A new generation of software tools gives designers the chance to provide an even wider array of services to clients while also leveling the playing field between small and large firms. For those architects who can keep up, that is. Today, an ever-changing array of digital tools—including BIM software and mobile, Web-based telecommunication applications—gives architects more opportunity than ever to guide every step of a project’s design. Keeping up with these new software tools takes more than a half-day class every few years, though. So we gathered a trio of software training and support experts to offer some insights on the ways that the field is adapting its relationship to challenging new software.

Peter Arkle

Joe Eichenseer, Imaginit Technologies

Taking a single off-site training course is no longer a solution for designers. Instead, says Denver-based Joe Eichenseer, building solutions division manager for the global Imaginit Technologies, small bursts of information instantly constitute an important segment of the training market. “We’re seeing more people saying, ‘I don’t necessarily need to take a class on all of that, so let’s take this mini exercise on that one topic I’m looking for,’ ” Eichenseer explains. “We’ll probably see more and more people going for a just-in-time level of training. You learn about how to draw a stair core just before you go in and start creating all your vertical elevations.”

Eichenseer also believes that training support is the key for small firms to compete with larger firms. “We’ve got more than 25 people on my team just focused on building design,” he says. “A third party can build up that same level of support for the design teams. Some big firms out there have enough infrastructure in place that they can do it on their own. But in the small-to-midsize firms, that’s not there. You’ve got the small guys working with the big guys, and all of a sudden, a five-person firm is working on a university hospital.” 

Peter Arkle

Lonnie Cumpton, BIM9

While working at an architecture firm two years ago, architectural-technology expert Lonnie Cumpton found that the company’s servers were continually clogged. “The traditional IT solution for cloud technology and virtualization is designed around small applications that don’t require a lot of processing power,” he says. “Running a Revit file across the WAN on that technology, it would take 20 minutes just to load.”

The solution not only solved the office’s problem but evolved into a company in Las Vegas, BIM9, which creates private BIM clouds that allow users to use big programs simultaneously. “It gives people the benefit of cloud computing, but behind a firewall,” Cumpton says.

Increasingly, Cumpton sees design initiated in animation, then finished in BIM programs. “You do a three-dimensional model, photorealistic imagery, and animation at the very beginning. As the evolution of architecture is moving toward integrated practice and design, and even design/build, it’s becoming more of a reality where you’ve got all of the players in the room and if we can agree this is what we need it to look like first, it moves a lot quicker.”

Peter Arkle

Mike DeLacey, Microdesk

“It’s a really unique time in the industry,” says Mike DeLacey, New York–based president of BIM consultancy Microdesk. “The changes are happening very rapidly. There is definitely something up for grabs.”

He believes that BIM software is no less than redefining the profession. “The challenge now is we get a very accurate design model but it doesn’t flow through to post-construction,” he says. “We’re turning that on its head now and saying, ‘We want all that info coordinated before it goes to the contractor.’ The design world was historically abdicating that. We’d rather leave that to the construction managers. But today, the pressure is increasing for design to retake that responsibility. I think a big change coming is that all of those tools for shop drawings will be within BIM.”

In the future, DeLacey thinks that there may be greater distinction between design-development firms and construction-documentation firms. More than a fractioning of responsibilities between firms, though, he sees a blurring of duties among them. “I’d guess you’ll see more architecture-engineering firms, or more construction management living within the design organization,” he says. “You’ll have construction expertise living within architecture firms and vice versa. You’re seeing a bit of that already.”

DeLacey says that in recent years, construction-management firms have been more aggressive than architecture firms about seizing project-management roles. “But the design industry is starting to step up and think about it more,” he says. “I think the challenge is they still tend to think in the framework of a design task, saying, ‘We’re not going to propose something that will shrink those margins even further,’ rather than thinking from an opportunity standpoint of what is possible. But I liken the opportunity to that of the master builder: When we built cathedrals, it was one guy who envisioned what would be built and oversaw that process. Technology is driving us in a direction where in 15 years that could be possible: one organization designing, constructing, and maintaining.”

“Look at road construction,” DeLacey says. “The Texas Department of Transportation is contracting major strands of highway to a single entity, including tolls, for 90 years and maintenance. I think that’s a concept that will continue.”