Autodesk announced their new concept of Business Information Modeling (BIM) data management recently, that could manage most anything, and be accessed most anywhere. They call it BIM 360.  The announcement peaked my interest because I think being able to find information, and find it almost anywhere you go is a great idea. But how?

I was introduced to Pat Keaney, Director of AEC Collaboration Products, and Jeremy Lambert , Product line manager for Vault Collaboration AEC, who explained the components involved and what was going to make BIM so manageable and accessible. They even let me in on free offer that you should know about.

What is BIM 360?

BIM 360 is composed of 3 main components:

  • Vault Collaboration AEC – Fully secured, managed data
  • Buzzsaw – The best collaboration tool ever
  • Integrated Mobile applications – iPhone and iPad access

“The vision for collaboration and data management at AEC was to cover the broad ranging requirements of individuals who need collaboration in the office and in the field”, Pat told me. “This industry is different in that there are so many different players including contractors, architects, and engineers, simultaneously working in the enterprise workplace, and on the job site”.

These needs include management, cataloguing, and security of data, as well as collaborative communication and access to data no matter where the office is, including the hood of the contractor’s truck.

Pat explained that Autodesk is watching the highly collaborative nature of the AEC industry, and the interesting changes that the economy has created in business models. Companies are combining work in new ways to be competitive and to control margins. This collaboration has taken a difficult task of managing AEC project data, and compounded it with numerous groups trying to share it in a timely manner, and with some form of confidence in its state of revision.

Vault Collaboration AEC

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Jeremy added “No matter how good you are at organizing, there’s always a better way to deal with access and redundancies.” Management of collaborative data in the AEC space has become more critical in recent years. Accessing and controlling data has become even more difficult as the explosion in the sheer size and quantity of it all. Autodesk products are creating larger and larger data sets as the processor and RAM capabilities increase.

Vault AEC and Civil 3D ObjectsAutodesk’s Vault is one powerful data manager. It is a storehouse of information about any project, able to track the most minute details about various files and dependencies, and control, organize, and display them in an easy to understand format. This includes object models specific to products such as Revit Architecture, Civil 3D, and Navisworks to name a few.

Furthermore, additional capabilities are constantly being introduced that interact within design applications that allow users to visualize the state of data stored in the vault.

Vault’s technologies are divided into products that support different industry workflows. Change order and Bill of Materials capabilities for example,  are included in the full capacity of Vault Professional. However these and some of Vault Professional’s capabilities are rarely required in the civil arena. So Autodesk introduced Vault Collaboration AEC, which delivers most of the Vault family of capabilities, at a lower cost. This product is aimed at helping workgroups of 25 users or less.

Vault Collaboration AEC vs…Non-Vault workflows

imageNon-Vault referencing of data included Civil 3D projects and Data References. Vault Collaboration supports Data References, which is good news for many of us that like this functionality. Many users don’t want to lose the ties they have with their shortcuts, and Vault ensures that these are not broken. Projects on the other hand, are replaced by Vault, and along with it, the problems, idiosyncrasies, and limitations of  project XML files disappear.

File Caching and Full Replication

This was one of the most eye catching features I learned about this spring.

Vault Collaboration supports full Vault replication, allowing other workgroups to copy a Vault locally to their enterprise workgroup. This bypasses latency and permits faster uninterrupted access to the project information on the Vault Server. Vault Collaboration will sync the replicated Vault data, and ensure that everyone is accessing the same information, no matter which server the files are being checked out of. What happens when these server can no longer communicate? I have always been skeptical about this aspect of replication.

Get this: In order to ensure that data is not lost, Vault collaboration employs file caching of the Vault activities. A replicated Vault server can become disconnected from the main server, and continue to operate properly for a period of two weeks before the connection must be repaired. After the replicated Vault is reconnected, they synchronize their datasets from the file caches, and repair the files and data records, automatically. Totally cool.

Buzzsaw is Collaboration

imageI was introduced to Buzzsaw some years back and thought it was a great tool to connect everyone to a project. Simply said, you’d upload your submittal plans or revised Revit building export to the Buzzsaw cloud server, update the status boards, and trigger an Outlook notification to all predefined Buzzsaw project collaborators. The emails are automatically distributed to the specific members assigned to that part of the project, along with a link to the specified files on the Buzzsaw cloud server. Revisions, comments, and statuses were all distributed in this manner. Layered user rights gave visibility to users where required, and removed access to specified areas of the project as needed. Set up the users and project managers, and let Buzzsaw worry about the rest.

There were unfortunately two core problems with Buzzsaw: Limited storage (0.25 Gig per seat I think), and a large annual fee that chased everyone away.

Autodesk has incorporated Buzzsaw Sync into their new collaborative vision, and elevated its value by now by taking its great collaboration and awareness properties, and connected them to Vault. Now instead of everyone involved being connected to a project, it’s everyone involved in the construction project being connected to the Vault project data, no matter where they are in the world.

Mobile Extensions

Buzzsaw is now the hub that makes this collaborative effort possible. Buzzsaw now synchronizes the Vault data on the cloud, that any member can access.

imageMobile technologies have been integrated allowing iPad and iPhone users to access that Vault from the field. Not only does Buzzsaw distribute information to the team, but it acts as a bridge, providing mobile team members a manner in which to read the vault data. Team members in the field can upload data to the server, delivering situational awareness information into the hands of the enterprise team directly, without waiting for the information to be delivered back to the office.

This really sounded cool, but I braced myself for the letdown as I asked about the price. I know Pat was smiling when she replied “if you purchase a seat of Vault Collaboration AEC on Subscription, Autodesk will provide that purchaser a Buzzsaw login and a Gig of server space for no additional charge”

H/C, It’s FREE !! (I clarified because I thought I misunderstood). Not exactly what I expected.

Bluestreak Integration

imageProject Bluestreak is one of Autodesk’s collaborative efforts, a free service that allows users to form groups and share data. Bluestreak is intended to allow professionals to form informal groups to facilitate simplified cloud based collaboration. Users in a large office with multiple floors, or even a team in another country can communicate in real time while working together to solve a problem. Bluestreak provides a grat way to form a group and communicate rapidly without the rigors of the Buzzsaw structure.

Autodesk recognized how these capabilities could be used within Buzzsaw, and decided to include Buzzsaw integration.

Check out more information on the Autodesk Bluestreak Site

My Thoughts

So now with a subscription of Vault Collaboration AEC, projects can be stored and managed, replicated to other offices, sync’d back and forth with the cloud and accessed by member in their offices, over the internet, and in the field.

Sure it costs some money, but let me ask you, “How much time do you waste looking for obscure drawing revisions from 5 years ago, or verifying which set of plans were the ones that were submitted to DOT?” “How much time do you spend sending emails out with PDF in various stages of submittal, and CAD files to various subcontractors?”

I know a few Architects and project contractors that I wished had this capability. It would dramatically increase my confidence in a collaborative effort if I knew I could login and see the most current version of the construction plans, whenever I needed to. Factoring BIM 360 as a cost savings is likely not an aspect you employ in project cost analysis,  but considering lost time and money due to avoidable oversights in managed data, it’s definitely going to be one that I look forward to.

You can give Buzzsaw a free spin for 30 days, by visiting Autodesk here.