4 January 2012
New year forecast looks cloudy
2012 will see the growth of cloud computing and a tipping point for bim.
Another year has passed since Paul Morrell's call for architects to engage with bim. It is increasingly becoming the norm for practices to purchase a few seats of bim software such as Autodesk's Revit or Bentley's Architecture. Trial projects are under way and progress is being made under the guidance of the now ubiquitous bim implementation consultant.
This year, more projects should be coordinated and delivered using digital information technologies. The gold rush towards bim is also likely to encourage increased use of cad/cam techniques, parametric design software and rapid prototyping. A welcome reminder that computers can be used to explore and test completely new design solutions.
The excitement about the big picture will also prompt an overhaul of the closely typed plea that often characterises an office's computer-aided draughting manual. Your cad software may have been developing under your nose and you haven't changed with it. The ability to extract 2D and schedule information from a 3D model is a growing feature, for instance. There is scope for assessing whether you are getting the most out of your existing software.
The bim gold rush will increase use of parametric design software and rapid prototyping While software and our use of it may become cleverer in 2012, I detect a move towards a simplification that comes with the march of computing from the realm of geekdom to consumer commodity.
Apple has led this trend, with the development of the iPhone and iPad, and 2012 will see the commercial attractiveness of Apple's model of consumer-orientated products spread to other areas of technology.
While this may be seen by some as dumbing down and a loss of the specific in favour of the generic, it will also help propel business technology into the hands of all users rather than just the specialists.
Consider the cloud
One of the challenges in the growth of new products is ensuring they fit your needs. This can be particularly challenging when they are non-physical products or exist only as a virtual service.
Project extranets have been around for some time. While they are well-tailored to their industry-specific purpose, they do not possess the economies of scale that generic cloud solutions can enjoy.
Companies are increasingly turning to services such as Gmail, Google Apps and file sharing solutions such as Dropbox. Moving from locally maintained and licensed installations to centrally maintained and flexible-access web-based solutions makes economic sense to software developers so they will increasing try to make it economical for end users too.
Often developed as a one-size-fits-all solution, cloud software is already a mature offering, but sometimes presents challenges to specific industries. Architects frequently have views on backup, archiving and data security.
These are not insurmountable, but the more pressing challenge facing the cloud route is often one of internet connectivity. While we now expect every office to have an ADSL line, the quality of service has become stretched, with upload speeds woefully slow.
To engage with the possibilities of cloud computing, architects will have to invest in internet connectivity. Firms should look to 2012 as the year they look at new options, whether leased lines, cable, BT Infinity or bonded ADSL.
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