Monday, 26 January 2009

All things BIM

I just finished reading an interesting offering from McGraw Hill's Construction division; it's a 'SmartMarket' report on Building Information Modeling - and quite an insightful read!

The report has a number of commercial sponsors, notably Autodesk, but in fairness it does try to remain vendor neutral for the most part.

Having spent my $25 USD plus £27 USD postage (!) with ACEC for a hard copy, I noticed this morning that a full PDF copy is now available online.

Worth a look, I'd say.


Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The legacy of Empire

Imperial [im-peer-ee-uhl] : Of, like, or pertaining to an empire. Of or belonging to the British Imperial System of weights and measures.

I was disappointed to watch Mr Obama's inaugural speech yesterday to see he had missed something that would be high on my agenda, up there with the world financial crisis (which has its own logo on BBC news) and the war in Iraq (which thankfully doesn't).

I'm calling for the immediate abolishment of Imperial measurements. They are clunky, ugly, unintuitive, awkward, cumbersome and antiquated. Only a few weeks ago I was an opinionated bystander on this subject, but having recently prepared our first set of Imperial models for our Revit test I feel a little more qualified. All I can say is three cheers to France and Europe for the metric system, who dragged us Brits into the modern world by the scruffs of our necks in the 70's and 80's prior to the advent of mass computerisation.

But perhaps it's too late for America? Is it now so ingrained that 'going metric' is near-impossible? May be, but perhaps the White House should consider the origin of Imperial measurements, as implied by the name.

They were established by the British Empire in 1824, a full nine years before the abolition of slavery, and 48 years after American independence. Surely Mr Obama would like to shake off this legacy?

By the way, here's a smiley face in case you think I'm serious :)


Monday, 19 January 2009

Green shoots? Not yet!

Clearly the economy is at the forefront of everyone's mind these days, which is understandable. We've noticed a number of small trends during the past few months, which indicate that the 'green shoots' mentioned in the British media this week may just be a teensy bit premature!

AEC firms are still at the sharp end of the crunch, with some faring better than others. It seems that those firms with a mix of projects and locations, whilst still feeling the pain, are better geared to cope with the downturn than those with all their eggs in one project sector or country basket. Architects continue to struggle with their business models, more so than their engineering counterparts, it would seem. 'Cost-cutting' is rife, along with downsizing of staff numbers, which is unfortunate, but I suppose necessary.

Another problem appears to be that of simply getting paid for work or services delivered. UK Government guidelines state the importance of paying all invoices within 30 days of receipt, unless a longer payment period has been agreed or the amount billed is in dispute. These days, most UK firms appear to pay on closer to 60 days, and large firms are the worst offenders! This causes a ripple effect throughout the economy, where smaller suppliers have to expend their energies chasing debts, instead of generating new income, and in turn are forced to pay their own creditors late.

It's a vicious circle - and don't expect any help from the banks; I spoke to a 'Relationship Manager' last week at a large British Bank (3rd largest in the UK) and their advice was simple; 'Stretch your creditors as far as you can'(!!) So the banks, in their efforts to make record profits, single handedly wipe out much of the existing world economy as we know it; they go cap-in-hand to their respective Governments for a taxpayer 'bail-out', they take advantage of falling interest rates, at the expense of businesses and home-owners (by not passing on the full rate cuts), and when you ask for their opinion on cash flow their advice is simple - don't pay your bills! Great!

In fairness, I think the picture appears to be different in the US, because every deal we've done in the past year Stateside - every deal - has paid their bill either on time, or ahead of the 30 day terms. What a difference in attitude! Hopefully with the incoming President this week, we'll start to see more of an upward spiral happening in the global economy, led by the US stimulus package currently under discussion. ENR posted an interesting article about a breakdown of the money last week:

But receiving an injection of capital is only part of the answer. The former Trade Minister Lord Jones, when describing the efficiency of the British Civil Service, told the Commons Public Administration Committee in the UK this week; "Frankly the job could be done with half as many (people). It could be more productive, more efficient, it could deliver a lot more value for money for the taxpayer."

As well as securing new deals or lines of credit, it is still vitally important for firms to focus on productivity, and delivering more efficiency from less resource; particularly on projects where taxpayers' money is on the line. And let's face it - that's most of the new projects in the pipeline!

My read on the market, for what it's worth, is that we seem to be bottoming out on the worst of the slide, and will soon start the slow climb back up to 'normal' trading conditions, which are still 18 months away. It is my strong belief that by helping each other, we'll all survive this economic downturn in one piece - and hopefully be a little bit wiser than we were before!


Saturday, 10 January 2009

This just gets gooder and gooder!

I managed to have a few days off over the Christmas holidays this time around, which was great. No emails, no phone calls, no spreadsheets, just good company, (too much) good food and drink, time relaxing with family - all good stuff.

My two year old daughter made me smile amidst a tornado of shredded wrapping paper on Christmas morning. When her mum asked her if she had everything she wanted from Santa, she shrieked, 'This gets gooder and gooder!'. Naturally, we fell about, but the phrase stuck.

As with all software products, they're never really finished, as such; there's always more that can be developed, especially with great customer ideas streaming in for each new release. CADsmart is no different in this respect. But during my holiday down-time, I indulged in a bit of reflection about the past 5 years or so, back to the early days of our fledgling attempts to capture reliable metrics on how people use CAD. Things have moved on a bit since then, and everything on our original wishlist of features is now live in the current software - something we could only dream about back in the day.

Just last year, we completed a major upgrade of our core architecture, adopting the latest programming technology and web services functionality, to make our user journey that much smoother. We also undertook and delivered our first Revit release, which was challenging, but extremely rewarding.

During a web demo to leading US-based CAD consultant Robert Green last week, it suddenly dawned on me that, based on the enthusiastic feedback we received, we have actually created a damn fine piece of technology! And not just our software, which is world-class in the skills assessment field.

The lightbulb moment for me was more to do with the feedback we received on the quality and range of performance metrics which are created when the skills assessments are completed and uploaded to our customer 'dashboard' - a secure online login area where customers can access and interrogate their results data. In fact, the comment was made by Robert that the testing software is really just a tiny part of the big picture - and he's absolutely right! The testing phase is just a means to and end - it's the capturing of the CAD performance data for individuals, teams, offices and whole companies, which is the key.

We've been working hard on providing innovative and useful ways for our customers to engage with and apply their CAD metrics to improving performance across their respective organisations. In the next couple of weeks, we go live with even more functionality for CAD Managers and administrators to present CAD skills data in more of a 'management' context. We're excited at some of the new features, particularly when I look back at how some of the data was presented (using Excel and Word!) just a few short years ago.

In addition, our training reports now dovetail neatly into corresponding web-training sessions from Evolve ( and E-Learning classes from 4D ( which adds even more value to our user base.

To quote a wise-beyond-her-years toddler, this business 'just keeps getting gooder and gooder!' :)


Monday, 5 January 2009

Egon Brunswick's 'Lens Model of Perception'

An obscure title for a CAD blog post, you might think!

In 1937 Professor Egon Brunswick conceived of a model of social perception, called the "Lens Model". The essence of the Lens is this, "What we think we see in others will determine, for the most part, how we will treat them and respond to them. The accuracy of what we think we see will dictate the appropriateness of the behaviour we utilize or the actions we take and the resulting productivity of the relationship."

As humans, we demonstrate the same behaviour in all aspects of life, not just in respect of how we see other people, per se, but in just about everything. We tend to develop pre-conceived ideas about all manner of topics (rightly or wrongly) and form opinions on them instantly when the subject is raised. In effect, we view everything in life through our own personal 'lens', based on a combination our experiences up to that point.

OK, enough of the psychology 101 - which brings me to my point! I had a good chuckle last week upon reading a post on Autodesk's discussion forum. The poster asked, 'Has anyone used this (CADsmart software)? If so, can you give me your opinion on it?'

A perfectly valid question, you might point out - which of course it is. The replies, however, demonstrated some interesting facets about the personalities of people who frequent these boards. Of the replies posted, only one had actually read the question fully - 'has anyone used the software?' i.e. can they give me an opinion based on the facts, not personal opinion based on heresay, ego, etc. etc. This person had used the software, and replied with an honest, positive account of their experience.

The remainder simply seemed to want to vent their collective CAD spleen on the virtues (or lack thereof) of testing CAD skills in general, based purely on their own personal biases on the subject (their 'lens' if you will). Not surprisingly, none had anything particularly positive to relay, but were nevertheless happy to share their (ill-researched) opinions with the world - don't they always?!

The most amusing post stated, in apparent horror, '$500 for a 10 minute test ? WOW ! I can't imagine anyone spending thousands of dollars to find out which candidate performed the best on a ten minute test. The money might be better spent hiring an private investigator to check out their resume!'

Which is funny up to a point, but demonstrates only a partial grasp of the facts and a huge (incorrect) assumption, which they were happy to splash all over the discussion boards.

Oh, and for the record, the $497 subscription for our Xpress software, which does indeed take 10-20 minutes to complete, offers unlimited assessments for a whole year - slightly better value, wouldn't you think? And for a more detailed assessment, including training needs analysis on a user's weak areas, the Premier service typically costs $10 - $60 per user per year, depending on the firm size.

Happy New Year!