Wind Surfing Electrical Engineer in Charge at Europe’s Biggest BIM Company
Roopinder Tara posted on July 31, 2020 |
For Nemetschek’s Viktor Várkonyi, good enough is not good enough. It has to be right.
Nemetschek has sponsored this post.

Viktor Várkonyi, Executive Board Member and Chief Division Officer Planning & Design Division of the Nemetschek Group. (Picture courtesy of Nemetschek)

We find Viktor Várkonyi on a Friday evening in his living room, an unlikely place from where to lead the largest division in the Nemetschek Group, a company that makes over a half billion dollars a year, but that is the world we find ourselves in— the world of the pandemic. The home is the office. The interview is via videoconference.

We apologize for the hour. It is 6 pm in Budapest. Time for the weekend. We imagine the blond and tan Várkonyi a surfer riding the wind on his weekends. He admits that his passion is indeed sailing and windsurfing—and a little biking. “I’m no pro,” he said, “but it´s a great exercise.”

We have some questions, some of them related to his path to ascension at Nemetschek. Some of them … not so much. Várkonyi smiles. He doesn’t seem to mind.

For example, what would cause a degreed electrical engineer to get into architectural software—and stay there? Várkonyi has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Budapest University of Technology and Economics.

Starting his career as a software developer, Várkonyi became the director of (software) engineering at Graphisoft in less than 10 years, and by the beginning of 2009, he became the CEO of Graphisoft. The Nemetschek Group, the German company founded by Professor Nemetschek, who remains on the company’s board of directors, was best known for Allplan and has a lion’s share of the AEC software market in Germany.

Amongst other brands, the company added Graphisoft, the inventor of the BIM concept and the U.S.-based Vectorworks, favored by MacBook users—a demographic market-leading Autodesk had little interest in. The acquisition of California-based Bluebeam, makers of PDF software, was picked up not because Várkonyi wanted to surf but because Nemetschek wanted to gain access to millions of AEC users.

 Nemetschek revenue in 2019 was over €550 million. (Picture courtesy of Nemetschek.)
Nemetschek revenue in 2019 was over €550 million. (Picture courtesy of Nemetschek.)

You immediately went to work at Graphisoft as a software engineer?

That’s exactly what happened.

Did you take a wrong turn when you left engineering school?

It was a very fast decision. When I saw Graphisoft in 1992, it was excitement at first glance. It was a really exciting market at that time. It still is today. Graphisoft was driving a lot of innovation. We were changing the way people worked, the way they designed buildings. We invented BIM—way ahead of anybody else. So, here I was, working for the best company. I had no desire to exercise my electrical engineering degree. I got a foundation from my engineering background. I got a mindset: when you deliver a product, you want the best performance and design. Good enough is not good enough. It has to be the right.

And being an engineer, it’s really cool to be innovating, doing great things. I actually graduated half in electrical engineering and half in computer science, which seemed the perfect fit for my role.

How about this pandemic? It can’t be good for business.

It’s not really affecting our strategic developments, so all of our initiatives are coming without disruption. We continue our investments as decided before.

You brought in Huw Roberts, formerly at Bentley Systems, to fill your old job of CEO of Graphisoft? How’s he doing?

Huw is a great addition to the team. My primary search criteria when I was looking for my successor was a cultural fit. Graphisoft has a strong foundation, but what the company really needs is more strategic marketing. Huw has a strong expertise to bring in the required focus. Gabor Bojar [Graphisoft founder] designed the company to the market, so Huw has been a perfect fit for this role, coming from the industry, being an architect, but also having a marketing background.

We work great together. My job is to give a strategic direction for the whole Planning & Design division of the Nemetschek Group. Graphisoft has a very important role in our journey. I’m very proud to see that Graphisoft is getting stronger.

Are you in contact all the time to make sure he does your job properly?

No. Absolutely not. He is the leader of Graphisoft. We meet when we need to meet, especially on strategic subjects. Graphisoft is very well connected to the global market, a perfect channel for me to gain insights on what is important for customers, so it’s great to discuss my ideas—also his ideas—on group-level initiatives, on how we can do better and what innovations we could drive. Also, Graphisoft has a very strong global business, so there’s a great foundation for the future of the Nemetschek Group. I was really excited to hand over Graphisoft to somebody who I feel I can trust to make Graphisoft even stronger, but also who is able to continue to rely on what Graphisoft represents. Like with all the other brands in my division, I have very strong relationships with the CEOs, as we are building something great together.

Is Graphisoft the biggest part of Nemetschek’ s business? What about Allplan?

Graphisoft is the largest brand in my division but that’s not really important. It’s not about the business stats, it’s more about how you represent your products in the market. Each of the brands have their own characteristics. Graphisoft has a very strong position in architectural design. Allplan is very strong also, especially in Germany, with strong heritage and expertise on structural engineering, expanding rapidly, with groundbreaking innovations. For example, we have a revolutionary approach for bridge design with Allplan Bridge.

Graphisoft had their annual worldwide conference recently, virtually, of course. You were part of this conference introducing your Integrated Design solution. How did it go?

We were able to reveal our Integrated Design initiative in the middle of COVID at the GRAPHISOFT Building Together 2020 event. It was a great event. However, there were no face-to-face customer talks or press interviews and I miss not seeing and hearing a reaction in person. When you are talking face to face, you can see the interest in what you have done—maybe they will go crazy writing about it because it’s so great. But you cannot see that with a virtual event. I’m very much a people-oriented person. That’s really driving all of us at Nemetschek, getting the feedback firsthand. For that, you have to have a personal connection. You have to live in the market you serve. As a business leader you need to visit as many customers as possible. I get inspiration and direction from these talks and visits. This is the most important thing, being part of the Executive Board, in a top manager’s role. Our success is measured by how successful our customers are.

Can you tell us more about Integrated Design introduced at the virtual conference? You referred to it as a “paradigm shift.”

With Integrated Design, we are integrating professions. In the design phase of buildings, especially in the early phase, architects and engineers work in silos. That’s extremely inefficient. The best products are created, whatever they are, when you can collect all the stakeholders from the very beginning in close teamwork, all the experts focusing on the various aspects of the challenge. That leads to an optimal solution for the client problem. While our tools, our software, have improved a lot in the last 20 years, the original process is still standing. Architects are creating plans. They reach a stage where a structural engineer is called in. Then they iterate, sometimes for weeks.

They are working in silos, all on their own duplicated dataset, trying to coordinate changes as they loop through cycles. I have a deep belief that in a few years, the industry will be working differently. We are set to start and support a paradigm shift with our technologies.

Why not have architects and structural engineers work together and coherently?

Think about a wall ... why do you need to duplicate it for all professions? It is the same object, but professions take a different view of it. Architects will need to change certain parameters like the position, the thickness, the finishing and so on. Structural engineers are primarily interested in the load bearing core, its building material and connections. The innovation is in how we make sure these two professions can not only work together on the shared data, but also keep control on all the parameters that they are responsible for.

Our technology comes with a robust management of rights going down to the properties of BIM elements. It is a revolutionary approach bringing all professions into real-time teamwork, all having the full design context and up-to-date information to make their decisions. We have many customers who already apply elements of our Integrated Design vision. I see it as a technology fostering a change in mindset of how we design buildings. Not working any more in silos, protecting workspaces. They are all in one model, sharing information. Then, they can focus on the client requirements, finding the optimal solution (such as function, cost, constructability) instead of spending their billable time duplicating models and standing in line with plans for revisions.

Working this way, there are also a lot of additional impacts. First of all, the deliverable will not be an architectural design model and a structural design model. If these two professions are working together, they can go through a level of detail very close to producing a correct construction-level detail BIM. By achieving that, everything built is very accurate, providing data to downstream processes – such as super accurate QTO or 3D details to construct.

Take us behind the scenes now. How did you get the structural and BIM model to work together? Did you combine the databases?

There are three major technology bases.

At the core of our technology, we have one database (one BIM model) with three views—the architectural view, the structural model view and the analytical model view. By editing any of these, the core database is updated, keeping the other two views automatically updated by the software.

Next, comes management of rights, which is very important for the involved professions to assume responsibility of their work. We’ve had management of rights for years. It is a proven technology that we can further utilize for this purpose. Now management of rights goes down to an element property level. For example, a structural engineer has full control to recognize or even prevent the architect from modifying the thickness of the structural core. Some of the parameters cannot be touched by any other professions.

Third, all is managed by the Graphisoft BIMcloud, a proven solution to share gigabytes of BIM data for real-time access, irrespective of the user’s physical location.

So Integrated Design, one team, working in one model, is a disruptive workflow. This is very exciting!

(Picture courtesy of Nemetschek)
(Picture courtesy of Nemetschek.)

What can you tell me about SCIA AutoConverter? That sounds like a closely related other innovation from the Nemetschek Group.

The SCIA AutoConverter is perfecting the traditional reference model-based workflow. Here, the structural engineer and the architect are working on separate models that they share with each other as a reference model and they keep themselves synchronized. What happens often today is that the structural engineer needs to create or recreate the analysis model from scratch. Some do it at every iteration. To address this, we are utilizing our innovative technology to automatically create the analysis model using either the architectural or from the structural model. Throughout this process, the engineer keeps control over how the analysis model is created and this, for a lot of engineers, is a very important capability. It means the structural engineer is getting the building model in the form an IFC [Industry Foundation Classes] file or another common 3D format. There is no time wasted for the engineer to create a structural analysis model. They can focus on the design job, which is primarily defining the loads, analyzing the structure and making design decisions.

With the current process, often 30 percent of the time is used to build models and keep them synchronized and follow what architects are doing. The SCIA AutoConverter saves that billable time. The structural engineers are still working on separate models, but we have a highly automated method of generating the analytical model and managing the bidirectional dataflow. The whole workflow is built on top of the Allplan Bimplus platform, that provides powerful model change tracking services.

To make a simulation model from a structural model means you have to go from a high level of detail, for example, a riveted joint, to a much less detailed model, such as beam elements, without rotation at the nodes. Are you saying that is now done automatically?

Yes, it’s totally automatic. But with the ability for the engineer to take control at any time, both in the Integrated Design process and with SCIA AutoConverter.

100 percent automatic?

That’s exciting, right?

You couldn’t have done that sooner?

There are a few prerequisites: To get the right analytical model right, the model has to be continuous. For finite element analysis, you have to have a continuous model. That means that the junctions in the building model also have to be correct. If two structural elements are not connected, then you have to make a design decision to connect them. The system will be informing the architect (or the structural engineer) that they are not really doing a great job. They like to place a slab on a wall and not have to deal with how the structures are connecting to each other. But once you get the connections in the model right, we can automatically generate the entire analytical model without any interaction. Archicad for instance provides an extremely powerful but user-friendly technology (called Priority Based Connections) to manage connections on proper construction level detail. Both solutions also have built-in intelligence to make the right decisions based on control parameters set by the structural engineer.

We discussed making beam elements from steel members automatically. What about plate elements made from midplanes of walls? Also automatic?

Yes. Again, if an architect working in ArchiCAD makes a complete BIM model, we can generate an analytical model out of it that the structural engineer can use to run structural analysis without any problem, without any manual work, while giving the engineer the control to change, if so desired. That’s Integrated Design.

And that seems like a good note to end on. The weekend and the water are calling. Várkonyi, who is ever gracious despite the intrusion, invites us to visit his city, the lovely Budapest on the Danube, and gives us hope with a remembrance of days when we traveled a world that now seems to have come to a standstill, a world that was booming, where the only thing holding back construction was the lack of construction workers. We give our thanks that we can still function—those of us working on our computers, making software or writing about it, and express our concerns to those whose lives cannot continue as they once did.

But Várkonyi is not one to be morose. He wants to point out that a lot of what software has done will help people in the age of the pandemic. How, exactly?

With all the innovations, we have made it easier to be collaborative and work together—even when we have to be apart. Not only are different disciplines working together, which is most exciting for me, now in this COVID environment, we are hearing from our customers that the transition from office-based work to a work-from-home way of working was so surprisingly smooth. Extremely smooth. They simply packed up their computers, took them home, plugged into the Internet and picked up where they left off.

I was very proud reading of our customers experiences on social media. Many customers were saying, “Okay. Now we see the power of cloud solutions.” So, when they needed it the most, our cloud solutions were there and they worked. That was a big proof point. The cloud solutions of the Nemetschek Group proved themselves. Also, we provided a lot of service for our customers. We made all of our collaboration tools available for free during this period of time, letting our customers work efficiently from home. We also accelerated many investments that are related to software and service solutions, squeezing out the hardware infrastructure, the need to set up IT infrastructure. So, all in all, from a technology perspective, this COVID environment is a huge proof of what we have accomplished in the past years.

We wish Várkonyi success as a leader in the Nemetschek Group. With that positive outlook and the drive to get it right, he’s a safe bet. We say goodbye from our screens—or better yet, until we meet again.

For more on SCIA AutoConverter, visit Nemetschek.

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