As a native Floridian and millennial, I was raised on a healthy diet of video games, new gadgets and big dreams. If I wasn’t busy on the Super Nintendo or watching Power Rangers, I was daydreaming of following in Bruce Willis’ footsteps and becoming an astronaut/asteroid-destroyer à la “Armageddon”. With theme parks in my literal backyard and Kennedy Space Center just down the road, it was easy to get lost in potential careers as lead roller coaster engineer or space station designer.
As my dreams matured, they stayed rooted in fantastical origins. In high school, I participated in an after-school program where we spent an entire year designing a theoretical space station and submitted the final product to NASA for evaluation. Our prize? An invitation to the Johnson Space Center to compete in-person with other high schoolers from around the globe!
In college I decided to pursue mechanical engineering, but thermodynamics and I did not get along. So, I pivoted into engineering technology, which allowed me to continue in my engineering endeavors but made it more tolerable because I could play with cool tech. I learned to use equipment like CNC mills, lathes and surveying total stations, and I learned about computer aided design (CAD).
Finding My Focus
CAD was of particular interest to me because it was becoming ubiquitous while I was in school. Seemingly, every sector in the workforce was using computer-aided design tools to draw or model their final products, from gadgets to theme parks to space stations. I took six different CAD software classes over three semesters and decided that expanding my software toolset would increase my prospects in the workforce.
I landed my first internship specifically because of my experience with 3D modeling software. Over the next six months, I had the pleasure of updating the as-built blueprints of a large government contractor from 2D to 3D. Since so much undocumented renovation had occurred over the decades, I walked around with a simple laser measuring tool to get accurate dimensions into our 3D models. I created model objects by hand and assigned parametric values to them based on what I was seeing in the actual facility. The final product was a digital twin that we handed over to their facilities maintenance team. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first venture into Building Information Modeling (BIM).
After the internship, I was officially hired as document controller on an integrated project delivery (IPD) project for another large government contractor. Though document controller by title, I more closely held the role of virtual design and construction (VDC) coordinator and project engineer. As the sole person in my construction trailer with knowledge of the design tools used by our architects and engineers, I was responsible for creating workflows that would maximize the utilization of the BIM models. It was uncharted territory for me, but thanks to support from the corporate practice technology team, I learned several BIM techniques I hadn’t even heard of a year prior.
I ran clash detection weekly and helped save hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential rework. I used a 360 camera to document construction progress, created weekly executive-level reports that tracked progress using color-coded models to gauge schedule and cost performance, set up BIM execution plans, drafted standards and guidelines, and created training programs for my field crews.
But it seemed all of that fell on deaf ears. The technology available at the time could certainly help us deliver the perfect project on-budget, on-time, well-communicated, well-executed. But the people weren’t there yet. As my coworker, senior industry expert Daron Pardine, put it, “There’s a huge gap between what job sites are doing with the tech versus what is available.”
Despite my personal successes, the well-crafted workflows and my readiness to enable my field team, there was zero urgency to engage with the technology. The field crews were very set in their ways and wanted to keep using physical work journals, paper punch lists and giant sets of construction drawings that were outdated by the time they hit the jobsite.
Changing the Culture
A few years into my career I was hired as the BIM manager at one of Orlando’s premier resorts. I worked alongside some of the most talented creative designers, architects, engineers and contractors in the world on world-class attractions and theme parks. More importantly, I was now on the owner’s side. As an owner’s representative, I could set standards, guidelines and expectations on deliverables, workflows and tools/technology utilized throughout the design, construction and operation of our attractions.
From my experience in the field, I knew I needed to win the hearts and minds of my project teams before we got to the field. I had a two-prong approach: educate and reinforce.
I developed entry-level training to discuss how BIM could benefit other disciplines within my organization. I also led solution-based training courses for using the software itself. The courses were a success; during design, our collaborative cloud environment saw a significant uptick in user engagement compared to previous projects. The education was helping.
Then, I just needed to reinforce. Having just wrapped up my master’s degree in engineering management, I was eager to put some game theory to the test. I began signaling to our vendors that some of their oversights would be forgiven if they, in turn, followed certain BIM workflows that would help us out during construction. “Horse-trading” became an effective way of leveraging the project teams to adopt non-standardized BIM workflows like 5D BIM or BIM-to-field, while overlooking certain missed contractual requirements on their part.
As an owner, I had the unique position of being able to set requirements and influence other players in the construction industry to discover the value of advanced BIM. By creating an incentive for our vendors to adopt advanced processes, I was able to push workflows which would inevitably see success and pay dividends to all stakeholders. They began using these workflows on other projects. I was changing the culture.
As I progressed through my career, I succeeded not just by educating my teams but also by using some intuitive BIM tools. I want to continue changing the culture – not just of a few companies but of the entire AEC industry.
The digital transformation has begun! I’ve joined Hexagon’s PPM Division to champion education and to help develop those intuitive tools and solutions that will revolutionize the future of this industry.
I have a grand vision of the future … but I’ll save that for next time.
Alan joined Hexagon’s PPM division in October 2020, where he is a principle sales enablement consultant. He completed his bachelor’s degree in engineering technology at Seminole State College of Florida and his master’s degree in engineering management at Florida Institute of Technology. He is based in Winter Garden, Fla., USA.