Geo Week News

May 15, 2018

BIM, open source & collaboration: 10 Minutes with Kimon Onuma


This post is part of Demystifying AEC Tech: A Series Profiling AEC Next Expo Presenters. For more on the cutting edge of AEC tech, see the other parts here.

Collaboration among various members of a construction team—between the general contractor, architects, and subcontractors—can be a disjointed process. Despite advances in technology that would allow them to do so, some engineers, architects, and contractors are not comfortable sharing their modeling data with other pros working on the same project.
The potential of BIM is not realized on many projects, delaying the methodology’s full adoption and convincing companies that there is no need to adopt it. Many professionals are fighting this trend by sharing their knowledge on how helpful such tools can be.

Kimon Onuma

Architect Kimon Onuma is one of them. A member of the Building Smart Alliance, Onuma has used BIM successfully for more than three decades. He leads a team of architects and computer scientists at Onuma, Inc., a company he co-founded in 1988. The firm’s ONUMA System enables users to collaborate in the cloud and create data for BIM models. He likes to help change people’s minds on using the tool.

In Onuma’s view, professionals who don’t use BIM and other tools to effectively collaborate are missing lucrative opportunities to save time and money on jobs. He also believes that these professionals are not changing with the times, and the longer they fail to update their workflows through BIM and other tools, the more they will put themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Collaboration between project members, even down to the foreman level, is increasingly essential for meeting deadlines and cutting costs. Many companies realize this, and as a result they are dictating to software companies how such information should be shared. Firms are asking to see the source code for software they are using to tweak it to their own advantage.

Meanwhile, the open source approach is clearly trending, and not just with Construction Open Software Alliance (COSA), but with companies of all sizes. More companies are asking for open source. Some of the giants of the tech world are proponents of it. But how far might this trend go?

“We are seeing more of open source. And apps are becoming more of a commodity and it’s becoming easier to build solutions—easier platforms make it easier to build functional solutions. So, I think that open source encourages the ability to build things quickly,” Onuma said.

There are more benefits yet to be achieved from an open source approach, too. One is, that firms cut out the code-writing middleman.

“You can build new apps without really needing to know how to code. The proliferation of apps means they are becoming disposable—yet you can still use the underlying data. You can build custom apps on the fly now,” he said.

But not everyone is thrilled with the trend. The idea of opening data to others outside a company is not at all acceptable to some firms, who view such openness as a security risk. Though there are potential drawbacks to the open source approach, security isn’t necessarily one of them.

“You get what you get—it’s use at your own risk. But if it’s a popular open source code, it can be more secure, because there are more people using it and scrutinizing it,” Onuma said.

Flexibility and scalability in such tech tools are fast becoming requirements, for users and the companies themselves. Perfection isn’t the ideal—improving the company’s workflow by using the tool is.

“In an ‘agile’ approach, you build small tools for specific tasks, and you are updating every two weeks,” Onuma said. “You’re constantly building and developing and adding new functionality. Things are changing so fast—if you make that a given, then you release your new version [of a tool]and adjust as needed.”

Change is the constant for many in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. For those firms with a dynamic vision of their own future, constant improvement of workflows is part of that continual change. And some nations are encouraging this change, even going so far as to pass laws to encourage AEC companies to adopt 4D and 5D BIM.

Europe is embracing Building Information Modeling (BIM) by mandating it—especially the UK. But is the US AEC industry keeping pace with its counterparts in Europe?

“The UK is very far ahead, because of the government mandate. I think they’re going to be successful… I think the US is behind in some ways, but we are way ahead overall, because of open source,” Onuma said.

Government mandates in Europe and elsewhere, as well as more owner requirements in the US calling for BIM use on projects, are pushing its adoption. This is making BIM more affordable and usable. It’s getting harder for competitive companies who want the best jobs not to use the tool. Also, using BIM has become advantageous even for small companies.

“We are a small company, and we started using BIM in 1993. We’ve intentionally stayed small. It’s a fallacy that you must be a big company to use BIM. If you have the right mindset, as a small company, you need to look at using BIM as an advantage,” Onuma said. “You’ll repay your ROI fast.”

Some large AEC tech companies are offering BIM services to clients, which can require offshoring the work. Though these clients aren’t always sure about the efficacy of this approach, Onuma has had a lot of success with it.

“We actually collaborate with various companies throughout the world. We have the mindset that they are part of the team,” Onuma said. “Larger companies are coming to us because of our agility.”

Onuma is a central member of the advisory board for AEC Next on June 5-7 in Anaheim, a conference and expo featuring a wide range of presentations and vendors of the latest AEC technologies. Register now.

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