Next week in San Francisco, Autodesk is hosting Forge DevCon, a conference for developers and customers to learn about the Autodesk Forge cloud development platform and APIs. Highlighting the conference is some exciting BIM 360 product news, a keynote presentation by Mark Stocks of JE Dunn Construction, and two sessions in the Architecture, Engineering & Construction track.
As a lead in to next week’s conference, I sat down with the BIM 360 session speakers to get some insight into what’s happening with Forge and BIM 360 APIs, and what they are looking forward to at next week’s conference.
Manu Venugopal is an AEC technology expert with more than 10 years’ experience focusing on BIM, emerging technologies, data and analytics. He is passionate about interoperability and helps partners and developers build apps and integrations with BIM 360 on the Forge platform. Manu has a Doctoral degree from Georgia Institute of Technology, under the guidance of Professor Chuck Eastman, and has co-authored the National BIM Standard for the precast industry and more than 30 publications.
Mikako Harada works as an AEC technical lead and Americas manager for the Developer Technical Services team at Autodesk. She provides support to Forge API community and the members of Autodesk Developer Network worldwide for AEC products. Her interests are in the areas of interactive techniques, optimization and layout synthesis.
Galia Traub is a Senior Software Engineer at Autodesk, working on the BIM 360 Docs APIs. She has been working with Ruby & Rails for several years and is active in Boston’s Ruby community. As a part of her work with the Issues API, she is currently dabbling with both the JSON API specification and React.js.
Tell us about the Autodesk Forge program and platform and why this is important for BIM 360 and our customers and partners?
Manu Venugopal, Sr. Product Manager, BIM 360: Forge provides our customers with a secure and private mechanism to access their BIM 360 accounts, products and data through APIs and connect them to other applications. For developers, it provides them with access to Autodesk cloud technologies and services in a unified and consistent experience.
The idea of having a “front door”, or single access point, for developers to get to any Autodesk web service in a consistent and unified way is very exciting.
Mikako Harada, AEC Technical Lead: The Forge platform is very exciting. We’ve long been an advocate of using APIs to build a strong partner ecosystem for construction as part of our cloud portfolio. To me, having products without APIs is like a rubber band which does not stretch. Forge makes these APIs more accessible, powerful and easier to work with.
How about for our own development efforts?
Galia Traub, Sr. Software Engineer, BIM 360: As we create products and APIs, a lot of problems we used to encounter are now already solved for us thanks to the Forge APIs. For example, gone are the days building out webpages to allow administrators to manage their construction project members – Forge APIs and BIM 360 HQ takes care of that. We have a place to store data via APIs. If we want thumbnails or to process a construction documents in some interesting way, there’s an API for that too. This lets us develop applications faster and with a higher level of consistency.
How can construction companies and construction software developers leverage BIM 360 APIs?
Manu: Let’s use BIM 360 Docs as an example. BIM 360 Docs leverages the Autodesk platform components and provides best-in-class data management capabilities for construction. Third-party developers and partners may want to leverage BIM 360 Docs’s construction document management capabilities and connect them to ERP or financial systems to create a connected workflow. For example, some of our customers and partners are connecting project documents to their ERP systems to put construction issues in the context of their financial impact.
What are some other ways that using Forge APIs can help to connect data?
Mikako: The Forge data management API lets developers access data stored in Autodesk cloud services. This API is common across multiple Autodesk cloud services. So, developers can use the same API to access data across all of the services.
And it isn’t just data. Forge APIs can be used for accessing models, including the ability to embed the model viewer in an application. And APIs can search metadata and geometry data from the model. And all of this can be combined with other external web services.
We often talk about BIM 360 being a “born in the cloud” service. How has the cloud impacted the development and use of APIs?
Galia: As the overhead to spin up a server drops, it becomes easier to design systems as a collection of robust micro-services rather than one large API. Like all things, there are upsides and downsides to this. Systems are now more complex, but that complexity affords us improved fault isolation and autoscaling. We can now deploy small snippets of functionality independently. And my favorite aspect – we are not bound to a single technology stack. Each time we build a new micro-service, we can pick the tools & technology that are most appropriate for the job.
Manu: The expansion of cloud technologies has made it easier to build apps and integrations. Think of embedding a YouTube video on your website. With Forge you can embed or link your super large BIM files in the same way that you would share a YouTube video. The idea is to link data rather than duplicate them. By leveraging the power of the cloud and web services, we can have more seamless workflows and remove duplication of data, thereby avoiding discrepancies.
What are you presenting at next week’s Forge DevCon?
Galia: I’m presenting on the Forge Issues API. This provides a toolset to track issues and drive collaboration related to construction artifacts such as documents and models. I’ll also be talking about the JSON API specification, which is a consistent set of rules for our APIs. Using JSON API means that BIM 360 APIs can be used to fetch and store data in a consistent way.
Mikako: I’ll be presenting the Forge data management API, and will also be at the expert table by the BIM tower in the exhibition hall. Come by and talk with me!
Manu: In my session, “How to Integrate & Extend your Construction Ecosystem with BIM 360 APIs”, we’ll be covering how to leverage new BIM 360 APIs, talking about examples of how our customers are using the APIs, and teaching about the capabilities and opportunities that these APIs present to our customers, developers and partners.
I'll also be part of a panel, "Towards the Next Generation of BIM" where we'll be talking about modeling tools, construction management, real world construction and building occupancy. Will be a great discussion on the future of BIM.
What else should attendees make sure to check out at Forge DevCon?
Galia: Personally, I’m looking forward to collaborating with Autodeskers from all over the world – Boston, San Francisco, Shanghai the UK and beyond. Everyone should take advantage of the opportunity to talk to all of these people!
Mikako: There are a handful of Hackathons that are part of the Bonus Sessions that should be great.
Manu: Check out the keynote by Mark Stocks, Director of Information Architecture at JE Dunn Construction. JE Dunn has done really powerful things with BIM 360 APIs, including building out their own construction ecosystem. It is a seamless connection from where JE Dunn technologies end and Autodesk cloud technologies begin. It is a great example of the true power of APIs to provide an interoperable ecosystem for our customers.
Anything else to add?
Manu: Keep an eye out next week for some exciting announcements around BIM 360 APIs. Forge APIs are a terrific tool for our customers to help improve construction processes and create differentiation in the market. The APIs make it easier to build integrations for construction software that help the entire project team access information seamlessly from disparate systems, reducing the need for manual data entry, improving data quality and consistency and automate construction workflows.
And for developers, BIM 360 APIs are a great vehicle to make your investments more valuable by integrating with Forge to reach a larger audience by partnering with Autodesk.