Laiserin's Lemma—An Orange By Any Other Name
(lemma: a short theorem used in proving a larger theorem)

Jerry Laiserin

Our recent analysis, "Comparing Pommes and Naranjas", stirred up the most response of anything we've written to date. The estimable Martyn Day, Group Editor of the MCAD and AEC magazines at UK-based CadServer, provided the most extensive and intensive counterpoint to our original argument. Martyn is such an experienced and insightful commentator on technology tools for design that we've chosen to devote the bulk of this issue's LLemma to his unedited views in their entirety.

"Just got your email concerning the Building Information Model (BIM) issue. Your effort to gain a common agreement is a commendable initiative, although, thinking it through, I am not sure if I can comply with your request to endorse it.

"I find our industry's many attempts to find a replacement term for CAD to be like 'mutton dressing as lamb'. Just analyse it—Computer Aided Design—it's a great generic term that encapsulates all professional design activities. If you are serious about design, you are using a computer to assist in that process, it's self-explanatory. Users design, draft and model using CAD software, what needs changing from that? All I hear is 'it's not CAD, it's different, it's bigger'..... ??

"Why do the CAD developers want create a new label for their industry? The answer, for me, lies in the value of the term CAD, not with the end-users, but to the industry analysts. For these 12 or so bank employees are the people who suggest if investors or institutions hold, buy or dump stock, and they know that the CAD market is almost fully penetrated and saturated. In short, the CAD market doesn't look as dynamic or as exciting as other technology areas for investors. It's re-branding in search of credibility and perceived value, nothing more, nothing less.

"While there is a need to educate users on new technologies, introducing a new three-letter acronym will not necessarily be to the benefit of their understanding, it's just another label. The industry players may agree with the new term so they can go back to the analysts and mix it up with a heavy dose of marketing and big dollar potential. This is all that's happened with PLM [Product Lifecycle Management—JL]. The broad adoption of PLM by MCAD companies hasn't helped users, it is just a broad term under which all players can write all manner of unintelligible crap and pass it off as something new and exciting, en masse.

"You point out that the current battle of the AEC terms isn't helpful and may be causing an obstacle. I think this is only partly true as the battle for intellectual property in this market is merely a symptom not the cause of user's lack of interest, knowledge or adoption.

"The CAD developers have generated many terms to try and explain what they are developing, nearly all have failed or caused only confusion. Why? It's a combination of factors—users don't want to be dragged to another way of working yet, and developers have still to completely deliver on their vision of the Single Building Model, trying to sell incomplete solutions and setting user expectations above what can be delivered. Some developers are or on their second or third attempts at developing capable solutions. The software companies have single-handedly created this lack of clarity that you mention. We are just witnesses to them soiling their diapers. It's not pleasant and it's not very grown up.

"A new three-letter acronym is not going to convince intelligent users that anything has really changed. Engineers and architects don't need new labels to describe unsuccessful old products, untried new products or process altering methodologies. It's the marketing departments of CAD software companies that need to change their ways and stop looking at ways to impress analysts and concentrate on communicating with their customers.

"The industry, that's to say the users, will move when the products make sense, in their own time. And that's another point—users don't like to be forced or coerced and there are some developers out there that have given themselves that reputation. Moving to a new paradigm, a new foundation product and industry process should be thought long and hard about—not accelerated through cross-grade cutthroat pricing to assist that quarter's figures. The software companies need to show empathy with their customers, the problems that they currently face and look at ways to improve their productivity, not make a B-line for their wallets to improve a one-off quarterly performance. By allowing developers to re-brand their businesses to BIM, will just give them something to go back to their customers and use as a device to bully them with—the peer pressure that tells 2D customers that they are Luddites because they aren't compliant with this month's buzz-branding. 'Value' is what the developers think they are bringing to the party, but Value doesn't exist if the customer doesn't see it.

"The AEC modelling market needs many things: more complete products; real value; less buzzword-related spin; education of interested users; improved ease of use; predictable outcome; enhancements to the core industry process; and above all, patience.

"If we all adopted BIM, do you really think it would be the end of the cruddy marketing and victimisation that you mention? I think not. I am all for whatever will make the various Marketing departments take a good long hard look at their output and compare that with the real needs of users. By agreeing to standardise on BIM, I feel I would be a willing accomplice to the industry's ongoing, clumsy attempts to manipulate market analysts at the expense of generating meaningful dialogue and information for professionals in the AEC market.

"I may be like King Canute, [set] on my throne commanding the tide to turn back, while all my illustrious fellow journalists go with the flow, but I am not a lover of bandwagons. This is my initial reaction, I am sorry it's a negative one."

Hmmmm? If only Martyn would step up and tell us what he really thinks.

I agree that no new TLA (three-letter acronym) "is going to convince intelligent users that anything has really changed." Similarly, the sort of process change that accompanies new products will not be magically willed into existence by transmuting CAD into BIM. My point is that the new term will give those folks—vendors and users alike—who are interested in changing processes and designing more intelligently, a common nomenclature on which to create the shared context that the knowledge management gurus tell us is the way that individuals, organizations, professions and industries learn and grow smarter.

Another provocative aspect of Martyn's commentary is his characterization of the relationship between vendor marketeers on one hand and industry analysts and jounalists on the other. Is it parasitic, symbiotic, or predator/prey (and if so, who is who?). In relation to the vendors' spinmeisters, all of us pundits and commentators must choose whether we shall be unwitting victims, witting enablers, or witless bystanders. In my view, the fact that a descriptive term—even a buzzword du jour—may be seen as good for vendors doesn't automatically mean it is bad for users.

BTW, in a follow-up communication, Martyn added:
"It's funny—I have been suggesting to the CAD developers that they try and get 2D right before developing something else."

Unquestionably, 2D drawings will be with us for a long time, and vendors of BIM as well as CAD must get it right. However, I'm one of those optimists* who believe that the integrated approach of BIM offers a greater likelihood of ultimately "getting 2D right" than the disjointed approach of most current CAD solutions.

In a further follow-up communication, Martyn added:
"True dialog is good, and sometimes resistance is useless."

Indeed, many will resist—just as there were folks who resisted the move from ruling pens on linen to Rapidographs on Mylar. However, for those who do choose to explore issues and opportunities beyond the scope of current CAD, I still think it's useful to have a common term as an agreeable framework for debate about how best to move beyond our present situation. I think that term is Building Information Modeling (BIM), and the largest AEC design software vendors (Autodesk, Bentley Systems, and Graphisoft) seem to agree. Perhaps some current or prospective users of BIM and/or CAD tools would care to let me know what you think.

Editor and Publisher, The LaiserinLetter
Analysis, Strategy and Opinion for Technology Leaders in Design Business

* NOTE: According to Virginia-based writer James Branch Cabell (1879-1958), "The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true." (from Cabell's 1926 mythological novel, The Silver Stallion: A Comedy of Redemption—fans of Tolkien pay heed).

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