Interview with Jeffrey Ouellette: "BIM is 90% process and communications and 10% supporting technology"
The architect highlights the important role of collaboration while working with this methodology
Who is Jeffrey W. Ouellette? I am an avid Sci-Fi/Fantasy fiction reader, adult fan of LEGO (AFOL), and father of two girls. Being the son of a carpenter/cabinetmaker/custom homebuilder, I’ve grown up with making and tinkering in my blood. I enjoy developing systems as much as working on the details so they are just right. After 15+ years of working in architecture practices, I decided to join “the dark side”, software development, as an industry insider. Since then, I’ve grown to enjoy the marketing side of the business and actively engaging with customers and industry peers.
BC: When was your first contact with BIM and how did it capture your interest?
J.O: While I had been using a variety of CAD tools (for both 2D documentation and 3D modeling for design) throughout my early career, I didn’t really attempt to work in a BIM method until 1997, while working on a project to design a new church in central Texas. I convinced the principles to tackle the early design iterations with 3D models using Vectorworks Architect 8, its first dedicated “BIM” release (long before the term “BIM” started being thrown around!). We generated walkthrough animations, plans, elevations and room schedules of the existing and new buildings and overall campus design. While initially difficult, this really helped sell the project to the client and give the project architects better information in making decisions during the design process. After that, I was hooked, but the firm struggled to work in that mode for all projects moving forward. It was a number of years, and employers, later, before I was “doing BIM” on a regular basis.
BC: In which area have you focused your career?
J.O: My early career focused on working in small firms on many different type and scale projects, from single family homes to educational, medical and commercial facilities. All along, though, I was immersed in CAD/BIM technology, many times acting as the office CAD manager. In 2006, I took a chance at diving deeper into the technology by joining Vectorworks as an industry insider and experienced technology user. Since then, I’ve been involved with customer, sales channel and internal development education, feature specification and design, and industry outreach. Since 2009, I’ve been more focused on BIM interoperability, especially as it relates to the use of open standards like IFC from buildingSMART International.
BC: You are involved in the international standards development of buildingSMART. Why do you think openBIM is so important nowadays?
J.O: Because we work in an industry with many different experts, workflows, requirements, and tools and need to be able to share data with little or no obstacles. We expect this to happen in our lives outside of work, with the use of our phones, tablets, and computers for accessing various types of information, like navigation, shopping, travel, and social communications. Why not have the same expectations for our jobs?
BC: Why do you think it is important to have a global perspective of the BIM environment?
J.O: More and more, we are all engaged in a global industry. We can source talent and resources for a project in any place from anywhere. It is relatively easy for an architect in Spain to work on a project in Dubai, for an American client, with an engineer in the UK, being built by a Swedish contractor, who is sourcing materials from all over the world. When working in a “global mode” it is important to rationalize expectations between markets, no matter where they are or how sophisticated they may be, enabling greater efficiency in delivery and resulting in high-quality projects.
BC: In your opinion, what are the key points of a successful training program in BIM Management?
J.O: I think it is important to understand key, high-level, abstract ideas, regardless of the type or brand of technology used. I believe that BIM is 90% process and communications and 10% supporting technology. To be successful in implementing and managing BIM a person needs to understand the importance of the bigger picture and the possibilities if you don’t focus on the tools so much.
BC: You have outstanding experience in Building Information Modeling. How do you think your BIM background can add value to Zigurat’s Global BIM Management Certification Program?
J.O: I believe that my perspective is unique having been in professional architectural practice, a keen user of technology, as well as working for an industry technology provider and actively engaging with the interoperability community at local, national and international levels. I get to hear a lot of experiences from others and then weave a narrative that touches on the desires and needs of the industry stakeholders, regardless of location, role or level of expertise.
BC: Why do you think it is important to work on collaborative projects while participating in a BIM Management program?
J.O: Because building projects are inherently a collaborative process and product. It is important to understand where and when opportunities exist to apply good BIM practices and tools to overcome challenges typically faced in the design, construction, and operation of buildings.
BC: Is there a demand for BIM Managers in North America?
J.O: There has been for about 6 years now, continually growing and spread across multiple stakeholders, like architects, engineers, and contractors. Most owners don’t typically have much demand for such expertise. The larger, more sophisticated owners, who have their own facility management resources are just beginning to understand the value of such expertise from their perspective.
BC: What are companies requiring a BIM Manager?
J.O: Unfortunately, this is really inconsistent. Many times, companies are looking for nothing more than a glorified CAD manager, focused on supporting particular tools and documentation production standards. Some of the more enlightened firms comprehend that the BIM Manager has to be more involved in the design process and understand collaborative communication between disciplines. The best companies see the BIM Manager as an important stakeholder in the company’s everyday operations and future strategies, as well as project execution, equal to the key designers, collaborators and company managers.
BC: What is your advice for those who are looking for a BIM training program?
J.O: Look around. Ask around. Learn from your peers’ experiences. Find out from them what was good and what could have been better. Then ask questions of the training providers to find out how much they know, or think they know. I think it is important for a trainer to have experience in the topic/field they are educating you in. Make sure the “BIM training” isn’t just software orientation. The tools are there to support the more important concepts of new best practices, cultural shifts, and improved communication. Anyone should be able to find value in any number of different tools available on the market, regardless of branding and marketing spin.
Jeffrey W. Ouellette is one of the lecturers of the Global BIM Management Certification Program from Zigurat Global Institute of Technology, which will begin the second edition on November 15.
You can have access to the free online symposium BIM World Implementation Strategies, where you will have the chance to know how BIM is being implemented in 8 countries.