD project and not be surprised.

Figure 1. IPD technology allows Architects, Engineers, and Contractors to work together no matter their location.

Distributed (On-Premise) IPD

Why would you use this strategy for IPD?

  1. It is a top secret or classified project where people are required to be physically sitting in the same room while working.
  2. Their IPD projects are very simple and emailing DWG files around is good enough.  No change is required.
  3. That is all they have and do not have access to cloud resources.

As an IT professional, it is a royal pain to try to integrate several companies using distributed technology.  Security is our first concern.  Most IPD projects done this way require the team members to physically come to the location where the applications and data are housed.  This is usually the lead firm or owner that brings people together.  From a legal standpoint, the team members would be “subcontractors” so that they can use the applications of the lead firm.  They would be issued PCs to work and have a secure file server setup.  Most of the time a separate environment is setup (duplicate cost) to ensure team members can only access their project and not other intellectual property from the owner.  Just about anything is possible in IT, but this is not the ideal way to have multiple locations and multiple firms working together.

By far, the most common way of doing IPD projects when your technology is distributed is by shipping data around.  Firms start with email with attachments, but that gets old real quick.  Then they turn to various file transfer programs such as Sharefile, Drop box, FTP, or Box.net.  Moving data around like this poses other risks like two people editing the same file.  There is generally no locking mechanism and the file is either corrupted, over written, or two files that need to be merged.  All these options are very time consuming, not to mention the time it takes to physically copy all this data over varying internet speeds.

Private Cloud IPD

Why would you use this strategy for IPD?

  1. It is the simplest, least complex, and most cost-effective strategy to bring teams of people together from different companies.
  2. You want to keep your data stationary and secure so that entire IPD team sees “one version of the truth.”
  3. You want complete mobility to access your design files from the office, job site, hotel, or home.
  4. You want to share your project data with the IPD team, but you don’t want to share everything on your network or in your active directory. Just because they are working on this project does not mean they should be able to see other projects that your firm is working on.
  5. You need to set up IPD technology to collaborate within four weeks.
  6. It offers the most flexibility and kills many “birds” with one stone. 

A private cloud certainly solves the IPD problem but it will also be able to meet other needs of your firm with the same infrastructure.  This would include telephony services, financial/project servers, video conferencing, custom applications, etc.  Some firms procure a private cloud for their IPD projects and then realize they can run all their business in the cloud.  Other firms will procure a private cloud for their business and then realize they can also use it for their IPD projects.

After an IPD project team gets frustrated with their distributed technology, they want to ditch it and go all Private Cloud.  The trend I see is that they go from distributed, they want to jump all in to private, then the realities of replacing existing technology get in the way and they drop back to hybrid.  A private cloud is the end game and a hybrid cloud is a transitional technology.

In 2010, I wrote about a private cloud to meet the needs of a single firm and I won’t repeat that whole discussion here.  Now let’s fast forward to 2016 where you have a private cloud and want to know how it can be used for IPD. There are two ways that you can use a private cloud for IPD: single or multiple private clouds.

Figure 2. In 2010, a single firm built a Cloud to connect their offices.
Single Private Cloud IPD

Logically, this method is very similar to the distributed method where you bring everyone to one location to work.  IPD in a single private cloud brings all the team members together VIRTUALLY.  So we virtually co-locate the team rather than physically co-locating the team.

You have to deal with the same security issues in that you want to make sure the team members only have access to the project they are supposed to work on and not all the other projects of the firm.  Some clients have opted to use their corporate active directory domain as the location to bring in other team members.  Conversely, they have also created a separate domain just for the IPD team due to security requirements.  To accomplish this, we must create a separate IPD area within the private cloud.  The lead firm/owner usually foots the bill to setup the infrastructure but each team member must bring their own application license (BYOL) so the owner doesn’t have to buy a Revit license for everyone.  Once the cloud desktops, servers, security, and licensing are set up, each team is given their login credentials and they can work from where ever they are located.  We just brought the people to the data rather than moving the data to the people.

Figure 3. Multiple firms can connect using one or more collaboration hubs for IPD.
Multiple Private Clouds IPD

We are beginning to see clients collaborating in this manner and things are getting very interesting.  As with any technology implementation, after you have invested in your applications, data, and infrastructure, you want to use it to solve all your problems.  What if that firm has invested in a private cloud and would like to collaborate with other firms that also have their own private cloud?  I can hear the “discussions.”  IPD leader from firm A says we have already centralized all our project data, everyone has virtual workstations, and we are cooking with gas. Then the IPD leader from firm B says I have all the same thing and I don’t want to have to acquire more cloud resources in your private cloud so that we can collaborate.  Basically, the question is whose sandbox do we play in?   The answer is you do not have to choose. The private cloud provider can provide applications, data, and infrastructure (and security) to basically “connect” two or more private clouds. 

Each firm can retain their cloud workstations that they use everyday but just be allowed to map to a common drive between companies.  Think of it as a common private cloud sandbox where entry is given to approved IPD team members.  Once the member’s work on the project is complete, they can be kicked out of the sandbox.  Generally, this is done in a separate domain that the team will login to from their cloud desktops to ensure proper security measures are in place.  We can also get very granular on the directory rights so that the architect can only change the architect’s model and the engineer can only change the engineer’s model.  And each of the team members will have read-only access to the other disciplines.

In 2010, we started with a single cloud for a firm, and now in 2016 a “network of clouds” is possible where single clouds can be connected.

Figure 4. IPD is more than just models. Project Management is key to IPD success.

Integrated Project Delivery: Hybrid Cloud

Why would you use this strategy for IPD?

  1. You have a significant investment in distributed (on-premise) technology and cannot just throw it out to embrace private cloud services en masse.  You want to be able to consume private cloud resources without having to duplicate IT expenses and infrastructure.  Basically, when things age out, you don’t replace them with distributed technology.  You replace them with private cloud technology.

  2. You want to connect with various IPD partners where you have a private cloud and they have a distributed environment.  You cannot go out and buy a hybrid cloud.  When you start connecting a distributed infrastructure to private cloud services, you have a hybrid cloud.

  3. You have a global IPD project and remote desktop technology does not yet work flawlessly from China or India to the US due to high network latency.

A hybrid cloud is an interim step that firms can take to ease into private cloud services.  It is certainly not a one-technology-fits-all solution.  Simply put, say I have twenty applications spread over ten locations in a distributed model.  Rather than jumping to twenty applications in one location (private cloud).  I might opt a hybrid approach where I have those applications in one hybrid cloud and reduce my ten locations to three locations.  So the company consolidated ten locations to four (three existing offices and one hybrid cloud).  One way of doing this is acquire a private cloud where people can access their desktops remotely.  Move seven of your ten IPD offices to the private cloud.  The other three offices will still be outside of the private cloud.  Then for this entire team to work together you need replication technology.  We have successfully deployed Panzura devices in each of the three offices and in the private cloud.  This then allows all the data to sync between the private cloud and on-premise offices.  You have just built a hybrid cloud.

The problem with this scenario is that this Panzura technology was designed for ONE domain.  So for an IPD project with different companies, you have to join them to this domain.  Some security departments to not allow trusts to other companies’ domains, so you’ll have to set up a separate domain to collaborate.  This might cause technology duplication in that you need a Panzura for your IPD domain and then another one for your corporate domain.  As these hybrid technologies mature, it may be possible to traverse multiple domains.

Another hybrid cloud trend I am seeing is where a CIO finds good public or private cloud services and “lashes” them together for their company.  Maybe a CIO does not want to build his own private cloud, so he moves his phones to Skype-for-business, video conference bridging to Bluejeans, email to Office365, rendering to Autodesk A360, etc.  This strategy can work for your corporate infrastructure, but it does not lend itself to IPD collaboration.  Software vendors like Autodesk have collaboration tools for IPD such as C4R but that has limitations.  First, it is really designed for Autodesk products and is difficult to collaborate with other applications (like MicroStation, ArchiCAD, or Catia), and second, you are still moving data around to the IPD team.  All hybrid solutions involve some degree of data movement.  But I’d rather sync data between 4 locations than 20 which a hybrid cloud will allow.

As of this writing, a hybrid cloud is required for global projects.  IPD project members operating in a North American private cloud gets them spoiled and they want it to work the same way internationally. That works great for a North American project (assuming your private cloud is in North America) but global teams cannot access the North American private cloud with acceptable performance due to latency.  The hybrid “data movers” like Panzura or Nasuni work great going across big oceans.  You would deploy a private cloud for your North American IPD team members with a Panzura in the private cloud and then a Panzura locally in each country where the IPD team is located.  This strategy is identical to the one I just described where some of the team is inside a private cloud and some are outside the private cloud.

Recommendations and Best Practices for IPD Technology

  1. If you are upgrading your corporate IT, plan your technology such that you can use it for an IPD project.  You might not have that need now, but you may want it in the future.  Remember the early days of BIM?   The lead firm tolerated consultants handing them 2D work until it got to the point that firms with BIM experience were given preference.  The same thing will happen with the cloud.  Firms will want to work with other firms that are easy to collaborate with.

  2. Analyze your data size and movement needs. This gets exponentially complex the more partner firms you have in your IPD project.  I tell clients that twenty offices of data is harder to manage, grow, backup, and secure than one office of data.  If you cannot move everything to one location, consolidate to fewer locations.

  3. When looking at technology solutions, be wary if they are single-focused (or point) solutions.  You want technology that is broad and flexible to be able to handle anything you throw at it in the future.  What happens if you setup your IPD for a Dassault project and the next one turns out to be an Autodesk project?  Will your technology accommodate both or do you now have two IPD solutions?  Your firm may not be using a particular application, but another IPD team member may be need it.

  4. How to get started:

    • Do an assessment of your current IT infrastructure.  Know what you have and how much you spend annually on everything.  Run this IT spend out 5-7 years so that you pick up your HW refresh cycles.  Now you know what you are spending.

    • Make a list of high-level requirements for your IPD project.  Make sure you also include the requirements that you have already implemented.  You do not want to move to a cloud and forget about the things that are working well.

    • Find cloud services that meet your requirements and test them.  A small live project would be best.  At this point, you are not integrating everything into your firm or affecting a large number of people.  It is particularly important to test a workstation running remotely in a datacenter if you have never worked like this before.  The PC is the primary computer that runs AEC applications and accessing it remotely is the key to making all the magic happen.

    • Once you find the technology that works, plan on how you will roll it out to your staff and invite IPD participants.  It is important to ask yourself if you are going to be the leader of the IPD project or a participant?  That will affect the type of technology you deploy.

    • Once you look at the costs, how the requirements are met, and how you might roll it out, start looking at trade-offs.  Certainly, your IT department or consultant will be involved at this stage.  It is here where you decide whether to go “all in” to a private cloud or if you have to ease into via a hybrid cloud approach.

The Next 5 Years

What do I see coming?

  1. Outsourced Network of Clouds – firms will get tired of building all their own IT infrastructure and opt to join a network of clouds.  I have a private cloud now; can I connect securely to your private cloud to work for a set duration?  What is happening now on a small scale will become common place on a large scale.

  2. “Clouding” previously “unclouded” applications.  Many complex, enterprise applications that are running on premise will be moved to a private cloud.  Software makers such as Dassault Systems (PLM), Internet-of-Things (IoT), custom written apps (your strategic, competitive advantages), Healthcare, and Manufacturing would be ideal candidates.  Dassault PLM migrations have already begun.

  3. Analytics – search/analyze your project data.  People will spend less time building systems to generate gobs of data and more time analyzing the data they already have for competitive advantage.  Analytics and Manufacturing applications are central to Lean Construction which is beginning to be implemented by IPD teams.


Hopefully this article has given you food for thought as you implement technology to support your IPD efforts.  Suffice to say that most firms’ technology was not initially designed to support IPD.  Get a handle on the applications, data, and infrastructure you will need, and then look at the various options to create distributed, hybrid or private cloud implementations.

About the Author

Chris France is the Regional President of Advance2000. He has specialized in Information Technology for over three decades. He started his career at IBM Federal Systems as a software and systems engineer and progressed to program manager of major DOD systems. From IBM, he traveled to Charlotte to work for Bank of America and then Wells Fargo where he led efforts to merge and consolidate the information technology of major bank and capital markets divisions. After working in the Fortune 100, Chris spent 11 years as the CIO at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, a Charlotte-based design firm.

At Advance2000, Chris leads the charge for "private cloud computing" services and is a published author and speaker on this important business strategy. He advises on the capabilities and economies of scale of enterprise technology to both large and small companies via a private cloud. Chris holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from The Ohio State College of Engineering and a master's degree in business from the State University of New York at Binghamton. He can be reached at cfrance@advance2000.com.

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