Build Me Up: BIM with Heather Kossila
Kraus-Anderson’s Monthly Innovator’s Blog
Check out the Build Me Up Podcast for a more in-depth discussion of these topics!
By Tom Emison, Strategy and Innovation Advocate, KA
In March, we introduced you to our first blog in our series on innovation – or ingenuity as we call it here at KA. In May, we hit on pre-construction ingenuity. In June, we discussed inclusion and diversity in the US construction and real estate industry. In July, we discussed how to make your human capital your competitive differentiator in construction and real estate. In September, we talked risk – and construction is risky business, we all know. In November, we featured an amazing story from a KA client, Dental Dental of Minnesota, and we included insights from a KA business partner, ESG Architecture & Design. As always, this blog is about the Built Marketplace. It’s about keeping it real and straight talk. It’s about inspiring you with actual examples of innovation at work in our industry. We are here to build you up!
This post is about Building Information Modeling (“BIM”). A quick story might help. In the mid 1990’s, I found myself co-authoring a white paper for the built marketplace. I was writing it on behalf of the Building Futures Council (“BFC”), which also wrote the first serious paper on design-build in the 1970’s. The topic of my whitepaper was interoperability in the industry, or as I put it, integration of the industry. When the BFC review committee asked for the gist of the paper, I said, aloud, “The industry is getting gray but not the way everyone thinks. It’s not just getting grayer as in older. It’s getting grayer in that there is a blurring of the lines that used to distinguish firms from one another. I am seeing A/E firms enter into CM agency work. I am seeing tech companies working on project collaboration. I am seeing technology executives playing more strategic roles in CM/GCs, not just glorified help desk people. The A/E/C/RE industry used to be more black and white. Now, it’s getting grayer and it’s because of interoperability. The winners will be the companies that can make capital projects more efficient by integrating them into one system that links all parties to a project. In our future, we will model buildings to total completion before we turn over a single shovel.” An executive from Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, Al Gerhardt (now President and COO, KA Construction), was present that day along with about 50 other industry leaders.
KA BIM Manager Heather Kossila
Fast forward to my meeting last week with KA BIM Manager Heather Kossila. Heather is a new breed of technologist in the construction industry: she is experienced with commercial construction but she views the world through a future-focused BIM filter. And, she’s not a newbie to BIM, which is good: it means she does not get lured into the BIM fad du jour. She is a realist-type technologist, which might make her even more of a rare breed. While BIM has successfully streamlined coordination between parties through elegant 3D modeling, Heather understands its value is far greater. It is evolving; maturing. She has helped KA and our business partners go from baby steps (the production and sharing of info with the help of paper and non-interoperable electronic documents) past the walking stage (focusing on the transition from CAD to 2D and 3D pieces of info in a CDE, or Common Data Environment) to the running stage (4D and 5D – incorporating time management and calculation of budgets). And, because she is a life-long learner, she looks forward to the next stage which might be called the racing stage, called 6D, or iBIM, in a cloud-based environment achieved by the use of a common model so that various agents can edit and/or add their own piece of information, including asset (building) lifecycle management.
Tom: Heather, break it down for us: starting with how you explain BIM to your son Grahm.
Heather: It’s difficult to explain exactly what BIM is to people who aren’t familiar with design or construction. I usually just say “we build buildings in the computer and then analyze them before we build them in the real world.” When my son sees me working on a model or writing code, he equates it to the virtual world of video games. He’s not that far off, as BIM encompasses more and more of the building lifecycle, real buildings becomes more virtualized.
Tom: At KA, your BIM team acts as a service group to our Project Management personnel. What are the top three ways our PMs are able to really help clients because of you and your team.
Heather: Visualization, visualization, and visualization. Period. Whether we use models to develop cost estimates and sequence construction schedules, or leverage point cloud data captured from drones and scanners to study floor flatness and beam detection, it’s all about showing and seeing data that provides clarity about our built environment in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Tom: KA is practical and typically leads with a focus on client relationships and good listening skills, not bleeding-edge technology. On the other hand, new technology is greatly adding value to clients now more than ever. So, how do you and your KA team make sure we are utilizing the right levels of BIM technology?
Heather: Great question. We have developed processes to evaluate project needs and assess the cost/benefit of the different tools we have available to help. Whatever we do must provide value to the project. For example, say we have a building renovation project with no existing documentation, therefore requiring frequent field visits to provide measurements for drawings. Well, we might then assess that using a 3D laser scanner provides a more accurate base design model of the building for less cost.
Pictured Below: Kraus-Anderson’s BIM team uses 3D laser scanners and drones to assess construction sites.
Tom: About the time you get accustomed and proficient with a new software, or tech, like your new Leica camera, another new technology is emerging. How do you keep up?
Heather: A great BIM specialist is one who is comfortable knowing a little about a lot. Not only is new technology always right around the corner, but the variation of our deliverables is infinite. We may have to learn a new software or process for something, and then shelve it for months before dusting it off and doing it again. We have become really good at documenting and videoing our processes, and creating templates to start from that are iteratively improved upon as time goes on.
Tom: You nearly got selected for a hackathon project through BuiltWorlds not long ago. I know you were disappointed you did not win, but that’s the natural outcome of innovating – risking some new thinking. What did you learn from that experience?
Heather: In a word: WOW. I went to the event with my programming experience in AutoLisp and VBA, and found myself feeling very antiquated as I sat there counting parentheses in my primitive text file, while others typed code so furiously that the room looked like a scene straight from Penelope’s office in the TV show Criminal Minds. It reaffirmed what I have always known; in order to succeed one must never stop learning. I had a blast as a professional, met some great people, and the result is our team is now learning a new programming language to help KA explore unknown territories yet again.
BIM adoption is becoming a driver of change. By now, every CM/GC in the world knows it is a reliable vehicle for submitting and sharing data during a construction project. Data is the core value; a BIM model is only as precise as the precision of the data. So, user adoption is the key. At KA, our user adoption means that people on the ground need to be able to – with the click of a button – report progress and update tasks. Heather and her BIM team in KA act as technology or data enablers, in my mind. Today’s project manager at KA needs to wear a lot of hats: account manager, negotiator, risk manager, schedule keeper, collaborator with A/E firms, financial professional, safety advocate, communications guru, and yes, BIM expert. Innovation in BIM is being adopted in a market-driven way; a client-responsive way. It takes life-long learners like Heather to show us the way.
Note: a special thanks to Heather Kossila for taking time out of her busy week for this interview. More from Heather soon on our KA Innovation Podcast Build Me Up!
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Tom Emison, Strategy and Innovation Advocate, KAView Comments