Collaboration at TBI, made possible with BIM Cloud Workspace

02 januari 2018 · Leestijd 8 min.

Many organisations are struggling with the question of how they can work together in a smart, efficient way, both among themselves and with employees of other organisations. They are looking for easy ways to share data such as documents, photos, drawings and models. With this in mind, more and more parties are becoming interested in BIM Cloud Workspace.

TBI is one of the first organisations in the Netherlands to have become acquainted with BIM Cloud Workspace on the Microsoft Azure platform. Development planner at TBI KennisLAB Jeroen Pat and Managing Director IT & Business Improvement Hans Vogel are closely involved in the development of BIM. Hans Vogel: ‘A few years ago, the BIM Cloud Workspace concept was just an idea in a PowerPoint presentation. All this changed a year ago. Now, an environment has been created in which people from different companies can easily work with each other, often in project form.’

TBI consists of several construction and installation companies operating in the Engineering, Construction and Infrastructure segments. They are visible throughout the Netherlands in such forms as offices, hospitals, residential homes, tunnels and ship installations. The TBI companies each operate under their own names, but they also make use of each other’s expertise. Hans: ‘Within TBI, we believe that entrepreneurship is the foundation. The companies themselves are responsible. From the perspective of IT & Business Improvement, we look at what is happening on the market and translate these developments into proof of concept. We show the companies how they can benefit from this, but it remains up to the companies themselves to decide whether they want to use the solution.’ This is also exactly how BIM Cloud Workspace was rolled out within the organisation. ‘We come up with ideas that we can develop further with large parties, such as Microsoft. The companies can then develop them further.’

From heavy laptop to cloud solution

Jeroen Pat explains that TBI was already involved in the virtualisation of the BIM environment in 2010. ‘We are used to working increasingly more flexibly, but the construction industry still thinks it is normal to have heavy-duty computers under our desk in order to do our job. Which is why we transitioned to virtual desktops, a few years ago already. We bought servers in a data centre, allowing all those machines to run on site rather than under our desk.’ This was a temporary solution for TBI. For example, it remained a challenge to give people outside the organisation access to the BIM environment, management of the virtual desktop was time-consuming and the ability to scale up to more data capacity was not flexible enough. Hence, the organisation continued to look for a way in which they could realise the best possible cooperation.

BIM Cloud Workspace offers TBI a shared workplace with more than sufficient graphics computing power, which can be started up within minutes. Jeroen: ‘As project companies, we are used to working on projects. That is, we usually want to get started the moment a contract is signed. It’s great that BIM Cloud Workspace is immediately available for the project. The project leader enters the email addresses of the project members and you can immediately start working together in the cloud environment, even if the project members come from different organisations.’ One advantage of BIM Cloud Workspace for TBI is the ability to work anywhere and any time as long as there is at least a mobile internet connection.

Another advantage for TBI is only having to pay for the graphics processing power it actually uses, as is the fact that it no longer has to worry about updating the software and hardware it uses: ‘Our organisation is an expert when it comes to construction, but not so much in terms of workplace management. So why would I waste my time making sure every workplace is using the right application versions? We leave this to Microsoft and its partners, who offer BIM Cloud Workspace as a service. This way, we no longer have to worry about the maintenance of virtual workplaces and can be certain our data is stored in a secure environment. There’s just no way you could do all this yourself’, According to Jeroen.

Technology alone is not enough

But for TBI, the ability to work together remains the main driver for choosing BIM Cloud Workspace. ‘BIM is essentially nothing more and nothing less than pure collaboration. And collaboration should be promoted. In our vision, this consists of three components: people (competences), the process (how people work now) and supporting technology. As an organisation, the only way to improve collaboration is to develop all these competences equally’, says Hans. With BIM Cloud Workspace, TBI has made great strides in the technology department, but Jeroen and Hans both warn that technology alone is not enough. Jeroen: ‘The construction industry can still be a very traditional industry, and if you don’t get people’s support for the possibilities of technology, you’ll end up missing opportunities.’ Jeroen cites file sharing as an example. ‘With BIM Cloud Workspace, staff get to work in an environment that looks the same as the BIM environment running locally. Although the environment looks the same, there is an important difference: employees are now working in a shared workplace. In other words, all project members have access to the necessary data for a particular project. As a result, everyone always has the same information and it is no longer necessary to share files physically. But this is not so easy to explain to someone who is used to sharing large files via a USB drive or Dropbox, day in, day out. With BIM Cloud Workspace, you must therefore also strive to develop a shared working method together with staff – certainly in this example; otherwise, files will continue to be sent and/or copied unnecessarily.’

Hans also mentions the challenge here that employees will continue to work within current processes, and will therefore not make sufficient use of the capacity which BIM Cloud Workspace offers. ‘With BIM Cloud Workspace, you’ll have access to an enormous amount of graphics computing power. This enables virtual testing, calculating and checking in advance how a certain implementation can be performed in reality. This will prevent you from finding out only in the workshop that a particular drawing isn’t feasible because a concrete beam is present. To this end, BIM modellers must of course have knowledge of these possibilities and actually apply them.’

Gaining staff support

Jeroen and Hans explain that gaining the support of your staff is therefore extremely important to work together successfully within BIM Cloud Workspace. The organisation is currently working with pilot projects where people are open to change. On this basis, the process will be improved continuously. Jeroen: ‘The best thing is simply to talk to people. I said to employees: “Okay guys, imagine you need five drawings on location. So there you are, standing in the rain on the construction site with five wet A1 drawings, while you actually only need one small part.” I then ask them how they would solve this problem. They often suggest using a tablet or some other device. With BIM Cloud Workspace, you can really help them to access information more efficiently.’

Hans adds that it is essential not to tell staff what they should be using on site. ‘BIM Cloud Workspace also requites the IT department to change. This department often tells employees on the building site which device they should be using, while employees may have very different opinions regarding this. For this reason, we must allow employees much more space to find out for themselves what works best and then incorporate this feedback into the process.’

Incidentally, this isn’t the only challenge that Hans sees for IT departments: ‘BIM Cloud Workspace is a ready-to-use service. You can literally get started in a few minutes. But traditionally, IT departments have always wanted to embed new technology into their own infrastructure and link it to their own systems. As an organisation, you really have to ask yourself whether this is wise. It is much better to use BIM Cloud Workspace for your processes without immediately trying to integrate everything into the existing environment.’

Everything just has to works

Obviously, TBI not only focuses on the technological side, but it also pays a great deal of attention to people and the process. As a consequence, TBI has also decided to implement BIM Cloud Workspace in phases. A pilot project was started within the TBI KennisLAB. Jeroen: ‘We first looked at the way performance panned out; when all appeared to be well, we looked for a pilot project and this project team actually started working with it. The best compliment was that colleagues asked us what had actually changed. As far as the users are concerned, everything looks the same, which is the strength of the system. Wherever they start up the device, they get the same look and feel; everything just works. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about for the employee: everything just works. So our next battle will be: how do we change people’s old thought processes? You obviously don’t want to use these great new tools simply to continue old habits.’