Clarity | Efficiency | Success

Problem

LACK OF CLARITY & EFFICIENCY. PRIOR TO AVAIL IMPLEMENTATION, THE 25-PERSON DESIGN-BUILD FIRM WAS STRUGGLING TO CREATE AN EFFECTIVE DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT, ONE THAT WOULD SUPPORT DESIGN AND DRAWING PRODUCTION HOLISTICALLY.

The Studio Director was increasingly concerned over drawing sets that were subpar: incorrect title blocks, inconsistent line weights, incorrect drawing conventions and deviations from Project  Standards were persistent. Project Architects and Job Captains were at odds over best practices from one project to another, signaling to management that the issues were more than just casual errors. The design studio included a Fabrication Shop, meaning that any lack of consistency in their 3D models also affected the relationship between the two sides of the company. Middle-management recognized that a more critical appraisal of the firm’s production resources was needed.

With all of the firm’s files broken out into multiple servers and endless file folders, reckoning with the inconsistencies felt like a game of whack-a-mole: what resources were available to guide Junior Team members through the drawing and modeling process? Were they optimally organized and accessible? What data was duplicated, overlapping or inconsistent? The firm needed a system to help them recognize and address these gaps and indiscrepancies, and their current CMS (Windows File Explorer) was not adequate.

On the management side, there were a few requirements that needed to be addressed before  adoption could occur: namely vetting security concerns. Because AVAIL allows firms to maintain their data on their own file servers (providing visualized “links” to their data), AVAIL passed the test. It was also important to management that the interface be simple, so that they did not burn fee training people on another complex software system that risked low adoption. AVAIL’s clean interface gave them confidence that adoption by younger, tech-savvy users would be high. AVAIL’s unparalleled Customer Service Record sealed the deal.

“The final result was a system that created a sense of calm, trust, and confidence from the top down, beyond anything I’ve seen in any Content Library before.”

– AVAIL Customer, Job Captain

Solutioning

CLARITY THROUGH IMPLEMENTATION. THE TEAM BROKE DOWN THEIR SOLUTIONING EFFORTS INTO FOUR CORE AREAS OF WORK, WHICH OVERLAPPED AND DOUBLED BACK ON EACH OTHER DURING THE DEPLOYMENT PHASE.

PHASE ONE: PURGING & REUNIFICATION

The first order of business was to undergo a thorough purging and discovery process (“the confession”). This involved a small team, led by the Studio Director, combing through Revit Container Files and server folders to ensure that all of the firm’s outdated, duplicate, and unwanted resources were removed. This resource purging included the following bodies of data:

  • Project Standards (.pdf / .docx)
  • Drawing Precedents (.pdf)
  • Tutorial Documents (.mp4 /.pdf)
  • Outline Specifications (.pdf)
  • Revit Details (.rvt)
  • Revit Detail Items
  • Project Templates and Title Blocks (.rvt)
  • Revit Families (.rfa)
  • Online / Reference Resources (Web URL’s)

After removing unwanted content, the process of reunification began. This involved aligning the metadata contained in Revit families with non-Revit resources, such as Outline Specifications and Project Standards. This work, aided by Dynamo scripts and clean-up utilities such as Ideate  explorer, ensured that discrepancies between interrelated data points did not lead to contagious inaccuracies. This provided the peace of mind and confidence needed to carry forward with indexing the Library.

PHASE TWO: INDEXING & CHANNEL CREATION

The firm knew that they wanted every resource to have a clear and obvious location, one that would be easily discoverable from the AVAIL Home screen. Because AVAIL allowed files to live in their current location place, the transition (from a software standpoint) was largely painless: all of their files stayed where they would have in File Explorer, and simultaneously became exponentially more discoverable. It was important that team members see exactly where they were going before they even hit Search. Each Channel Card was created in InDesign and given a custom image that would help it be recognizable from a distance, with a bold-faced title set against a pill-shaped mask. They sorted the channels (using numbers and underscores) into three Overall Categories:

  1. Reference and Drawing Resources were placed top-bill. They contained files that were
    foundational, reference-based, or had system-wide implications. The channel card featured
    an image of a drawing / resource reference in the background to increase visual recall and
    make it easier to locate.
  2. Project and Modeling Resources are the ‘bread and butter’ of the firm’s library. The primary contents were RFA files, with tutorials, reference URLs, and other types of content interspersed. The Channel Card featured an image of a bold, high-contrast built object background to create a visual cue that was eye catching and aspirational. These images came from the firm’s Image Library and could be refreshed over time.
  3. Admin/Technical Resources contained items such as Admin Tools, Dynamo, and other
    modeling scripts; shared parameter files; JSON files and so forth. They were located at the
    bottom of the Home Screen and often not shared with design staff. Allowing these back-end
    files to be accessible and cross-searchable was terrific for building awareness that they existed.

When the team opened up the Home screen and saw all of the Channel Cards, the shift in workflow and perception began instantaneously. Channel Card Images guided them towards the content they needed without any confirmation from their BIM Manager.

The combination of text and imagery in the Channel Cards allowed users to move seamlessly between channels in a manner which, according to one BIM Lead, made them feel a marked “sense of calm.”

Within each channel, the visibility and contextualization of resources had a similar clarifying effect. The simultaneous visual understanding of multiple related resources meant coming to understand the gaps: where there were duplicates or overlaps between files, where certain Project and Office  Standards were outdated or incomplete. The management of the firm could SEE the content of Word Documents describing office protocols side by side and begin to understand how they related, or did not relate. Zeroing in on these lacking or incomplete resources allowed them to leverage clarity to hold team members accountable for the casual errors that had plagued the team previously.

Additional clarity came when resources like Specification Sheets were indexed into the system. The team used Bluebeam Revu to automatically mine data into file names for auto-tagging. As more and more content was indexed, a sense of how beneficial this software would be began to emerge.

PHASE THREE: “THE BIG REVEAL” + TAGGING & ADJUSTMENTS

Once the firm had finished indexing and sorting their content, a team member had the idea to search for content across a particular topic: parking.

“I remember typing ‘parking,’ into our cross-channel search bar and seeing an array of unexpected results: Revit families for parking stalls, parking-related code references, specifications for garage light fixtures, URL links for vendor websites: all on one screen, with the ability to filter down by Channel. It felt like looking into a crystal ball that reminded me of resources I should be referencing…, many I didn’t even know we had.”

No amount of planning or analysis could have prepared the firm for this ’Aha’ moment. The overwhelming ease with which massive swaths of data could be indexed and connected was revolutionary, and constituted a new era for a firm determined to streamline its processes.

With visibility into their files greatly increased, the team began to understand the state of their data and standardize more extensively. Having used AVAIL to purge outdated 2D details and duplicates, the remaining details were hybridized: this involved grouping all of the 2D Elements that would be converted to 3D Details in a model, and applying a View Template to color and modify those elements.

PHASE FOUR: EDUCATION & MAINTENANCE

For this team, the effort to get the Digital Library to this point had been great – and they needed to ensure that their maintenance plan kept it up to date.

With all of the firm’s assets indexed, sorted, and tagged – they turned to their “How To Use This Library” Channel to ensure consistent adoption and continued health of the Library. This Channel featured quick MP4 video and PDF tutorial documents directing the team on how to use the AVAIL system, and clarifying best practices within the software. This Channel sat at the top of the AVAIL interface, and proved particularly helpful for onboarding. New staff members could open AVAIL and quickly build an understanding of the firm’s resources.

Since the team was not using AVAIL Steam to automate their indexing of their Digital Library, they turned to Smartsheets to track what was indexed. This spreadsheet utility allowed them to create a running list of tasks and updates that would emerge as the Library aged in place, creating a hub for ideas and IT requests. Files that needed to be updated, projects that needed to be indexed, and standards that needed to be clarified were each added by the Library Team, and subsequently assigned a due date and a team member. Tasks were checked and highlighted as they were completed, QA/QC’d, and deployed.

RESULTS

UNITY, FOCUS, & EFFICIENCY. IN THE END, THE MOST SIZABLE IMPROVEMENT FOR THE FIRM WERE TWO-FOLD: (1) ALL OF THEIR DATA BECAME CROSS-SEARCHABLE, MAKING IT EASIER TO LOCATE, AND (2) ALL OF THEIR DATA BECAME VISUAL, MAKING IT EASIER TO INTRINSICALLY UNDERSTAND.

This was attained with focused back-and-forth movement between project phases over the course of six months. The combination of these two transformations meant that siloes were knocked down, transparency was increased, and users were continually discovering assets that they didn’t even know they had or needed. AVAIL constituted more than a Content Management System: it became a content discovery system, enabling teams to locate the unknown from behind the veil of their Russian-Doll folder system.

With clarity, trust, efficiency, and access all built into the system by design, firm management was now able to focus on staff performance issues with more acuity and focus. With proper maintenance of the Library performed by a core team, the user experience remained simple, straight forward, and sustainable. Project Managers and Job Captains were finally able to focus more on developing drawing sets – and significantly less on managing their content.

Uncovering the Value of Content Management

WALKING THE TALK

SERA is a national architecture firm with a clear focus: to design sustainable public spaces with the needs, interests, and inspirations of the local community at heart. They offer to all their clients a holistic design process that yields long-term economic benefits, healthier people, and stronger communities. But they know that sustainability starts from within.

As a 100% employee-owned firm, everyone at SERA is accountable for the integrity of their work. Each employee is personally invested in the company’s growth and success. Decision-making is a collaborative effort — from creating innovative designs, to choosing the most effective and efficient content management software platforms to help create, assist, and manage all aspects of the design process. The team is very discerning when it comes to choosing the right technology, and that is exactly why they switched to AVAIL.

©Marco Zecchin

 

©Fred Joe

 

The User reigns supreme

If the users at SERA are not happy with their Content Management System (CMS), then the problems they are encountering need to be addressed quickly because the demand for their time is constant and intense. And their number one complaint with their previous CMS was the lack of a clean, crisp user interface and ability to control content. Despite having all the bells and whistles, the software was just not user friendly and did not meet their needs. For SERA, it was important for the user interface to be visually clear, and to provide easy access to improving their workflow. “For us, the ideal situation would be to have a standard set-up for certain types of content and the ability to control who creates this kind of content, but then make it available and easily accessible to everyone,” explained Katalin Czégé. In sharp contrast to their previous platform, AVAIL is intuitive, easy-to-use, and visually clean — providing users with a visual representation of what they’re looking for.

©Lawrence Anderson

 

©Pete Eckert

 

Content Chaos

Originally, content management was solely controlled by SERA’s BIM manager. Unfortunately, the CMS platform they were using made it difficult to maintain this control. Although the content was in the cloud, with limited editing permissions local backups were saved to the network, and anyone would be able to modify those backup copies. As a result, the entire library became out of sync with the standard library in the cloud. When downloaded content got altered, users had to download a new copy from the library to replace the altered content. The challenge of identifying what was clean content, what was modified, and what was altered became unmanageable. According to Cristina Land, SERA BIM specialist, “This is what fueled the whole chaos of what was clean content and what wasn’t.” With AVAIL, what you see on the platform is what we have on the network.

Another issue SERA encountered was that their previous platform’s search function was not streamlined for the users, making it difficult to find what they needed. There were no visual tags. Files were duplicated and it was impossible to tell which file was created when. There were no efficiencies and no consistency. With AVAIL’s platform users can organize loads of content by seeing it visually in thumbnails, rather than just viewing a list of unknown families, which is more efficient and less time-consuming.

 

the path to content management

SERA’s approach to content management has significantly evolved over the past 5+ years. SERA started with one person — and then later another — working with an inefficient CMS platform that was not at all user-friendly. Just the two of them. They were, as Cristina Land puts it, “the two gatekeepers. And we had to approve all content before it went into the CMS.” They could not keep up with the demand, so people wouldn’t put in requests. Instead, they would just get their own content — ad hoc. This formed a barrier where there was little communication with each other about the content they were putting into the platform and using on projects. With AVAIL in place, they needed a fresh start, so they brought Ann-Helen Wirtz on board as BIM librarian. Ann-Helen spent her first eight months reviewing and cleaning up every single family (1000+) that was on the previous platform. Now, instead of doing their own thing, people give the content to Ann-Helen. She, in turn, cleans it up according to consistent smart features, and then it goes into AVAIL.

Keeping up with all the requests for content is still a challenge, and so the BIM team has begun to explore the idea of creating an unvetted channel (sort of a stash drawer) where people can share their content. It may not be clean content, but automated processes can take care of the initial cleanup and the channel will be clearly identified/labelled as unvetted. With AVAIL Analytics, they can then see what families are being used the most and then target those to be fully cleaned, vetted, and then moved to the correct channel. The objective is to give the power back to everyone (no more gatekeeping) while maintaining standards and following protocols.

Today, SERA takes the need for content creation and management very seriously. Hiring a BIM librarian like Ann-Helen is proof-positive of that.

 

betterment efforts

Challenging times often put us to the test. They can also be harbingers of change. Change for the better. In light of the pandemic, everyone at SERA is now working from home and much of the work has been redistributed so that everyone can stay afloat. This has given rise to new betterment efforts, allowing the company to focus on internal assets to create, share, and improve both content and workflows across studios. And that is where the whole idea of BIM Liaisons originated; a person from each individual studio that will help bridge the BIM Team and the users they support by sharing ideas and content. The BIM Liaison is directly involved in projects and knows what their studio needs are and what does not work for them. “They are knowledgeable, both architecturally and technologically. Let’s empower them to guide their studios — in terms of content” said Pete Heibel, SERA BIM Specialist.

The clearest path to growth and success (in every organization) is to nourish and sustain the workforce. The culture that the SERA BIM team is trying to promote is one that focuses on more interaction, more engagement, more sharing of ideas, thoughts, and knowledge. And, as their CMS technology partner, AVAIL will champion their betterment efforts and be on hand to help as and when needed.

A Democratic Approach to Evaluating New Technologies

Holistic collaboration for assessing a new content management system

At its core, Cuningham Group exists to create architectural designs that uplift the human experience, so as to produce indelible environments for families, friends, neighbors and coworkers to grow and flourish. To accomplish this, the firm developed a model of architecture that is highly inclusive and incorporates extensive client, consultant, engineer, and contractor participation. Collaboration is the most intrinsic component of the Cuningham Group’s corporate culture. Through a collaborative approach – applied internally (across all departments) and externally (across multi-organizations) – the firm fosters cooperative engagement with project teams, clients, stakeholders, and community members. 

Project-wise, Cuningham is a very diverse company. From multi-living housing projects, schools and healthcare facilities to grocery store chains and theme parks, they leverage the wisdom and experience of their team members and the advanced expertise of long-time designers and architects to produce designs that capture the essence of their client’s story. Their design process is holistic in its approach and embraces all available information and participants to produce designs that are original and custom for each client.

© Cuningham

 

© Cuningham

 

Yet despite having a well-honed design process and philosophy in place, the fact remains that in this fluid digital age, design coordination and content management have opened the door to a whole new set of challenges. The intricacies of bringing together (and managing) vast amounts of information and engaging collaboratively in the BIM environment can be daunting. And that’s why Cuningham decided the time was ripe to tackle this problem head-on. 

the quagmire of content management

There were two specific issues that Cuningham needed to resolve.  The first (and main) problem was inadequate content organization. Prior to having any content management system in place, the firm’s staff wanted to go through and reorganize the Revit content in a way that worked better for them. But each department had their own idea as to how they wanted it organized – the architects wanted it one way, the landscape team wanted it another, and so on. And that is why they always kept the content in the same folder structure as the standard Revit categories – separate family folders for doors, windows, sites, electrical fixtures, etc. 

The idea was that if the content was organized the way Revit utilizes it, it would be easier to find. However, that didn’t work for the end user who, for example, wanted the chairs to be located in one folder – not separated into different folders with one for interior chairs and another for exterior patio chairs. Add to that the fact that not all content was Revit content and didn’t easily fall into standard Revit categories. So, it became abundantly clear that they needed a solution for organizing all their digital assets in a way that would satisfy everyone, not just a few.

Data and information are at the center of any architectural, engineering or construction project and, as such, it is vital that they are managed efficiently and accessed easily. And that was Cuningham’s second issue – specifically the ability to locate content quickly, without having to waste time searching through an entire network.

The firm’s BIM managers began searching for solutions to content management for their Revit library. They looked at a number of options before narrowing it down to AVAIL and one other popular, cloud-based CMS.

a novel evaluation approach

As a standard for assessing technology, Cuningham initiated a very structured and democratic approach for evaluating a new content management system. They gathered their top tier Revit users and split them into two groups of 15. With AVAIL’s Pilot Program, the teams used the platform for 30 days, after which they were given a generic survey to fill out. The platform was changed out and they then tried another for 30 more days. Upon completion, they were given the same generic survey. And then they received a third and final survey which was specific to the two platforms – essentially a face-off. 

AVAIL won.

the game changers

Across the board, these were the five benefits that Cuningham Group’s BIM Manager indicated tipped the scale in AVAIL’s favor:

Create Channels: “The biggest one for us is the ability to have the users create their own channels and to organize the content in that channel without ever touching the network and reorganizing the network where the actual file lives.”

Look and Feel: “It’s streamlined, it’s easy to look at, it looks up to date and fresh — where other platforms look dated.”

Time Saver: “We’ve saved a ton of time in just finding the content quicker. I would guesstimate that you’re looking at probably at least a minimum of 5-10 hours a week of time saved.”

Ease of Use: “It’s being able to find the content in a relatively quick manner, and then being able to load in the content, or a single-family type, without having to load the entire family. Our door libraries are huge. We’ve got 10-15 different types of doors in a door file. I don’t want to load all of those in if I’m only using one or two of them. And being able to use AVAIL to do that, load in the two-family types that I want and not have to load the rest — it helps keep our file sizes down.”

File-Agnostic: “Even though it was developed for Revit, I can put anything in there. It’s completely file-agnostic.”

adoption rate exceeded expectations

Being a democratic culture, Cuningham took the time upfront to build consensus – which made their adoption move faster. An initial rollout that targeted their power user group has tripled in less than a year. At this rate the firm expects to hit every user within the next six months. One major incentive for Cuningham users to adopt the AVAIL system is that Cuningham chose to give everyone publisher rights – which is significant since, by nature, BIM content and standardized libraries are tightly controlled. Similarly, the AVAIL system allows for controlled or open use – providing the firm with the flexibility to deploy whichever level of use it deems appropriate. And as the BIM Manager aptly pointed out, “By opening it up and not policing it, you’re actually going to get more users.” 

cultural synergy

It is uncanny how closely AVAIL’s culture of openness and collaboration aligns with Cuningham’s. In fact, when we asked the BIM Manager what he thought was the one thing we should never stop doing, he answered: “For me, it’s the open communication that I’ve had with Jim (AVAIL COO, Jim Clifton) and Randall (AVAIL CEO, Randall Stevens). I didn’t get to meet anyone in their levels at the competing CMS company. So, the openness and transparency between AVAIL and us during this process have been an extreme pleasure.” And that is the true measure of holistic collaboration between partners.

 

Building Content Collaboration Across Design Teams

AECO INDUSTRY NEEDED BETTER TOOLS FOR MANAGING REVIT CONTENT

Since LPA’s start over fifty years ago, buildings have become more complex, and projects generate far more design detail for Building Information Modeling (BIM). One project can involve as many as 100,000 digital files—50 times higher than a decade ago, and that amount of data grows exponentially every day. The increasing demands strained traditional content management to the breaking point, and LPA needed new methods to handle the problem.

The Integrated Design firm of architects, engineers, interior designers and landscape architects all work as one LPA team. Using an informed design process, they collaborate among their integrated design teams to find the best answers for clients, and that’s also how they approached their content challenges. Technology, Practice Management, Quality, Codes and Research groups all felt the need for a functional library and content management system (CMS), so they joined together to find one.

LPA_story_landing-page
© LPA | County of Orange Building 16

LOW PRODUCTIVITY: THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE OF LOST INFORMATION

It’s not difficult to imagine a designer spending 30 minutes a day searching for files. The multiplying effect of that wasted time across users and weeks quickly becomes significant, resulting in reduced productivity and design quality. Industry veteran and LPA Associate Principal, Charlie Williams, knows this challenge well. He leads projects and initiatives that facilitate integrated design in this complex digital world. By ensuring teams have the right tools, processes and education, he helps inspire the design process to deliver better buildings. As a member of the content management search team, Charlie and other members of the technology team at LPA, including Nick Kramer and Bill Debevec, brought an understanding of both the workflow process and architectural integrity.

Long-standing Priority: An Integrated Design Approach

As a design firm, LPA takes an integrated and informed approach for seamless development processes, higher-quality outcomes and better client-focused solutions. Everyone on the LPA team gets involved from start to finish, and common access to content was critical to that model.

The firm’s definition of success with a content management system paralleled their vision of informed design through integrated design teams. The solution needed to eliminate redundancies and streamline work by meeting these criteria:

  • Standardized library to ensure content consistency.
  • Improved review process to maintain current, approved content.
  • Shared guidelines for creating models to avoid rework and errors.
  • Security to protect intellectual property and confidential data.

LPA went through several phases on their CMS journey, trying both proprietary and commercial solutions. As part of an in-house effort, they created their own details database with search, imagery, photo information, drawings, PDF files and other components.

However, as usage grew, the volume overburdened the system, and “it fell apart,” says Charlie. After several tries with both commercial and internal efforts, LPA decided “we didn’t want to be software developers. We needed to look outside for scalability and stability.”

©LPA |
© LPA | County of Orange Building 16

Criteria for BIM Content Management

To select the right solution for content management, search and workflow support, LPA created a scoring system based on the five criteria below. The AVAIL platform scored 4.5 out of 5 in every category:

  • Intuitive Interface: with a few clicks, tags and filters narrow searches to a small subset of content to visually identify what’s needed.
  • Workflow Support: breaks down silos by making current content accessible across groups.
  • Cultural Match: interface is designed by designers with AEC backgrounds.
  • Simplicity: eliminates the hierarchical folder system, so users can search and use any file type, regardless of location.
  • Analytics: improves processes by seeing what is being searched, found and also not found.

Search, Indexing and User Experience

LPA finds the AVAIL user interface offers simple navigation that focuses on the designer experience. The organization and search capabilities are easily customized, and LPA doesn’t have to support and maintain any platform. This supported the need for a solution with simplicity, cultural match and an intuitive interface.

According to Charlie, AVAIL’s “Search is flexible, but robust. It’s known that these systems pay for themselves, and you can tell at a glance what it will do for the firm.” Time savings come from better ways to manage content and find information. Other outcomes are quality designs and improved aesthetics. He says, “It gives us more time to think about design.”

With 400 people at LPA in content-related roles, it’s important that all have access to the same information. “But the reality is people work quickly and in silos. We can’t reinvent the wheel every time,” explains Charlie. AVAIL takes application silos out of the equation by indexing and organizing any file type. And its future-proof, open-ended architecture is designed to grow and change with the firm by working with any current or future application.

With AVAIL, Content Stays Local for Users

Accessing content where it resides is great for consistency. Charlie appreciates that content stays “in its original place,” with users pushed to the current version. There’s no need to move data, and content can be in use in more than one place at a time. Files are indexed locally with metadata stored in the cloud, allowing content to stay in its original location. Channels serve as virtual organizers, with digital assets grouped according to departments, projects or libraries.

Breaking Old BIM Content Habits

AVAIL drives productivity and quality improvements well beyond the design stage. “One problem was both individuals and entire teams would go back to old projects and carry forward old mistakes to new designs,” explains Charlie. There wasn’t a go-to place for standardized details, and that created a constant risk of introducing old errors into new work that could cause problems later.

Detecting an error costs many times more in the construction phase than in the design phase, so it was critical and prudent to minimize mistakes during design. By making the right content available, previous mistakes stay in the past, and downstream project steps have better outcomes.

AEC Content Management for Scalability, Flexibility, Blocks and CAD Details

AVAIL addressed many of the problems LPA needed to solve and then some. LPA now has a scalable tool to organize and search that works well with Revit, blocks, templates, CAD details and analytics. Other strengths they found in the platform include:

  • Photo management
  • Support for disciplines and workflow
  • Drag and drop simplicity
  • Full detail sheets

The choice of AVAIL brought LPA to the solution they’d been seeking for several years. Charlie had been interested in the platform since hearing AVAIL CEO Randall Stevens on a podcast. After being introduced to AVAIL by Bill Debevc on the BIMTHoughts podcast, and Nick Kramer at the BiLT conference he stated, “I was hands-down sold and anxious to implement it at LPA!”

Now the extensible, open-ended architecture is solidly in place, ready for current and future applications. Charlie expects that “after a complete (AVAIL) rollout, firm-wide, it would be used on all of our projects.”

How Managing BIM Content Increases Efficiency Across EUA

SEARCH FOR REVIT CONTENT SOLUTION LEADS TO AVAIL

With offices in Milwaukee, Madison, Denver and Des Moines, 112-year-old EUA has more than 220 employees, including 90+ registered architects and over 45 LEED-accredited professionals. Design expertise ranges from thousand-acre master plans to adding a single medical exam room. As EUA Design Technology Manager, Tony Isenhoff ensures these designers have the right tools to deliver these projects; “Efficiency ties to profitability, and we look for new technology to make us more efficient.” That includes making it easier for BIM managers to curate massive quantities of content.

In pursuit of better processes, Tony launched EUA on its Revit content management journey several years ago. From the beginning, they saw a strong ROI by moving away from accessing their libraries via Windows File Folders. The first platform was an improvement, but the back-end management was too time-consuming and caused frustrations for the Design Technology Team.

The need for a complete solution to the BIM content problem led Tony to AVAIL which had been on his radar for some time. However, the compelling reason for EUA to change was the pending renewal of their existing content solution. Getting buy-in for AVAIL from the Director of IT wasn’t difficult. “The ROI [of a content management system] was already proven through our first generation of technology, and AVAIL was just better,” Tony notes.

© EUA

BETTER WAY TO MANAGE MASSIVE VOLUMES OF BIM CONTENT

EUA’s original processes (browsing folders) forced users to spend time tracking down siloed content buried in hierarchical file folders. Frustrated employees might just choose to recreate what they needed instead, losing even more valuable design time and the ability to perform to their best potential. The next step was a software platform, which was better but still lacked efficiencies and was limited to only Revit loadable family content.

In contrast, AVAIL’s flexible design allows any type of content to be indexed where it resides, then easily searched and consumed through a visual interface. For EUA Design Technology Specialist, Jeremy Skalitzky, success with AVAIL meant efficient, high-performing staff who weren’t forced to hunt for content in network folders. “Better indexing means less time lost looking and fewer frustrations,” says Jeremy, who likes the ease of having content tools and features available inside of Revit.

CONTENT STAYS ON LOCAL NETWORK FOR EASY UPDATES

Revit content needs continual updates, so library management has to be easy for the BIM team. “We also preferred content to stay local on our network, primarily for easy modification and updating. We batch-process groups of content when changes need to be made, and that had to be easy,” explains Tony.

“With the AVAIL Browser for Revit, it’s much faster and a lot easier,” Jeremy concurs. “Before, simply opening a project file, used as a “container file” took far too long. Duplicates accumulated, and libraries became extremely messy.” Today templates are leaner and indexing is more efficient, as is updating libraries. Revit library management is a lot easier. The team is able to maintain the family library and detail library information concurrent with ensuring ease of access. “We upgrade our BIM libraries every year,” said Tony, “and this year we went right through it because of the new-found ease of working with the content.” Since implementing AVAIL he estimates they saved about 50% in library backend management time.

ORGANIZING AEC CONTENT WITH SEARCH AND INDEXING

When staff find content quickly, they can focus on producing quality work, instead of endlessly clicking through folders or duplicating content they can’t find. Powerful search and filter capabilities offer multiple ways to find Revit content. EUA has focused on using the search feature along with an extensive collection of keywords for filtering. AVAIL also searches using Revit Category or JSN Number, but EUA has not yet adopted that option. “That’s the beauty of AVAIL, we can customize the program based on our needs,” states Tony.

“Our workflow of using tags makes the BIM content very easy to find,” Tony continues. He offers the example of a search for chairs. “Hundreds may come up, but with the addition of tags like ‘education’ or ‘medical’, with a click or two you quickly filter down to chairs for a specific market.”

MANAGING CONTENT BEYOND REVIT

Work varies from office to office, but Tony expects AVAIL to be used on all kinds of AEC projects ranging from interiors and senior living to residential and healthcare. But they won’t stop there, because AVAIL lets EUA post content they didn’t even think about including before.

The revelation for Tony on expanding AVAIL within the organization started with project photos. In addition to construction photos (many marked up for educational purposes), AVAIL can support content related to:

  • • Sample projects as .rvt or .pdf for new hires
  • • Construction administration
  • • UL listings
  • • Explanations with graphics
  • • Dynamo scripts

MORE USERS, MORE VALUE

For EUA, creating a work environment that elevates each employee’s potential means aligning them with technology solutions that allow them to do their best. “People feel empowered to use our technology,” says Jeremy. As a result, creativity thrives, quality improves, and a culture of responsiveness is born.

With regards to content management, the more AVAIL users there are the more value to EUA and having options for many types of content was a compelling factor in choosing AVAIL. “We can publish more than just Revit content, which is valuable and a huge time saver for people trying to find all kinds of things,” Tony explains.

“Our Implementation team has lots of good information to share but until now finding it via Windows Explorer was difficult and time-consuming. We set up a customized Implementation Channel within AVAIL that has made it easy to find and use this information,” says Jeremy: “We can put up ‘don’t do this’ notices that help avoid problems later.”

USING BIM ANALYTICS TO DRIVE IMPROVEMENTS

EUA uses AVAIL’s analytics dashboards to improve processes by seeing what users search for and what they find – or don’t. With usage counts from the WIP (work in progress) Channel, “we can focus on cleaning up and QC’ing the most used content,” explains Tony. EUA’s Design Content Manager also gets general usage data, such as which content Channels get used most. “I love that it uses Google Analytics. I’m also using Google Data Studio to view results.” AVAIL takes advantage of 20 “Custom Dimensions” set up in Google Analytics to capture important data.

Both Tony and Jeremy appreciate the collaborative relationship with the AVAIL team. “AVAIL is open to feedback and continually asks what’s working and what’s not. They have great support and attitude. I talk to the developer, and he listens to us.” With AVAIL content management, EUA will continue exploring new ideas on their journey to greater efficiency.

How Revit Content Management Drives Collaboration

A NEED FOR Easy, Fast Access to Revit Content

The firm’s diverse portfolio includes projects in more than 91 countries, all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Collaborating across such a wide base requires a flexible content management system, and for LEO A DALY, that choice was AVAIL.

The buying process began with a test group. “Our team consisted of Digital Practice Managers, Subject Matter Experts, and experienced Revit and AutoCAD users,” explains Kevin Busacker, Associate, LEO A DALY Digital Practice Manager. AVAIL facilitated the trial process, which laid a foundation for a smooth adoption and successful deployment. The AVAIL Pilot Program gives customers access to the full product feature set, team training, and support. In addition, all pilot work transitions seamlessly to a broader rollout later. 

Omaha Marriott Downtown, Capitol District | © LEO A DALY | Photo by Kurt Johnson

PRIORITIZING USER EXPERIENCE AND FAST ACCESS TO BIM CONTENT 

“The ease of implementation was a pleasant surprise, because it’s a very powerful product,” Kevin says. Administrators can customize roles, permissions and Channels to improve user experience. Usernames and passwords integrate with the company’s single-sign-on settings to allow uninterrupted access to content. Fast-loading thumbnails to visually preview content further enhances the user experience. 

AVAIL provides employees quick, searchable access to any type of content on our network,” declares Kevin. “Individual time savings in conjunction with other benefits compound into quicker project completion, because users can access what they need much faster. The same search that took nearly a minute in Windows Explorer took only seconds in AVAIL,” he says. 

LEO A DALY designers are skilled, highly paid professionals, whose time is best spent on work that uses their strengths. When teams find what they need, they can focus unhindered on more high-value output. The platform’s intuitive ease of use has been part of the appeal, which in turn improves adoption overall. “We’ve had good feedback from users about getting to content faster,” notes Craig Thomas, Associate and Digital Practice Manager at LEO A DALY.

DESIGN PROCESS INSIGHTS THROUGH AVAIL ANALYTICS

Using AVAIL’s robust analytics, LEO A DALY spotlights areas to improve and streamline content curation. They’ve gained strong usage tracking and reporting capabilities, and Craig finds value in insights about design workflows and how content is accessed.

“We can dive into data and metrics and understand what’s getting used and not, and by whom. AVAIL helps us figure out what’s actually going on with this huge library. We can see what we use, what we’re missing, and what’s broken,” he adds. Additionally, the AVAIL Browser for Revit — which extends the user interface to Revit — allows for simple drag-and-drop while collecting relevant process data.

Omaha Marriott Downtown, Capitol District | ©LEO A DALY | Photo by Kurt Johnson
Royal Caribbean Innovation Lab | © LEO A DALY | Photo by Robin Hill

SEARCH AND INDEXING: ORGANIZING BIM CONTENT TO BE FOUND 

One of the biggest concerns was getting designers to the correct content, and that made search the biggest attribute in a content management solution. With AVAIL, “Filters and tags allow for a quick, relational search for any file type, no matter where it resides on our network,” says Kevin. 

Indexing network content with filters for file types keeps it as lean as possible. “AVAIL Channel organization lets us index to existing network drives and folders as-is, yet display to end users as we want by specialties like market sectors, disciplines or clients,” Kevin explains. Powerful search and filter capabilities offer multiple ways to find content, such as text search, CSI division, Revit category or JSN number.

The AVAIL content management platform exposes users to other approved (maybe even better) content that designers didn’t know existed, and the cross-pollination sparks ideas and collaboration. “It fuels creativity and reinforces what we want them to see and use. We help designers get to the right content instead of guessing what to use or recreating it,” says Craig. 

APPROVED CONTENT MAINTAINS QUALITY AND COMPLIANCE 

“We knew three quarters of the Revit content resided in the ‘unapproved’ area, and we wanted to get on top of that,” notes Craig. AVAIL reinforces the use of “approved” corporate content and provides quality control to avoid going backwards and re-introducing old or outdated content into projects.

“We check quarterly to see what’s being used in the ‘unapproved’ area, and then we can move what makes sense to ‘approved’,” he explains. “Over the course of a year, if we see 90% wasn’t even touched, we can streamline and get rid of it.” AVAIL drives quality and reduces inefficiencies by directing users to work from approved BIM content libraries. This avoids inconsistencies and time wasted tracking down or recreating appropriate resources. There’s reassurance that designers get the correct content, and that’s important on many levels, including regulatory compliance. As the company adds more ADA and government work, it pays to reinforce standards.

INTEGRATING AECO PROJECTS, WORKFLOWS  AND  MANUFACTURING

AVAIL helps integrate workflow in other significant ways such as taking a Revit model and transforming it into something you can manufacture. A duct designer can import content into an application that allows them to manufacture the ductwork, or you could use the library to create a model that is prefabbed, delivered to the site and dropped in. Kevin adds, “There are all kinds of down-stream uses for these files we create and then manage through AVAIL.”

BEYOND REVIT CONTENT MANAGEMENT: LIMITLESS OPTIONS

As many AVAIL customers have found, the platform helps LEO A DALY solve problems in ways they didn’t anticipate. “One thing I didn’t think about when we were piloting was to use AVAIL to create our templates,” Craig says. “It lets us bring legends from one model to another. No other tool gives us that capability. All of a sudden, AVAIL has become a tool to help us build and maintain our Revit templates.”

“Being Revit-centric was the attraction in the beginning, as we have mostly Revit content,” explains Craig. “But having had AVAIL now and understanding how it works, we’ve actually extended it to other uses like quick reference cards for example.”

INTUITIVE WAY TO CUSTOMIZE DESIGN WORKFLOWS

The firm uses AVAIL Channels to organize and assemble any combination of content and make it available from one location. Even better, “It’s pretty intuitive to customize right from the start,” notes Kevin.

“We’re starting to expose this product to other people outside of those who are working in Revit. We’re getting the entire company aware of this to see if it appeals to their needs as well,” he explains. For example, a custom Channel only shared to Digital Practice Managers gives quick access to planning and strategy documents stored across many locations on their network, but pulled together in one Channel. Other departments like Marketing could use the same Channel model.

“We have different file types from different places, all presented together for convenience,” says Craig. “Uses for the platform and how to organize content are limitless.”

Seamless Content Management Enhances the Employee Experience

RELATIONSHIPS, PERFORMANCE AND DESIGN

These are the founding principles of Lionakis. They guide all of their decisions, shape their culture and nurture their client relationships. Lionakis has been working with clients, contractors, consultants, business leaders, and community leaders throughout the western region. The firm has a history of long-term relationships at all levels. And their portfolio of successful projects — which span a spectrum of education, civic, healthcare and commercial design solutions — stands in testament to their consistency and ability to provide responsive, appropriate and innovative design solutions that shape communities. These partnerships are the core of the firm’s business and they strive to provide a level of service that exceeds expectations.

“Our project work supports the health, education, and service of the communities we live, work, and play in.” — Kristina Williams, Director of Design Technology, Lionakis

EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE INFLUENCES CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

For Lionakis, the employee experience is as important as the customer experience. If an employee feels valued, respected and heard, then they, in turn, will help create an exceptional experience for the client.  So, when their staff expressed how frustrated they were with navigating through “the madness” of Revit content and past projects to find specific assets, the firm decided to search for content management solutions that would address their issues. The search, led by Director of Design Technology, Kristina Williams, brought them to AVAIL.

AN ELEGANTLY SIMPLE, VISUAL INTERFACE

The first and most fundamental challenge was to make their Revit content easily accessible ­— in a clean, visual way. For the users, it was very important to have all the content searchable and quickly identified. The ability to look in multiple places to find content and view thumbnails, instead of the Revit icons, mattered most to them. The firm’s objective was to lay a solid foundation in order to build the most streamlined design production platform for them to use. According to Lionakis, in comparison to the other competitive content management solutions they evaluated, AVAIL’s key strength stood out: a clean, visual interface. After all, no one wants to take the time to learn software that is cluttered, complex and frustrating. Users find AVAIL to be intuitive and easy-to-use, which helps to improve adoption. And another major plus for the Lionakis team is how well AVAIL works with other value-added tools in the industry, such as P.I.G. (Preview Image Generator) from iconicBIM for the creation of beautiful Revit family thumbnails. That made them very, very happy.

LIONAKIS CONTENT CHAMPIONS — IDENTIFY, HARVEST AND ORGANIZE CONTENT

For Lionakis, it was important to get it right at the outset — to get all the content indexed as part of the AVAIL channel creation process and make it easily accessible so people can remain on the task at hand with minimal interruption. Then, continue to refine that content over time. To accomplish this, they formed a new role: content champions. Their responsibility is to harvest and identify all the content that is needed, but is not currently in the library. The structure for this role actually stemmed from the firm’s use of AVAIL and how best to encourage people to adopt the platform. Lionakis chose representatives from each market — education, civic, interiors, structural and healthcare. These individuals spend their time by first identifying gaps where content is lacking, then by harvesting content and downloading families from product manufacturers’ sites. It’s a large task, but one that lays the foundation for their content management initiatives moving forward.

“AVAIL has really streamlined my workflow and made the process smoother. It’s nice to not have to break focus and look elsewhere.” — Amy Jordana, Designer II, Lionakis

KEEPING CONTENT RELEVANT — THE VALUE OF AVAIL ANALYTICS

The second challenge that Lionakis wanted to tackle was how to keep their content relevant. Lionakis uses AVAIL’s analytics to improve processes and provide insight by seeing what users search for, what they find, as well as what they don’t find. “We know what our designers like to use and not use simply by looking at the analytics dashboard” said Kristina Williams, “and we’re finding individuals use the software in ways that we didn’t expect, which may allow us to start a discussion and discover additional workflows that we hadn’t thought of before.”

ORGANIZING VOLUMES OF CONTENT

The final issue that Lionakis needed to address was the problem of content organization — namely, grouping content into room types, uses, etc., so that they could add many different types of families from different categories all at once. With AVAIL, users can group digital assets into channels according to department, project and libraries using Tags — or simply customize their own grouping by creating a new channel. With a single piece of content able to reside in more than one channel at a time, users are no longer constrained by a hierarchical file system that requires you to know what a file is named or what project it’s associated with. Problem solved. But what Lionakis did not anticipate was that they would also be able to use AVAIL as a tool to organize the content itself — not the other way around (i.e. organize and then add to AVAIL). With AVAIL’s platform, they can organize loads of content by seeing them visually in thumbnails, rather than just viewing a list of unknown families. This is not only more efficient but also much less time-consuming.

“AVAIL is a tool that allows us to organize and easily access our content libraries. It’s very simple to use and speaks to our appeal for graphics and visuals in our day -to-day work.” — Kristina Williams, Director of Design Technology, Lionakis

BUILDING A SOLID DIGITAL FOUNDATION

Lionakis knew they needed a system that could bring all their content together in one place and they began to understand the value in making content a key foundational asset in the firm. As a result, they decided to dedicate the time and resources to do it right. According to Kristina, “If the foundation of our content is not set up properly, then we’re going to be spinning our wheels trying to look for content while we’re also trying to advance in other areas, like computational design.” AVAIL is a foundational tool and as members of the Lionakis team ease into it, they are already beginning to leverage its value into their digital ecosystem.

THE ROAD TO ADOPTION

As of now, Lionakis is getting a clear view of how the AVAIL platform is improving their business — with fewer errors, improved work quality, faster time to project completion and higher margins. That said, their content champions are about halfway through the important process of vetting all their content. Upon completion, Kristina and her team will continue promoting AVAIL firm-wide. But perhaps the road to adoption, for Lionakis, should not be measured in quantifiable terms but on a more human level: the “Employee Experience.” Using AVAIL has dramatically boosted staff morale by giving them a simple, visual way to find and access content, thereby significantly reducing their frustration levels. Kristina summed it up in a nutshell: “You hear people saying how much easier it makes life for them, and you just know it’s worth it.”


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