SMART Solutions for AEC Project Teams
By: Mudeeha Yousaf


At the heart of any project is a fixed deadline, and in an industry where decisions are routinely changed, the security of this deadline is never assured. For the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry, shifting deadlines are compounded by the number of associated businesses and contractors that may be involved, along with the time delays and associated costs. Schedule changes may occur in order to accommodate both the owner and operator. Risks associated with miscommunication around any and all project changes include missed deadlines, financial penalties, re-work, or loss of future tenders, which is why the AEC community is attempting to be vigilant in how they approach such project details.

The potential impact of miscommunication within the fields of AEC is massive – the industry in Western Europe alone represents 10.7% of GDP. So maneuvering through a global dilemma of miscommunication requires technologies and new approaches in order to breathe life into one-way communications.

Construction productivity has steadily gone downhill as compared to other industries. Before IPD (integrated project delivery), the construction industry lagged behind the rest and decreased in productivity every year since 1964 through 2004, and held an 80% production ratio, whereas other industries exceeded to up to 200%. (Paul Teicholz, Ph.D. Professor (Research) Emeritus, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University.) VIEW ARTICLE.

Stanford University documents productivity in the form of monetary value for construction and design companies’ operations. The research concludes that there is a $3 million cost reduction for general contractors, and a roaring $300, 000.00 of savings for design companies. Statistics conclude that through the use of BIM (building information modeling) and collaboration technology there has been a dramatic increase in productivity within the AEC field of up to 20%. (User Maturity and Benefits Achieved Through the Use of SMART Board Collaboration Technology in Collaboration Sessions, Goldarcena, J., and J. Kunz, 05/2013.) VIEW ARTICLE.

With new innovations and a change in the way people within the construction industry interact and communicate, the currently unrealized  reduction of costs, shortened project schedules and maximized efficiencies will surely be welcomed by everyone.

Gone are the days when pen and paper or hard copy project plans were the sole elements of communicating and capturing ideas and changes that may have been discussed. Today, nothing compares to a device that allows visual communication to stand at the forefront. Enter SMART Technologies’ enabled BIM Room Solution: a revolutionary technology that integrates interactive touch technology and 3D building with structure design software, and the sharing of information for all project stakeholders through an easy interface.

For companies whose primary goal is to deliver an on-time, on-budget project, miscommunication errors can reach into the millions. The AEC field is not immune to miscommunication, especially when having to coordinate between the project site, various office locations where architects and engineers may be working, along with bringing subcontractors and trades into the discussions. SMART’s BIM Room Solution offers the best-in-class technology for effective communication within AEC project teams. The solution includes in-room and remote collaboration software along with interactive touch displays that are integrated with industry leading AEC software from Tekla® Adobe® and Autodesk®. These industry-leading companies have created a series of applications for architects, engineers and contractors to design and collaborate on buildings and structures in 3D. SMART’s BIM Room allows for a virtual working space to be created and this is seen in real time by all parties participating in the discussion. Because it is virtual and broadcasted using SMART remote conferencing software, participants can use interactive displays, laptops and tablets, virtually anywhere. No longer is there the need to fit 20 people in a room and the associated time and travel costs that requires. The SMART Solution offers a seamless communication platform for all parties to view, edit and alter as required. At the end of these working sessions, the digital files can be saved and immediately emailed to all participants. No longer does someone need to painstakingly attempt to decipher discussion notes and transcribe mark-ups in order to share such details.

IBSECAD, a UK based 3D Design Company runs a series of workshops on various  computer aided model (CAD) applications including Autodesk Navisworks. Here is how Richard Baglow, Regional Director of IBSECAD, describes the benefits of using SMART’s BIM Room. “This is a big step forward from looking at paper drawings and makes it easier for the clients to visualise their projects. However, the challenge lies in how we work with those models, record the collaborative process and capture changes to the plans. We were limited to using screen grabs of images and marking them up by hand, using Photoshop packages or the commentary tool on Autodesk Navisworks, but it was a relatively slow process.” The combination of hardware and software support ensures better coordination and communication during any phase of project delivery from concept to construction to close-out.

AEC project team members now have the ability to collaborate, communicate and coordinate with other project members using SMART’s remote collaboration capability. This keeps the right people connected throughout the project– whether they are in the same room or remote – making miscommunication a thing of the past.

“The solution facilitates the ability to bring in a wide variety of visual content – everything from a simple sketch in early project stage to high resolution images and 3D models – and to be able to bring all that content into a discussion where people can freely collaborate, mark up or capture and it doesn’t matter if they’re physically located together or geographically separated. Ultimately this will shorten cycle times, produce better results and reduce costs,” says Rick Kennedy, SMART’s Business Development Manager specializing in the AEC market. Kennedy has been intimately involved in the evolution of SMART Solutions for business users for the past seven years. During that time he has worked with hundreds of customers and helped shape the design and user experience of AEC solutions.

Having all parties interact using visual communication will inevitably improve project proficiency. “To have visual content available like a 3D model, we can all pick up a pen and visually describe exactly what we’re talking about… This encourages engagement from everyone, which ultimately delivers both faster and better results,” adds Rick.

The development of SMART’s BIM Room Solution is significantly influenced by the people who use them. In essence, SMART consults with customers to help define their products.  For example, SMART turned to two of the largest construction organizations in the United States – Turner Construction and DPR Construction – to help create the requirements for the integrations with industry leading AEC software applications.

“When everyone sees the impact that changing something in one spot has on other areas – it gives everyone an appreciation for what each person is bringing to the project,” says Atul Khanzode, DPR Construction’s Director of Virtual Building. “This opportunity to explore and resolve pain points in a virtual environment ahead of time will have a direct impact on how smoothly construction will go.” Echoing these sentiments, Dan Gramer of Turner Construction asserts, “It has changed our meetings. We’re able to get on topic, pull up a 3D model, show the problem and quickly get others on board.”

SMART has worked with Stanford University’s Centre for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) and its clients for close to a decade. As a premier academic research center for Virtual Design and AEC industry projects, CIFE supports exceptionally reliable engineering and management practices to plan, design, construct and operate sustainable facilities. The world-renowned University has closely assessed the application and released a research paper on the economic impact of adopting SMART Solutions into organizations that have implemented building information modeling. Their findings conclude that these companies can realize a return of investment in as little as one week and improve on-time performance. John Kunz, Executive Director of CIFE, relays that, “the result of an economic analysis of these benefits and associated costs suggest a very strong business case for this collaboration technology for a broad spectrum of design and construction organizations.” The study confirms that shorter project meetings, improved safety and a better understanding of client requirements are a result of implementing SMART’s hardware and software solution.

RFI’s (request for information) are required when the parties involved in the project need additional information or clarity, either at the bid phase or construction phase. Improving the collaboration and communication between project stakeholders can result in significant reduction in the number of RFI’s and ultimately deliver better quality projects – faster.

To visually review project plans in a group environment will allow for faster understanding, and thereby reduce the number of RFI submissions. “The research conducted by Stanford shows there is a significant reduction in RFI’s as a result of improved collaboration,” says Kennedy. “It’s not just the time to do the work but the time to respond, because when you submit an RFI you’re not getting an immediate response, but when you visually look at content and have everyone on the same page it can significantly reduce the time.”

The solution for AEC project teams has applications at every stage of the project from a simple sketch in the early project stage or ‘fat pen’ stage, to the ability to working directly in industry leading AEC applications ranging from Autodesk Navisworks, Revit, AutoCAD to Tekla BIMsight during the design phase and construction phases.

“We have achieved a significant return on investment from the implementation of SMART Boardinteractive whiteboards and SMART Bridgit conferencing software,” says Ken Cartier, Partner and Lead Architect of GEC Architecture. “SMART collaboration solutions enable staff and clients to easily view highly-detailed architectural drawings and experience greater collaboration which has resulted in meetings that are quicker and more productive. Our entire investment in the solution was easily paid for with one architectural project.”

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is the process where all stakeholders are rewarded or penalized based on the overall success of the project. They all share accountability and risk throughout each phase which greatly influences the need to work collaboratively.

“In order to do that more effectively they need the tools and will benefit the entire industry,” Kennedy says. Because of this shared accountability of risk and success along with everyone having equal access to the pie, it is no wonder why the IPD process is growing in its popularity.

One of the challenges the AEC industry faces is reluctance to adopt new technology unless they are highly motivated and is easy to use. “When we have students arrive or new hires join, at first they can be a bit hesitant to use it. But once they do, there’s just no going back. You just keep using it and finding new ways to use it, as well,” says Peter Osborne, Partner at GEC Architecture.

“There’s always a challenge in terms of people having to work differently with a change of technology,” says Kennedy. “Our consulting and adoption services were created to try to understand how the technology is to be used and how organizations will work differently given the new capability. We go in and work with customers and show them how they can take full advantage of the technology[RB1]  to enhance their workflows. We have a vested interest in people’s success.”

 “With the SMART solution, we can very easily demonstrate what works in a design and what doesn’t. The evolution of a plan can take place right there, when normally it would take three meetings,” explains Helma Gansen, President of Gansen Lindsay Design Consultants. “The SMART Board is a tool that is very relevant to the way we communicate and work today.”

A critical success factor also proves to be that industry leaders, such as Trimble, have worked closely with SMART to improve the software – which is constantly evolving and improving — and help provide specific solutions.

 “If I were to describe something in words and voice only, there would be miscommunications and clarifications required, but if I show you visually and draw out how it works it’ll be clearer and require less time,” Kennedy advocates. It is because of these significant results and savings reaching into the millions that the members of the AEC industry have dubbed SMART Solutions for AEC Project Teams as “game-changing.”

SMART Technologies Inc. – the mastermind behind this imperative product –  is a leading provider of technology solutions that enable inspired collaboration in schools and workplaces around the world, by turning group work into a highly interactive, engaging and productive experience. SMART delivers integrated solutions of hardware, software and services, designed for superior performance and ease of use, and retains its place as a frontrunner in interactive displays.

For more information on The SMART BIM Room and other solutions, visit SMART

 [RB1]“….take full advantage of the technology to enhance their workflows