Tag Archives: efficiency

Implementing Revit in your practice

Changing gearsI started this post as a collection of ways to implement Revit into your practice. As I wrote, I relaised that actually these principles are fairly sound for any software implementation. If you are an IT professional – you should know all this already and I apologise, but this post is not for you. If you do not have a dedicated IT department or if you are the architect tasked (taxed) with implementing Revit (or Office 2007 etc.) – then read on.

A successful implementation will rely on a few commonsense rules and a lot of hard work. Ensure you know what Revit is, I don’t mean that to sound trite, but ensure you know what it is that you are wishing to get from the software. Have expectations, begin them fairly low, but know what it is you want and check that the software will be able to deliver. You will be sorely disappointed if after 6 weeks of work you cannot produce what you had hoped.

Choose a small, simple project to trial Revit on. Begin with simple geometry. Choose a project that is homed in one office (assuming that you may have more than one to begin with), this will make it easier to manage and also to address any issues quickly and simply. Feedback will be given and you can train, teach and mentor as needed.

Have a project champion – this person should be respected, have credibilty and gravitas within the office and should be reasonably senior. They do not have to be actively using Revit, though it would help, but should be actively championing the cause and rallying the team when the going gets tough.

There will be an element of cultural change required. Your champion should be able to help with this. But the whole team needs to know that they will be working differently. The project must be executed differently. A lot of work will be done up front before anything sensible can be delivered. I would strongly advise against changing the model close to the deadline for printing and submission. Allow a few days to “lock “the model in order to get prints out. If you don’t – you might get yourselves in a very bad mess.

Be realistic about what to model and what to draw. Some items should be modeled – some merely drawn. Take for example doors. Model them. They will be used often, they will need scheduling, they will be altered, they have common characteristics (jamb, frame and so on). I wouldn’t model them to the fine detail on the door pattern or handles for example. Draw these if you are planning to render. By not modeling every detail you will be able to save time and use your efforts better elsewhere.

For the project you are undertaking – consider the advantages of Revit for different types of work. Residential – clients understand models and visualisations, they are not so keen on floor plans. The rendered model is key here. Hospitality – changes to items within hotel rooms such as beds or baths can flow through the whole model and make large changes easier to bear. Communicate these advantages wt your team, it will help them see the bigger picture and the advantages to what you are doing.

Revit and BIM (Building Information Model click here for Wikipedia definition) can change the scope of services you offer.  These can be extended and you can work closer with other professions, structural or environmental engineers for example.  Be sensible – don’t offer your services until you have discovered what you can and cannot achieve as a team.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

In short, for a successful Revit implementation – begin small, plan, communicate, train and support.  These are absolutely crucial for the success of any project.  By doing these five things you will engage the practice, engage the client and be able to change your CAD strategy and ultimately deliver better value and work more effectively.

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Web Meetings

ConferenceThe concept of a virtual conference is not a new one; its roots are firmly embedded with a history of audio and later video conferencing.  What sets it aside is the ability to interact with the other participants and to accurately and converse and discuss.  The basic tenet of screen sharing ensures that all participants are indeed looking at exactly the same file and discussing the exact same piece of information – no more checking of which page are we talking about or describing in detail the area of graphic or drawing being discussed and therefore running the time consuming risk of talking at cross-purposes.

The web meeting can be had in either an ad-hoc or more structured manner and from the pleasure of one’s desktop or laptop, no complicated nor expensive equipment is needed merely some software and a network connection.  This is leaps and bounds on from the days of sharing screens on video conferencing – there is virtually no jerkiness or stuttering of the video.

From a work process perspective the beauty comes in being able to screen share with a geographically diverse located team and quickly hammer out an issue.  Control of the mouse and application can be given to other parties to further facilitate the discussion.  There is no need for all to have theapplication software – it is being “shared” for the duration of the conference.  From a green perspective, there is no travel involved – the carbon footprint is very, very low.  From a personal perspective there is no time spent travelling – time that could be better spent in the office or at home.  Of course the cost is much, much less as well, typically a license could cost between £6 and £30 per month (though depending on the vendor there may be a minimum number to purchase).

Many of them are easily adapted to providing seminars or eLearning – training diverse teams on small subjects.  It could be updates to the intranet or new CAD standards – I would suggest no more than a lunchtimes worth of training otherwise it becomes onerous..  The software will let delegates post questions and the training session can be recorded for offline playback at alter date.  Some will let the trainer know who is focused – that is to say who is actually watching the session and who is reading their email whilst logged in to the session.

Well known vendors include Microsoft with their Live Meeting, Citrix with their GoToMeeting, Cisco with WebEx, Adobe with ConnectPro.  Lesser known, though equally good and useful include Zoho and Beam Your Screen (who are unique in being a UK based company).  Many offer different prices depending on the number of users and whether it is one-to-many or many-to-many.  In terms of choosing a vendor – I would suggest trialing a number – maybe one of the well known vendors and one of the less so for comparison.  All systems offer a try before you buy option or have free versions which typically offer 2 or 3 attendees.  Look out for latency – how long the other end has to wait before the screen changes, other features such as recording the session and if audio conferencing can be included in the cost.

So in conclusion, you should be doing this already; if you are not then you are missing a trick.  You will be saving money, saving time, saving the planet and devoting more effort to creative thinking and providing excellent service to your clients.

Having said all this however, it cannot replace face-to-face interaction.  The key to success in using web meetings is to know the limitations.  Whilst web meetings may be quick and efficient, do not expect to generate group decisions, inspire and engender teamwork or build relationships with clients.

What is virtualisation?

SharingVirtualisation is one of those IT hot topics which encompasses a wide variety of meanings. But here we will talk about server virtualisation.

Server virtualisation involves making two or more “logical” servers on one physical server. That is, we have one “box” with one processor (though more are possible and will make things run better), one set of memory and one set of hard disks — but onto that, we build multiple instances of servers for various uses. Each of these servers is totally independent of the other and exists only in software — they are of course linked by the shared hardware. Each has its own name and network address, and can be rebooted without affecting the others on the same box.

Typically, these servers could be used for any function, but the specifications of the server must grow in accordance with their use. For example, a box with virtual servers which perform the functions of active directory, DNS, a small web server and printing will need fewer processors, memory and disks than one with a couple of databases running the corporate intranet and document management functions.

So what’s it for? If space and budgets are tight, it is useful to make the best use of hardware. Practices tend to deploy single applications to single servers. In the first example above, I would require four actual servers, but in the virtual world, only one. The magic lies in the fact that most servers run at around 5-10% capacity most of the time.

Virtualisation makes best use of this by consolidating many servers into one — some typical ratios are 10:1 and 15:1. This could save you a lot of time and money.

Virtualisation is also very quick if you need to roll out new servers with new applications or websites. Traditionally, you might have bought a new server, waited for delivery, constructed it and racked it into the cabinet, put Windows on and patched it. With virtualisation, you can simply build a new virtual server on an existing physical server and be up and running in hours rather than days or weeks.

Downsides? It is important not to overload the physical server with too many virtual servers and swamp its resources. The physical server you use also needs some redundant components — hard disks, power supplies, fans.

If you need to power down the box to make a change to one of these items, you will now be affecting many servers and functions rather than just one.

Cost, resource efficiency and speed of provisioning are the key drivers, although the price you might pay is having all your eggs in the same basket.

A faster, less clumsy way of file-sharing

Many pieces of software exist that enable file-sharing and collaboration, but it is worthwhile looking at wide area file services (WAFS).

WAFS work well over poor lines and allow separate offices to share files, both large and small, in real time. It can be a piece of software, but is generally is sold as a “black-box solution” — a piece of hardware with pre-loaded software.

WAFS works by caching copies of files — saving them on a small, quickly-accessible memory —from the primary site with the secondary site, that is, from head office with a site office. The caching can be “seeded” so that it can be performed on a local area network at high speed, before distributing to the remote site. This cuts down on the initial time to synchronise.

Once at the remote site, users access data and files as a normal file-share. Anything that has been cached already will be immediately available for work. Anything that it is not cached will take a little time to transfer to the remote site.

When a file is opened, it is locked at both ends so that only one person may access a file at a given time. When the file is saved, only the changes to the file are saved back across the network, not the whole file itself. This saves time and network bandwidth, further facilitating collaboration.

The fact that the file is in two places at once, in perfect synchronisation, means it need only be backed up in one place, for example, at the head office. This minimises the potential for error at the remote site, which usually has no IT staff. This serves business continuity strategies well.

Because files are cached, if the network goes down, the remote site can carry on working — if the remote site was working directly off the server in head office, then disaster would have struck. The files automatically synchronise when the network returns.

The better WAFS devices are also print servers, and provide Active Directory, DNS, DHCP and so on. In fact, they provide everything a remote site needs in order to function, and replace the need for any other server.

Anything this good has a downside, and that is price. A typical site can cost up to £10,000, but the main site needs a box too, so that cost can effectively be doubled.

However, weigh that cost against the price of a server, a back-up device, support and maintenance, and things begin to look a little better. Now add the benefits of real-time collaboration for your distributed team. You may just be onto a winner for all sizes of practice finding it difficult to operate at distance.

Many firms offer different flavours of WAFS, including Cicso, Blue Coat and River Bed.

Freeware secrets

It is very easy to buy decent PCs these days that will fulfill most needs such as cad and graphics applications without spending a fortune. It is only when you wish to purchase specialist equipment such as lightweight laptops that the cost starts to rise.

Many paid-for office productivity applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, could set you back in excess of £300 a licence, yet with a few small compromises one could pay absolutely nothing. Free applications exist that can read and write to the very latest versions of popular products such as Microsoft’s Office 2007. For example, I am writing this on an old Apple iBook G4 using Neo Office Writer which I have just updated to the latest release. The original program cost nothing, and the free update, which took 15 minutes to download and install, is fully compatible with Office 2007. I am using software that is functional, attractive and I can send my output to others. The interface is familiar, the way it works is familiar — I can perform all of the things I normally do in the paid for package on my desk at work. The old adage of people using 10% of the functionality should be remembered. Many applications offer a lot, yet most of us will never use more than a spell checker (and some of us not even that). Why pay for what you won’t use?

Neo Office is a Mac compatible version of Open Office, an easy winner for PC users. Open Office is readily available and supported by a large community of software developers. Sun Microsystems’ Star Office is based on Open Office. The software is now so popular that Microsoft’s Office 2007 will read and write Open Office file formats, so the compatability is complete; Open Office has always inter-operated with Microsoft file types. Upload it at http://www.openoffice.org, or for Mac users http://www.neooffice.org

Both the PC and Mac versions of the software include databases and presentation tools as standard. The presentation tools are not the best, but the quality of the speaker outweighs the quality of the slides. Like the other tools, the database is good enough for most users.

Google hosts applications online. Word processing and spreadsheet applications are now available. The files can be saved as Open Office format, Microsoft Office or Adobe PDF at no cost. They can be easily emailed using a Google Mail account. The software is free and works for Mac users too – though those who are using the Safari browser rather than Firefox may experience some problems. Word is that Google is developing more applications to add to its suite of tools. Go to docs.google.com, though you will need a google mail account — also free — to gain access.

Get the best out of your BlackBerry

There must be more to this BlackBerry malarkey than just email and a few other features of Microsoft’s Outlook such as the Calendar and Contacts. Isn’t there?

There is, in fact, a plethora of useful applications and gizmos which can extend the use of your BlackBerry beyond the irritation of those around you. For example, Impatica (www.impatica.com) produces a way to convert your PowerPoints into a format that can be shown on the BlackBerry. This is useful for both intimate presentations over a cup of coffee, and also for reviewing on the train home. It also produces a handy piece of kit that sits on the back of a projector and connects using the BlackBerry’s Bluetooth to present direct from the BlackBerry. The BlackBerry itself becomes the means of delivering the presentation, and because of its size it is a natural pointing device and becomes the means of scrolling through the slides.

Idokorro makes a number of handy pieces of software useful for both architect and IT manager alike. This Canadian company produces Mobile File Manager, which lets you browse and manage files on your network shares and intranet. You can even email files to yourself for editing and forwarding on.

“Impatica can convert your PowerPoints into a format that can be shown on a BlackBerry”

Idokorro also produces a client for Citrix — this will allow you to connect to your practice’s Citrix server to access applications that have been published there. Obviously some applications will work better than others such as office productivity tools, where screen size is not so important. Some will not such as cad or graphics tools, but it may be useful to get a feel for what is going on, like a quick review of a concept. Other tools, for example PDF writers, can be used this way, extending options for working away from the office.

Finally Idokorro also produces a Mobile Desktop client which can use either virtual network computing (VNC) or the connectivity found in Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, called remote desktop protocol. The VNC cannot use encryption, but this is tempered by the fact that you are accessing PCs while effectively being inside your network. Remote Desktop is a lot smoother, and both have features to allow easy scrolling of a desktop on a small screen. This is a very useful tool for those who work in IT or other support functions as it allows the management of servers, as well as other important PCs.