Autodesk Customers Move to the Cloud During COVID-19

Autodesk Construction Cloud platform for BIM 360 users.

When the pandemic hit, some people may have wished to go to another planet, somewhere where COVID-19 didn’t exist. Everyone quickly learned that there was no safe place, at least not on this planet. Last spring seemed unreal. People had to adapt to a new way of living and working. The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry was no exception. It had to carry on in some manner. recently caught up with Autodesk to see which products its AEC customers were using during the pandemic. It turns out that BIM 360, Autodesk’s cloud collaboration platform, was a big one.

In fact, Autodesk recently announced more overall use of its Autodesk Construction Cloud platform, which BIM 360 is part of, from various disciplines in the AEC, including infrastructure designers, engineers and contractors, and specialty contractors from all industry sectors.

Autodesk also gave a heads up on some customers already using BIM 360, including worldwide engineering firm Buro Happold, which luckily had most projects in the cloud when the pandemic hit.

But it wasn’t luck. It was Paul McGilly, Buro Happold associate principal of digital design, who has been on the forefront of using state-of-the-art technology, such as BIM 360 Design, for more than a decade.

Paul McGilly.

Paul McGilly. (Image courtesy of Buro Happold.)

McGilly, who is based in New York, joined Buro Happold in 2001 and has been using BIM 360 since 2014. By 2019, he had 40 percent of his team’s U.S. projects migrated to the cloud. However, he still had about 50-plus projects to move to the cloud in 2020. His team managed to get every project to the cloud within weeks of shutdowns. By March 2020, all U.S. projects had been moved to BIM 360.

While some details in this article were provided by Autodesk, based on a customer story with McGilly, followed up with him to learn more about his team’s tremendous feat, especially the challenges during the migration, as well as to get his feedback on his experience with the software and how his team has adapted during the pandemic.

McGilly was back in the office. He said the company has been operating at 20 percent capacity, in accordance with New York City’s COVID-19 mandates.

His team is using BIM 360 to its full capacity for collaboration, storage, coordination and data analysis. According to McGilly, the goal of the migration was to move data to the cloud so Buro Happold could better mine the data.

Challenges of the migration process included coordinating all the logistics and ensuring everyone had the proper resources to do so, such as bandwidth. Having good bandwidth was vital for users to access files without latency issues.

“In the midst of what was becoming a global pandemic, our No. 1 priority was the well-being of our employees,” McGilly said. “Planning started immediately. Working closely with our IT team, we deployed laptops, screens and chairs to all staff, put working-from-home protocols and guidelines in place, and moved to complete the process of migrating all our projects to the cloud.”

Coordinating downtime to upload to BIM 360 was also a challenge. Most importantly, he had to ensure the migration wasn’t interfering with project deadlines. Projects were originally hosted on the Revit server, so he had to make arrangements with the project team to mitigate downtime before migrating to BIM 360.

Some projects required quite a bit of time to download. For example, large-scale projects consisting of 3 million square feet could take up to a day to migrate all the models.

Another challenge was having to train all the engineers on BIM 360. In the U.S. they had 300 engineers. The vast majority had already been using it since 2014. McGilly said training sessions were scheduled to get staff comfortable with working in BIM 360. The focus was on how to use, navigate and understand the functionality of the software.

(Image Courtesy of Buro Happold.)

(Image Courtesy of Buro Happold.)

When asked about the learning curve, McGilly said, “It was easy. It [BIM 360] is a simple platform.”

His engineers seemed to like it for the most part, as they no longer had to work late evenings due to poor latency issues they previously had to deal with. He even surveyed them to get their feedback. 82 percent said the platform helped their performance and productivity while working from home. 99 percent said they wanted to continue using BIM 360 in the future. They all agreed except for one engineer.

McGilly said he did the survey anonymously, so he’s still trying to track down the one who answered “no” to see why.

The next phase was getting the global practice on board, which consisted of 1,900 people across 24 global offices.

“It was a huge advantage to be able to tap into expertise from our global offices, including Hong Kong, Warsaw and Mumbai,” McGilly said. “We work in a very integrated practice. For one project, we might use four to five offices. It felt like we were working in the same office.”

Some notable projects in which Buro Happold used BIM 360 included properties for real estate development firm, Bedrock, in the Detroit area. One project was the restoration of Detroit’s Book Tower, a 38-story Italian Renaissance building. It is one of the tallest and oldest skyscrapers in downtown Detroit. BIM 360 enabled Buro Happold to manage 3D point cloud scans and exchange ideas with the extended design team more effectively in a live virtual environment.

One of the largest projects Buro Happold hosts on BIM 360 is a Bedrock development in Detroit’s Central Business District, the Hudson’s Site Development, a new 1.4 million square foot mixed-use tower. With BIM 360, Buro Happold was able to host design workshops and get expertise from its global offices in New York, Hong Kong and England for Bedrock and architectural partners.

Before the cloud, the collaboration process was tedious, time-consuming and left room for errors. McGilly’s team of engineers communicated via email. The hundreds of emails consisted of massive file uploads and downloads that took up to 30 minutes and even hours to open.

As an example, a mid-sized 200,000 square-foot project at the construction documentation stage that might take 29 minutes to open using a virtual private network (VPN ) setup could be accessed and opened in about one minute using BIM 360.

2018 Autodesk AEC Excellence Award winning project- Brown University. (Image Courtesy Buro Happold and KieranTimberlake.)

2018 Autodesk AEC Excellence Award winning project- Brown University. (Image Courtesy Buro Happold and KieranTimberlake.)

When asked what could improve their workflow with BIM 360, McGilly said one thing that would help is if he could publish documentation in BIM 360, such as scheduling the publishing of PDFs for review. His team uses Bluebeam for PDFs. To enable access from BIM 360 requires an expensive upgrade from Bluebeam to get the feature.

“We pay enough for software already,” he said.

They’ve also looked at IMAGINiT’s Clarity platform as a possible solution, but again there is the issue of spending more money.

Buro Happold hopes to work with Autodesk to find a solution in the future. It is also looking at in-house tools to create the PDF functionality needed.

Overall, the feedback on BIM 360 at Buro Happold has been overwhelmingly positive, according to McGilly. Not only did BIM 360 enable the benefit of a seamless transition to remote working during the pandemic, but he also noticed that engineering performance has improved since using BIM 360, even with engineers working from home. Before BIM 360, it could be frustrating and disruptive to a user’s workflow to have to wait up to an hour or longer to open a file.

Like the rest of the world, Buro Happold had to find new ways to communicate and has been using virtual platforms. The company has opted for Microsoft Teams to communicate with clients and stay in touch with staff. It has been collaborating with clients virtually to share data from BIM 360.

The hard part about working remotely is that employees can’t interact with customers face to face.

 “Meeting clients face to face is super important,” McGilly said. “However, they are used to communicating virtually as they have clients all over the world.”

Not being able to interact with his team in person in an office setting has also been tough. McGilly said it’s crucial to stay in touch with his engineers and ensure everyone still feels like part of the team. They regularly have quick meetings where employees can “air their graces or frustrations.”

The company also has virtual quiz nights, coffee mornings, happy hours, etc. to stay connected and check in. It is still sorting out new ways to stay innovative while working remotely and use ground-breaking technology, such as virtual reality (VR) equipment, like providing VR headsets to its staff.

Looking to the future with BIM 360, McGilly said the company is identifying opportunities for further integration of its open-source Buildings and Habitats object Model (BHoM) coding platform with BIM 360, which will enable Buro Happold to mine project data from a central source more efficiently.

“Our engineers regularly utilize their model data with BHoM to do everything from analysis of their embodied carbon using our Life Cycle Assessment Toolkit to pushing their Revit model geometry to IES for the creation of energy analysis models,” McGilly said. “Thanks to this increase in participation with the wider design team, we had the opportunity to explore more expeditious cloud-based solutions for data storage.”

While BIM 360 tremendously came in handy for him and his team during COVID-19, he sees long-term benefits, including expanding the U.S. team without needing more offices. He hopes to recruit teammates that can work remotely. He is still working on reopening offices while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. His staff can now use an app to reserve a desk if they want to work in the office or can opt to work from home. Ensuring his team’s safety is the top priority.