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Goings on at the Because We Cannery

What comes after Revit?

So technology in general I feel always goes through four phases as it gets woven into our lives.

Phase one is the Univac Stage. The technology is very new, very rare, and very special. Hardly anyone knows or understands it. It lives within the confines of large organizations, like Universities or Corporations, and gets awed news articles written about it.

Phase two is the Wood Paneling Stage. The technology is now publicly available, but people still don't really know what to do with it. So it takes the form, and acts like, something people already understand.

Phase Three is the Natural Stage. The technology is now pretty well understood, and is allowed to take a form that's actually better suited to itself. Sometimes changing it's outward appearance and behavior a great deal, but still fulfilling the same function.

Phase four is the Nothing Stage. The technology is now so ubiquitous, and understood, that it just gets subsumed into something else and just becomes part of a larger item. People don't really think about it anymore.

The first music synthesizers were huge, complex instruments that hardly anyone really understood and were very rare and special. Like the Moog Modular. Next came along the wood-paneled Mini-Moogs and ARPs; Piano-shaped Organ-work-alikes that anyone could buy and use and understand. Then the arrival of digital synths, with sampling and more complex synthesis, along with new interfaces, allowed for the music synithizer to really be what it wanted to be; a universial sound machine able to make totally new or convincing copies of sounds. Then, finally, music synthizers became so common that they can be made from a single computer chip, or totally copied via software, and are put into things like cellphones and greeting cards to make music.

The first 'CADCAM' programs were run on huge mainframes, and were only used for expensive, special projects. The machines cost a fortune, and could only be afforded by huge insitutions. Eventually CADCAM becomes more accessible and affordable, and it moved into the CAD era of the 80's. Wood Paneled, for certain, for the software mostly just did what people already did on a drafting table, just now it was on a computer. Eventually, the technology becomes understood and cheap, and fast enough to take on it's own natural form: fully 3D parametric solutions. Programs such as Solidworks and Revit are the 'state of the art' currently within the market.

So this leads me to ask: what's next? What is going to replace fully 3D parametric modeling? What comes after Revit?

I think the answer is something larger, something different, that simply swallows up the modeling software. Something that has all the features of a Revit (or enough features at least to be useable) within a single module that's just part of a larger system.

We already see this within the high-end manufacturing tools. Catia and Siemens, both 'PLM' or Product Lifecycle Management systems, are huge packages designed to manage ALL of a product's production. The actual design part, the part that does the modeling, is just one of many parts of a much larger production system. There are tools for managing orders, inventory, material flow, people, and more; all in one big modular app. Many parts have nothing to do with modeling at all, but moreso management of information, and have totally different toolsets and interfaces.

This leads me to guess that what will replace Revit eventually isn't something better then Revit, but something totally different. Something more akin to a Construction and Facilities Management tool that also happens to do BIM modeling. A 'BLM' or 'Building Lifecycle Management' system.

While Revit is slowly growing in that direction, I don't know if it's going to make it. While BIM is touted as the solution here, I think it's really going to be about what comes after Revit. This is because of a few simple things.

First off, we can't easily query Revit models from outside of Revit. So that puts an end to those Revit models being the 'center' of a BLM. If we're going to have wildly divergent tools all touching the same data, that data has to be accessible in many ways, not just via a single 'heavy' tool focused on designers and engineers. In a PLM, one doesn't have to be in a modeling environment to manipulate information about the product. We'd need the same for our BLM. We'd need to still have the designers and engineers modeling away, but we'd also need for there to be many other interfaces to the project better suited to the other stakeholders.

Secondly, we'd need something truly collaborative over the web. Revit requires special hardware to run remotely, and even then it's not exactly a great experience. Something more akin to Microsoft's Sharepoint, or Google Documents, or even a simple Wiki; where multiple people can work together at the same time one the same thing from almost anywhere would be needed. Where everything is tracked and versioned, so that changes can be tracked back to those responsible for them.

Third, our industry would have to change to support such model-centric workflow. While that's starting to happen with IPD, it's still such a new and undefined thing. PLM isn't just software, it's a whole workflow for making products that's now over 20 years old. It's pretty well understood. IPD isn't yet, and until a new workflow 'settles down' within our industry that is model-focused, tested, and proven, our tools will most likely be fragmented and kept to their silos.

Last, I think there would need to be a major shake-up within Autodesk itself. They are still very much a 1980's software company, with a business model of getting people locked into their proprietary tools and selling updates and software instead of a more IBM or Google-like selling of services or ads.

Imagine if Google made Sketchup! totally collaborative over the web, tied it into Google Docs, gave it the ability to produce proper drawings for permits, made it parametric, and then stocked the Google Model Warehouse with smart real models of building products. They could give the whole thing away for free, track the market data of who's useing what products in their buildings, and make bank by selling that data back to the industry. As well as selling placement and ads within the libraries. Maybe they would charge for the 'pro' version, that has more features and more uptime. Maybe you could buy your own BLM server, and run it in house, like you can for Google Earth. And people would use the heck out of it, even if it only did about 50% of what Revit does today.

Just from how often we're asked by people within Autodesk why we're not using Inventor to do what we do (silos!) and how they are getting better with SEEK when it comes to content, but still have a long ways to go, doesn't give me much hope that Autodesk will give us a 'BLM'.

So imagine Revit grafted into Navisworks as a module, with a robust web interface and really good change management, along with some Construction & Project Management tools mixed in there, and I think you'd be close to the 'BLM' system that Autodesk could produce.

But probably won't.

Jeffrey McGrew