Choosing a good collaborative app for your BIM architecture projects can be a difficult task. Especially if you have no experience using any one of them. Each app has its advantages and drawbacks. Some are specialized for a specific phase of the project, whereas others are more generalist.
Let’s dig a bit on what is important so that we can compare the collaborative apps for architecture and construction projects, and then make an informed choice.
1. Size and complexity of the project
Depending of the size and complexity of your project, be it a small house or a new airport terminal, a collaborative app would be a benefit in your project workflow.
Of course, the level of complexity and requirement differs for each venture. For example, team management with its different permissions levels as well as the communication log is an important feature for a bigger project.
While for a smaller undertaking, the ease of use and amount of time saved will probably be the most important aspect.
2. Control of access for different team members
Not everyone is given access to all aspects of the building project. Engineers, architects, and construction companies may need to have access to some aspects of the project. Having a more open communication line does not mean everything is visible to everyone.
It’s important to preserve a certain degree of privacy to give you the opportunity to work quietly without the need to look over your shoulder to check on what others think about it. Moreover, it also prevents adding “noise” with all those updates that your colleagues need not know.
Consider also the fact that not everyone will have the same learning curve. So it is necessary to keep non-expert users on a clean, easy to navigate interface with only the most important features.
3. BIM model integration and 3D navigation in the app
Many collaborative apps feature BIM model or 3D integration. The idea to have the 3D model directly in the app seems great. Many apps have an attractive viewer that you really like. Unfortunately, you end up not using it in real life as simple tasks or viewing options are not available, or because of inconsistency of the importation of your BIM files.
Indeed, many BIM collaborative apps that allow 3D viewing depend on proprietary softwares like Revit and Archicad to export in IFC files, and as you know the compatibility of all those formats are far from perfect.
You may want to consider the viewing capability and 3D importation feature. Ask yourself these two questions: What do I use it for? and Is is reliable? Think of the global advantages of the app and not only of the brilliant 3D browsing demo you saw in the last BIM expo you visited.
4. File management
Along with the upload of 3D models and other assets including images, PDFs, and Autocad 2D files, there is a need for a powerful file manager so you can explore and filter the files more efficiently.
A file manager is an important feature that works in a similar way to that of the Windows file explorer and Mac finder. Additionally, the files should also be readily be accessed online in the cloud. A cloud based file management has many advantages :
- Backup of your important files and versions
- Storage of the different versions of the same file and their revision history
- Possibility to add metadata such as comments or tags
- Possibility to share or reuse the same assets in different context without duplicating them
- Powerful viewing possibilities that are accessible from any device.
You will soon discover that your good old Windows file explorer may just be too limited compared to the more efficient and accessible file manager of your collaborative app!
4. Phase of the project: Design or Construction
Although a BIM collaborative app can follow a building project from start to finish, some apps are effectively purposed for the work of a specific project phase such as the design phase or even the use of the building after completion and turned over to its new occupants.
Make sure you check out which phase the collaborative app claim to be specialized at. It is not a problem to switch tools between phases as needs in the design, construction and exploitation phases are very different.
Of course, a collaborative app can cover all this stages, but being too general, it will probably fail at covering all phases effectively with the same quality. In order to make it easy to switch from one tool to another, you must consider the import and export options of the collaborative app.
5. Connectivity with other apps, BIM softwares or services
Depending on when you began and decided to make use of a BIM model and/or a BIM collaborative app, your team may already have existing project data as well as files from previous projects..
Inter-operability is very important in BIM collaborative apps, as the app claim to be the center of the software ecosystem that we use to design an architecture project.
So the collaborative app should be able to import 3D files from most BIM softwares like Revit and Archicad as well as in connecting with issue tracking software like Solibri or other project management tools like Slack and Trello.
Some apps have set up an “universal connection” using a service called Zapier. The setup of such connections require a slightly higher level of expertise. So when you upload a document in your BIM collaborative app, it will be automatically synchronised to your cloud storage platform such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
Setting up an efficient workflow in a design team with diverse profiles can be a hard task. Some collaborative apps leave the user free to set up any workflow that he think is appropriate for your organization.
While others already have built-in workflows to help you organize your team and your project. Other apps try to innovate by bringing the best of new innovative methodologies, like lean or agile adapted to construction.
Whether you want to have more control in your workflow or follow a guided path, choose what best fits to your organization and experience.
7. Help information, support and hotline
Some collaborative apps are sold at a very affordable price or even are free. You may choose to use them first if you are on a tight budget.
But keep in mind that having access to a collaborative app does not mean people will be able to maximise its uses. Most AEC professionals are not IT specialists and some are not very fast at learning new technologies.
Also even if you know how to use the app, you probably will lose time and money while setting things up for an efficient workflow within your team. App information, help desk, and an efficient online support - available in different languages including yours - could also be an important factor in choosing a collaborative app.
BIM may no longer be said to be the future of construction and engineering, as the concept and technology is generalizing quickly.
But don’t forget that just like the crude hammer, a BIM Collaborative App is a tool at the end of the day. Make sure that you and the rest of the team fully understand the capabilities of this building construction tool, so as to reap the most benefits in effecient completion and better implementation of your projects.
In the next article, we will compare the best BIM collaborative apps on the market, and highlight their advantages and disadvantages relative to your team and project requirement.
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