Engineering Inc. - July/August 2007 - (Page 42)

GuEst ColumN tEChNoloGy Digital Visualization is RoaDmap to EnginEERing FiRm succEss By Paul Doherty, AIA The past 10 years have been traumatic for engineering professionals. New technology-based solutions such as computer-aided design have brought new values, revenues and processes to design and the business of construction. But as we grow, from using an “electronic pencil” to using technology as the basic form of business and communication, an entire generation of engineering professionals is caught between old and new. The practice of “storytelling” from one generation to the next is being lost as the tools of one generation are fundamentally different from the tools of those that follow—and only the best engineering firms find ways to successfully bridge that gap. The technology tsunami of the 1990s created an entire “Generation Lost” of engineering professionals who are at a distinct disadvantage moving into the future. But there is hope on the horizon that the next generation of engineering leaders will move forward in great ways. Technology used as a communication medium rather than a computing tool can be harnessed with the creative energy of engineering professionals to produce easier-touse tools, materials, methods and processes leading to a more efficient, effective and aesthetically pleasing built environment. Holistic design will become a reality because of the increased integration of information tech- Paul Doherty nologies, emerging building technologies and creative financial resources. Subsequently, engineering professionals of Generation Lost will be able to integrate time, money and resources to produce higher value of design; Generation Lost will, in turn, become “Generation Found.” How do you ensure that your firm takes advantage of new technology? The first and most important step is to implement a culture of digital visualization. The visualization of data is the roadmap of any successful engineering firm’s future. It can be very frustrating to be in an industry that is constantly constructing the built environment in 3D, especially while using 2D tools to communicate design intent. Interpretations of traditional 2D communication tools such as plans and specs can lead to miscommunication and mistakes. These potential trouble spots are not going away any time soon, but the method and process by which these data find their way onto paper can be dramatically changed for the better. By using common, shared information models for engineering 42 ENGINEERING INC. July / AuGust 2007 projects and visualizing data in easy-to-understand methods— 3D, 4D and 5D, for example—the engineering professional has the ability today to transform his or her firm by creating efficiencies and increasing value. The process and software that integrates 2D, 3D, 4D and 5D technologies is known as Building Information Modeling (BIM). It is important to note that BIM is a maturing business process and not all standards are in place today. Although the standards are still in development, a sound strategy for modern engineering firms is to fit BIM features and functions into existing business plans—this, as opposed to implementing full-scale BIM initiatives. Firms that choose to implement a BIM program within fundamentally sound processes will be in a good position to realize value since immediate BIM benefits—design optimization, fewer design revisions, fewer construction errors, reduced fabrication costs and so on—can be realized. As with all new technologies, there will be some firms that see BIM as too risky and not worth the investment of time and money; other firms will be faster to adopt the technology. When it comes down to it, marketplace demands will dictate BIM’s place in the industry. But what’s great about BIM is that it isn’t just for new buildings. By retrofitting older buildings with BIM software, facility managers can use digital diagrams and 3D building images to manage and regulate a variety of variables, from room temperature to overhead lighting. Rather than walk throughout a building and check each thermostat and light fixture individually, managers can use computergenerated diagrams to monitor each system from a remote location, saving time and money and working more efficiently. Most engineering software providers offer some sort of BIM product today. As with all software choices, your choice for BIM will come down to which software best fits the culture, style and resources of your firm. n Paul Doherty is a registered architect, author, educator, strategist and integrator of technology and business, and adviser to Fortune 500 organizations, global government agencies and prominent institutions. He is a member of the International Facility Management Association Board of Directors. He can be contacted at pdoherty@

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Engineering Inc. - July/August 2007

Call for Entries
From ACEC to You
News & Notes
Market Watch
Legislative Action
The Big Dig
Risky Engineering
2007 Professional Liability Survey
Institute For Business Management Fall 2007 Course Catalog
Roadside Technology
2007 Convention Wrap-Up
2007-2008 Excom
2007 Fall Conference Primer
Business Insights
Members in the News
One on One

Engineering Inc. - July/August 2007