Most A/E firms lose up to $30,000 per employee each year. Yours is likely one of them.
There is a problem in the Architecture and Engineering (A/E) industry which results in billions of dollars of lost profit and added expenses. In fact, a Gartner Group study from 2010 found that up to 300 hours per employee is wasted every year as a result of this problem. At a billing rate of $100/hour, this equates to $30,000 per employee each year! If this problem only affects 50% of the industry, it still amounts to $15 billion in lost professional services annual profits. Many owners and managers of A/E firms don't realize they are one of the root causes of the problem.
The problem starts with the fact that nearly everything in the built world requires a design drawing or model before it is approved and built. This means that every one of our projects must make its way through the bottleneck that is computer aided design (CAD) and building information modeling (BIM) software. Most A/E firm owners and managers stop reading at this point because they feel they have a handle on this problem or it doesn't pertain to their firm. Most are also surprised to learn they themselves exacerbate the problem with their lack of understanding of the software's potential.
Because of its importance in the project lifecycle, A/E firms must know how to efficiently use CAD and BIM software. Unfortunately for us all, the software is complex and not as easy to use as it could (should!) be. Further, we no longer use a single software application to complete our projects; we now have suites of products to keep up with. Making matters worse, most software manufacturers release new versions annually. Together, this creates a mountain of information to keep up with. Most firms recognize these issues and acknowledge the need for CAD and BIM software training. The problem is that existing training options seldom work and are often nothing more than a waste of time and money. Why does training not work?
Training falls into one of three main categories, all of which have major flaws. First is self training, whereby the users receive no formal training, but rather learn from books, online forums, and YouTube videos. Most commonly, these users frequently seek out the 'power users' at your firm in an attempt to find the answers they need. In these self-help scenarios, the users struggle to find the answers to their CAD/BIM questions and when they do, who knows if it's the best answer? What's worse is that while they are looking for a solution they are not billable and neither is the power user they are pestering! The Gartner study found unstructured self training in this manner is 73% more expensive than structured training. Most A/E owners and managers realize this is no way to train their staff and they move on to the second category of training.
Live, classroom style training is the most familiar and one of the most common forms of training. Everyone who went to school understands the concept and there is a belief that it is effective for technical training. Unfortunately, this belief is wrong. Live training, typically delivered in several consecutive days fails for a number of reasons. First, its expensive. It costs a couple thousand dollars to either hire a trainer or to send your staff to a training facility. And while your staff sits in class for three days, their projects sit untouched on their desks. The lost billable time far outweighs the cost of the course. To add insult to injury, classroom style training is very ineffective at transferring knowledge. Regardless of how good the instructor is, these session amount to little more than a 3-day cram session, with users attempting to absorb vast amounts of information in a very short timeframe. To make things even worse, it's not uncommon for a user to return from training and not even have the new software installed on her computer. In the event it is installed, chances are high that her current project was not started using the new software. It's no wonder then, that the Gartner study found that knowledge retention was less than 10% six months after passing a student through a live training session. While live training continues to be popular, most A/E owners and managers and their staff are underwhelmed by the results. By itself, live training is not an effective solution.
With the first two training approaches not being very effective, many turn to technology to keep their staff up to speed. Surely, with the explosion of eLearning websites, this method is effective, right? The answer is a definite Yes and No. Yes, eLearning can work and No, the options available do not work. There are many sites dedicated to A/E industry software training and I feel each of them has one or more of the following four serious flaws.
The first flaw is that weak training material is a common problem with many eLearning sites. The content is basic, only covers the essential features of an application, and the content available does not cover all the applications your firm uses. Next, most existing eLearning sites are not unique to your organization. Members are lumped together in a general site, with no privacy and no customization. One-size-fits-all training courses seldom fit anyone. The third flaw is a poor user experience. Many sites require the installation of additional software (which creates IT headaches) or are built on rudimentary learning management system software. Finding what you need to learn is difficult and users quickly lose patience. Finally, nearly all existing options are expensive and deliver low customer ROI. Users are charged an ongoing subscription fee, are limited to the number of users who can access the system and or are allowed only a fixed number of hours of video/lesson views. These limitations prevent wide-spread adoption across your firm.
With the available training options all deficient in one or more areas, you'd think the problem is bad enough. Unfortunately, owners and managers make it worse. As a direct result of a lack of real, deep, hands-on knowledge of even the basic workings of modeling software, A/E business owners, department managers and practice leads are directly responsible for creating bottlenecks which reduces profits and increases costs. Due to lack of expertise with modeling/BIM, many A/E owners are reluctant (either consciously or subconsciously) to place such systems at the center of their business. As a results, owners view CAD/BIM in general as a necessary evil and training a nice-to-have luxury and not a critical business investment. Why is this?
Many years ago, the industry transitioned from hand drafting to CAD. While this was a significant step forward it was also easy for even the most technophobic among us to understand. It was not much more than doing digitally what we had long been doing manually. This transition is analogous to a crawling baby learning to take his first toddling steps: its progress but not revolutionary progress. The transition from CAD to modeling and BIM is revolutionary and many of us do not understand or appreciate its significant ability to radically improve our businesses and our bottom lines. If the difference between hand drafting and CAD is like the difference between crawling and toddling, the difference between CAD and modeling/BIM is like the difference between toddling and running a triathlon.
The change is not intuitive and the benefits are not obvious. It's obvious that cad operators and designers need to be up to speed on the software. But these roles are just one step in the process of winning and delivering a project. What's less obvious is how modeling and BIM can impact other roles at your firm, from marketing and business development to programming, from surveying to conceptual design, from internal and external project review to revisions and final design, modeling and BIM software can make a dramatic positive impact to your bottom line. In fact, a McGraw Hill report, "The Business Value of BIM for Infrastructure" found that 59% of A/E firms understand the benefits of BIM and have "adopted" it. While this is encouraging, I think the number overstates actual usage: firms might own the BIM software and use it, but only at a fraction of its true potential.
So if none of the training options are effective and there is a gap in the owners' and managers' knowledge of modeling and BIM software, what are we supposed to do? How are we to educate ourselves and keep our staffs up to speed? In my next post, I'll explore options to get us past these hurdles.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!