Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Version of Tekla BIMsight

If you haven’t already heard of Tekla BIMsight, you should take a look. I first saw it at one of the AGC BIMForum conferences last year. It is a free – yes, free – tool for 3D coordination using aggregated design or fabrication models (notice, no kittens harmed here). BIMsight now offers support for tablets including multi-touch hand gestures as well as stylus use. And yet again, another tool that uses – guess what? – IFC format for input.

I’ll be running some informal tests of this tool in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Effective User Groups, Part 2

Following up on Part 1 of my tips for organizing and maintaining effective user groups, this post will cover the physical and virtual spaces that support great interaction.

Meeting Locations

Where you host your meetings is probably the biggest variable in the equation for an effective user group. There’s no perfect answer because you must find the best balance of function, space, and cost that meets your needs. I’ll offer my own experiences for your evaluation.

Offices

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Probably the most common place to start a user group is at the leader’s office. If you have a large enough conference room or even a lobby space with plenty of stacking/folding chairs, this might be all you need. Sometimes it’s fun to rotate locations of a user group meeting to various participating companies. The main drawback is the number of people you can pack into a space. Meetings can get disrupted when attendees are standing or sitting on the floor (yes, I’ve had that experience!)

Issues: Building security, space set up & clean up, limited number of attendees

Hotels

The DC Revit Users Group meets at a beautiful space atop the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington. I’ve done some research in the past into meeting spaces in New York City and the cost may be $1,000 – $2,000 per event.

Issues: Cost

Showrooms

These kinds of spaces are likely only available in major metropolitan centers, but they are an interesting option. Product manufacturers like Steelcase may have showrooms in your region that can be utilized for group functions. In NYC, I’ve attended events at Steelcase, The Gunlocke Company, Haefele, and the McGraw Hill Auditorium. I’ve never organized a meeting at a showroom, so I can’t speak to the costs involved.

Issues: Cost?

Restaurants

Why not mix learning and networking with some food? I’ve attended a few user group meetings held at restaurants over the years. One of the early NYC Revit User Group meetings was held at a bar which was actually an old bank. Our ‘private meeting room’ was actually the old vault and I recall giving a presentation where the ‘screen’ was actually a backdrop of safe deposit boxes! The Ontario RUG used to meet at a restaurant called Alice Fazooli’s. This was fun because they had a large dedicated space and the food was great.

Issues: Cost, A/V equipment

Academic Institutions

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Our group was really fortunate to connect with Pratt Institute and use their lecture space on a monthly basis. For two years, we were able to utilize this space without cost because they enjoy the exposure for Pratt’s continuing & professional studies programs in the building. Recently we were asked to provide insurance coverage for our meetings and yet again, an interested company came to the rescue to provide this contribution as a group sponsor. More on this to come in Part 3…

Personally, I think an academic location is the best option because it seems that it is the most mutually beneficial solution. You can bring potential students in and they can provide a space well-suited to learning events. So reach out to your local university or technical college and see if they are willing to share some space.

Group Websites

Now that we’ve covered the physical space, let’s talk about virtual space. As I mentioned in Part 1, there are so many free social tools available on the web today that can support groups. When we got the NYC RUG started in 2006, Google Groups was a pretty good option. This free service is still around, but its functionality is somewhat limited. You can create custom pages, upload files and manage members – but that’s about it. I’d keep an eye on Google+ and see how it evolves.

In addition to an Internet home for your group, you should also think about how you want to handle events. In the past I used Evite.com to manage events while we were on Google Groups. It’s a free service and does a nice job handling RSVP’s and automated reminders; however, it wasn’t integrated with the group website, so I had to manage two member databases.

Facebook seems to have highly functional group tools where you can create and manage events, have discussions, post links, photos and videos. It’s all free, but you have to be a Facebook user to join a group. Some people like to keep their personal interactions on Facebook, so they may not want to mix business-related stuff there. Also, some offices may even block access to social sites like Facebook. LinkedIn has groups as well, but I haven’t found them as easy to use as FB.

The NYC Revit Users Group uses a site called Meetup.com. It’s a paid service ($45 every three months), but our members seem to really appreciate the functionality. It has discussion boards, file/photo uploads, topic suggestions, and it’s event management is great. Automated email reminders, dues collection (if applicable), name tags, sign-in sheet, and more.

I’ve only discussed a few web-based group platforms here, but there are so many more out there. Do some homework, look at other group sites and pick one that suits your taste such as Ning.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Effective User Groups, Part 1

I’ve been thinking about sharing my user group experiences for some time now and an email came in asking me about just such information. (How do you approach businesses or individuals to attend and then speak at the meetings? How do secure sponsors for venues and food? How do you deal with topics specifically geared towards a particular discipline without losing the rest of your members?…) Needless to say, I am taking the initiative to write about the evolution of the New York City Revit Users Group.

In a series of posts, I’ll discuss the following topics:

  • Getting a group started
  • Organizing topics and speakers
  • Meeting locations
  • Group websites
  • Sponsors
  • A/V technology

I hope you will find my opinions interesting and I welcome comments about your experiences.

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Getting a Group Started

There’s quite a bit of a story leading up to April 2006 that I now realize will have to be yet another series of posts on my journey with BIM. That said, I was 2 years into implementing Revit on World Trade Center Tower One at SOM and each of the New York area Autodesk resellers were starting to ramp up their own Revit user groups. As I recall, there were at least two – maybe three – separate groups and they all wanted me to speak at their events at one time or another. I thought, "there has to be a better way.”

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Lesson #1: By the people, for the people

Users don’t need to sell anything. There…I said it. I have the utmost respect for the VAR’s (value-added resellers) and trainers with whom I’ve collaborated in my career, but (in my opinion) they don’t have that grassroots, real world, in the trenches, battle-scarred approach to the tools. Whether a VAR has an agenda or not, I frequently get that feeling when I attend a VAR-organized user group. We’ll talk more about sponsorship later…

The first step in creating a successful user group is finding some local people in your industry who share the same passion. Look at your current or most recent project team, consultants, contractors…did you make some new friends as you worked through the last all-night deadline? Get together for lunch a few times and you might have the seedlings for a user group!

Back in 2006, we didn’t have Twitter or Facebook, so getting the word out about new user groups was either by word of mouth or mass e-mailings (but you had to know your recipients first!). And websites were pretty expensive back then…if GoDaddy.com was around, you sure couldn’t buy a site for $9.99 and be up and running in a matter of minutes.

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Today, you can create a group presence for free on Facebook with just about everything you’d need to get a group going. More on technology in a forthcoming post…

Lesson #2: Maintain regular meetings

Research has shown that the leading cause of user group death is apathy. OK, that’s my own observation, but I’ve seen it happen. Even if you just get together and have a roundtable discussion about BIM standards, it’s still a meeting and your attendees will come to expect the next regularly scheduled meeting.

Organizing Speakers and Topics

So, what’s the magic formula for finding interesting speakers and topics? Sorry, there isn’t one. In the early days, we did two things: spoke about our own experiences; and had VAR trainers give how-to lectures. The best advice I can give to new organizers is to network, network, and then network some more. I’ve met so many people at events like Autodesk University and those connections inevitably lead to memorable guest appearances for our group.

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Lesson #3: Get help

We have been conducting regular monthly meetings for almost 5 years and with over 770 registered members, we only recently have achieved 10 volunteers on our advisory board. The overwhelming majority of user group attendees just want to receive content – not participate in creating the content. The best thing our group did was to assign vice presidents (those who were the most active and available to co-organize the meetings), and create an advisory board of members who just wanted to help contribute topic ideas and perhaps suggest some contact connections for guest speakers. The burden shouldn’t rest squarely on one person.

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Lesson #4: Lock in dates for guests early

When you are speaking to potential guest speakers, try to get them to commit to a date far in advance. They may not know what their schedules look like two months or more ahead, but they will know when they have agreed to present at your group.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, coming soon…

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Event: BIM in Modular and Prefab Construction

As the president of the New York City Revit Users Group (nyc-rug.com), I organize monthly meetings around various BIM-related topics. The January 2012 meeting featured guest speaker Ian Atkins who shared some of his real-world experience in applying BIM to modular and prefabricated construction.
UPDATE:
Unfortunately, Kullman has requested we remove the recording of Ian's presentation and we have complied. Please stay connected with the NYC RUG for upcoming meetings and feel free to browse previously recorded meetings at http://vimeo.com/groups/revitusers.