7 min read
Robert Manna is a leader in technology implementation at Stantec. Trained as an architect at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he is the product owner of Stantec’s model database and suite of custom Revit tools. He interfaces with technology vendors and IT to configure and deploy technology to help Stantec teams deliver projects on time and on budget. He also serves as the Chairman of the Design Technology Summit, an annual meeting of design technology leaders from the largest architecture and engineering firms in North America. In a customer spotlight webinar, I asked Robert about his and his team’s challenges and successes when collaborating in Revit. He shared their journey, capping off with 8 BIM 360 Design tips and best practices.
The following is an edited transcript. You can listen to the whole recording here.
Adam Peter (Autodesk): Thank you, Robert, for being here today! We’d like to start off by learning a bit about how you got to where you’re at and what you do for Stantec?
Robert Manna (Stantec): I started out as a practicing architect getting involved in Revit very early on in my career. I helped with the implementation of Revit at Burt Hill, my original firm, which was acquired by Stantec in 2010. I continued to involve myself in the implementation and support of technology in practice, which lead me to becoming a part of the Digital Practice team within Stantec Buildings, which is responsible for helping with strategic direction, implementation and support for technology. So, what does that all really mean? We look after the technology and workflows that are used by our practitioners to get their work done.
What motivates you to find a good collaboration solution for Revit? Please tell us about the history of that process and where your needs arose from.
When I started in 2003 with Burt Hill, we had six offices in the greater Northeastern U.S. We were adopting Revit and needed to collaborate between those six offices. Back in 2006-07 we were saying, “How do we collaborate with these different geographic locations in Revit?” We knew that there were some pretty major issues trying to use a Revit model across the wide area network (WAN) and that was back in the day when having a T1 line was a big deal to connect to the internet. When Burt Hill was acquired by Stantec, it increased our footprint to a much more significant area within North America.
Stantec is a growing global company of employees, 4,000 of which are dedicated to delivering building design and engineering services. We want to bring the right expertise to the project and to balance the workload across the organization. We need to deliver projects from all our offices, presenting Stantec as a global design firm where you will get consistent services and product from any office, not from a bunch of individual offices.
When trying other solutions out, we were never really satisfied and had concerns, particularly when looking at Revit worksharing. We want project data up to date with as little friction as possible, so sharing through FTP or copying files from file servers imposes restrictions and impacts the workflow.
Looking at the evolution of collaboration in Revit, can you describe your history along this timeline and what the journey has been like?
We were able to participate in the beta of BIM 360 Design along with a handful of other organizations. The reason we were willing to adopt this so quickly is because we had been using Revit cloud worksharing (Collaboration for Revit) from its beta days. We have a deep history working with the teams at Autodesk, and it has generally gotten better as we go along, which is why we keep using these tools. We think BIM 360 Design is a great solution for worksharing with Revit models.
Can you dive into the pain points experienced from Revit Server, and how those were addressed in Revit Cloud Worksharing (Collaboration for Revit)? Even the challenges within Revit Cloud Worksharing that have been addressed in BIM 360 Design?
Revit Server was fundamentally designed for internal use within a company. Expanding Revit Server for use by multiple companies using a relatively secure VPN just doesn’t pass muster for Stantec with our overall security posture and size. Collaboration for Revit answered that pain point when it launched in 2015. We could now have multiple companies collaborating on Revit models. However, its high trust environment meant that everyone had access and could edit any Revit model. In some projects, that was a significant concern. BIM 360 Design helps to deal with those issues.
We now have full control over the security of and access to the models. Depending on the type of project and its needs – who has access to what, when did things change, when did one part of the team receive information from another part of the team – those can all be really important for the project. BIM 360 Design delivers those features in a way that is friendly with Revit.
There are other products that do that but, in our experience, they don’t play as well with Revit. That’s really what has driven us in this direction and why we we’ve been happy to adopt BIM 360 Design for our projects.
Let’s switch gears and talk a bit more about BIM 360 Design. Do you have some examples of how using it has changed the way that your team collaborates when it comes to Revit?
I don’t know that it has changed the way we collaborate (from Collaboration for Revit days) as much as it makes collaboration more effective. I grabbed this screenshot from a project we’ve had in BIM 360 the longest. You can see how the different disciplines are actively sharing their updates with each other. I’m not aware of a platform that provides this kind of graphic view of what’s going on.
You can see that these teams have clearly agreed they’re going to exchange data on a regular basis to keep each other up to date or because of an upcoming deadline. What you’re seeing is all the times the Revit model has been shared with other parts of the project team. Each dot represents a moment of time where work was shared and if there is a number on the dot, that shows how many times information was shared. You’re looking at 10 months of time here.
If we were doing this in a traditional mechanism because we’re dealing with external consultants (all engineering is out of house, Stantec is delivering architectural and landscape) we would have had to exchange files through another application, drop copies of the architectural model drop them into another folder, create a transmittal to distribute out to partners, and your partners would then have to download those models, set it up in their environment, and reload them into the Revit model.
With BIM 360 Design, that’s all gone. The moment somebody from the team shares that package and the moment somebody from that other team consumes that package the data is there. Is it instantaneous? No, but it’s a heck of a lot faster than the traditional “Upload, download, copy, and move files” workflow. This is big for us when working with externals because it means our users are not spending billable time moving files around. We are now spending billable time doing more useful tasks on the project. We think this is huge. We think this is important. Our teams like the idea of this.
Our teams are looking into the additional features that Design Collaboration provides, in particular, change visualization. This gives you an understanding of what has changed in the model since you last consumed it.
How is it used? Say you’re coming up on a deadline and the mechanical engineer is trying to get their work done when the architect decides to make some changes. Maybe the mechanical engineer doesn’t need those latest changes, maybe what the architect produced in the last version is sufficient for the mechanical engineer to meet their deadlines. In previous generations of Collaboration for Revit and Revit Server, if those changes were live links, the engineer had to eat those changes right there and then and you had to fix it before you could produce your drawing. Now this offers that level of control and puts that decision-making in other team members hands to say, “Nope, I don’t want those changes from the architect yet, I’m happy with where I’m at and I understand the ramifications of that decision and I’m going to proceed.”
This level of control is available in a dead drop environment, but it imposes a lot of overhead on our project teams. Now we have a combination of both, live linking or seamless data transfer, while also having the respected boundaries between the different parts of the team. I like sharing my own learnings and BIM 360 Design tips with others, so I put some together below:
8 BIM 360 Design tips and best practices, by Stantec’s Robert Manna
Let’s start with project setup:
- Naming conventions: A good practice is to name the project with the assigned project number for the lead design firm, include the “name” after some type of text separator, hyphen, colon. It makes it easier to find what you are looking for.
- Set up sub-folders even if you won’t use advanced workflows. Even if you don’t intend to make use of the advanced sharing and document control capabilities, set up the folder structure so that you could use it down the road. You don’t know if something is going to change. Setting it up from the beginning is just easier.
- Use simple names for sub-folders. I highly recommend some sort of structured naming convention similar to what you hopefully are employing internally for subfolders. I recommend the numerical designator, then the discipline, and the company that is working on it. You might need to include a building name identifier if you have larger projects with multiple buildings.
When setting up teams, here’s what I recommend:
- Use the company field to create groups. We’ve been using the company field to create groups within individual projects because the company field for an individual user is different per project. This allows us to more granularly apply permissions in terms of access to folders, who is on what team, etc.
- Add all known members up front, it’s just easier. You can always dial back access for people later. Important reminder for your team members: Always accept the invitation. In BIM 360, users invited by a project administrator have to accept the invitation and login in order to access the files through Revit along with the web console itself.
Power user looking for more advanced tips? Try these:
- Live link models for “high trust” sharing. Teams can emulate higher trust sharing by basically giving people access to other folders to live link. If the structural engineers want to see the latest and greatest changes from the architects, you can give the structural engineers “View” permissions on the architecture folder. They can browse there and link to the actual central model that the architects are working on as opposed to having to go through the share and consume process. Learn more about the different types of linking in Design here.
- View access allows teams to link to your files, not browse and open them: This is where subfolders can be helpful. For example, you can give the structural engineer “View” access which means they can link to the architectural models. But if the same structural engineer goes to “File Open” and try to browse the architect’s folder they will not be able to see any files to open because they only have “View” access, so those files are only going to show in the links dialog in Revit.
- Use Autodesk Desktop Connector. Our teams are taking advantage of Autodesk Desktop Connector and are using it in conjunction with Revit and linking other types of files.
Watch the full webinar here.
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