Whenever you are looking to implement a new technology in your firm, you typically go through a few steps:

  1. Figure out what is out there in the marketplace – What products are available?
  2. Collect data about all of the technologies that may suit your use case
  3. Rigorously compare and analyse all the data
  4. Make a decision and go for it

There are some excellent content management tools out there for Revit now, so how can you choose? I went through a very comprehensive research analysis of a number of Revit CMS platforms, and I posted about the process here.

Then I caught up with Steve Germano over at Unifi to talk about the results. You can view (or just listen) to it here:

Feel free to comment here with your thoughts and we can keep the conversation going!

Slightly over 6 months ago, I was approached by one of my associates over at Unifi with an idea. They wanted to engage in a detailed competitive research project focused on content management systems for Revit. I was pleased that they approached me, because I obviously love Revit and I also love helping people to improve the whole ecosystem of software tools that surround Revit and BIM. In fact, I often provide too many suggestions to software companies I think 🙂

In this case, I was particularly interested in the topic as well. Having used Revit now for around 10 years, I had started to observe a trend in how Revit gets implemented into firms. Typically, they:

  1. Buy some Revit licenses
  2. Teach their people to use Revit
  3. Look at ways to standardize their use of Revit, perhaps through standards and template files
  4. Try to maximize the impact and benefit of BIM through some vertical products, such as Enscape
  5. Start thinking about how to deal with the many gigabytes of ‘content’ they have now gathered and that is sitting on the file server in their office…

Having seen this over and over again, I knew that evaluating, choosing, and setting up a Revit content management system is no easy task, yet it is a hugely important one. It is something that often gets neglected for too long, and results in many wasted hours as people go blindly looking for ‘that family’. As you know, I willingly share time-saving knowledge, tips and workflows here and via Twitter, so this competitive research project really ticked a lot of boxes for me. I would be able to:

  • do a deep analysis of content management products for Revit
  • observe the strengths and weaknesses of each
  • be better informed and able to assist people who often ask me about Revit content management
  • provide some feedback to Unifi about how their product and offering could perhaps be improved (and as I said above, this is something I often do for free)

In this particular case, I knew that there would be a lot of time involved. I was going to have to obtain, install, test, benchmark, and document a whole lot of information about various Revit content management systems. As a father of three, a technology blogger, and someone who works almost daily for different companies delivering various projects, time is extremely hard to come by. So I felt it was quite appropriate in this instance to be commissioned by Unifi to perform this research task. I had never been part of a commissioned, competitive research project before, so I knew there may be some challenges. However, given the amount of time that would be involved, I would only be able to do a proper and thorough job if I was reimbursed for the time I would need to dedicate to it.

You might say that being commissioned for the task introduced some bias, but I’ll tell you why that cannot be true. Unifi wanted to know how to improve their product, they basically wanted to know what could be improved so that they could remain competitive with their competitors. For me to somehow do a biased job would have been way off-base. I needed to be honest, and brutally so. I had to show the Unifi people if and how their competitors were stronger than they were. I admire the fact that Unifi undertook this whole project. Evidently, they wanted to make sure their product was the best it could be. Personally, I would have an avid listener, someone who would be happy to hear all of those software ideas that I come up with!

So I accepted this project as a commissioned, competitive research task. I would record my results and provide a number of comprehensive deliverables back to Unifi. How would I go about this job? There were a few logical steps:

  • establish the list of products that would be researched
  • obtain the products
  • install them onto a test workstation
  • evaluate the features available in the product and fill out a detailed comparison matrix
  • perform benchmarks to establish speed, performance, and capability of each product
  • use some large sample content datasets to really put the products through an intensive test to check for problems that may occur with huge content libraries

Looking at the above steps, you can see how much time would be involved. But I also thought it would be a good idea to involve the developers of the competing products in the research. I thought that if I could be better informed about the other products, my research output would be more complete and accurate. And I still think that this was the right approach. I spoke to some of the competing companies and described the fact that that I was doing a detailed research project and would like to discuss their product with them. Most of them knew me as a blogger and technology professional, and so they were pleased to meet and discuss their content management product.

And then I made a mistake.

I should have started those meetings by saying that I had been commissioned by Unifi to do the research project. But I did not mention that fact. We had informative meetings each time, that helped me to get a better understanding of each product. But I can see now that I should have simply told them how the research project came about. I actually don’t think it would really have influenced the discussion a whole lot, because I still think it was in their interest to assist me in understanding their product. However, I do feel like I should have been transparent at the time. I would like to publicly apologize to those competing companies for not initially disclosing that I was commissioned to do the research.

This was a lesson learned for me, and one I won’t make again if I undertake a similar research project in the future.

I do not apologize for taking on the research project, because it was simply the best way that a task like this could be handled, and I do believe I was the right guy for the job. I understand that it is quite common for companies to engage 3rd party professionals to perform market research, but for me it was my first time. As stated above, my thought process was basically that:

  • I would receive some reimbursement for my research time, that
  • I knew the research output had to be complete and accurate and honest, and that
  • It would be beneficial to speak to the individual developers about their product.

Following the consultation phase and data gathering phase of the project, I had quite a substantial amount of data to work with! How would I filter through all of this and truly make it comparative?

To begin with I put a lot of information and notes into a detailed OneNote notebook. I then started an Excel document where I would store most of the comparative results. I had a few key worksheets where most of the raw data was stored:

The Matrix worksheet contained a whole lot of data, over 150 rows and 15 columns. I broke the testing and comparison up into some major categories:

Note: the UX2 value above refers to things like bugs or user interface problems, and in that case a higher score would be worse (more bugs).

For feature comparison, I used a weighting value and a formula. Here is a sample of some of those weighting values:

So, in the case above, I viewed Parameter Searching as more important (5) than Uniformat Filtering (2). These weighting values are based on my experience and my association with other BIM professionals.

From this point, I reviewed the capability of each product and used a Yes / No value to determine if a given product would ‘score’ for that feature:

If a product achieved a Yes value here, it would also obtain the Score for that Feature.

I used a set of PivotTables and Charts to break down and review that feature data.

I also performed some performance and speed benchmarks, and stored these in another worksheet:

Ultimately, this data was all collected and provided in combined form along with some Powerpoint slides. The slides cover topics like:

  • What is BIM Content?
  • What is Revit Content?
  • Why Content Management?
  • How is Content Managed?
  • How do I choose?

Along the way, we had to do a few interesting things. We were finding that the Australia internet speed was not really a good place to start with cloud benchmarking. So we obtained a cloud based virtual workstation that more closely reflected the type of internet speed you would experience in the USA, and I then had two sets of ‘cloud speed’ benchmark data, the Australian and the US versions.

An example of how some of my research was used may be seen in the recent new offering by Unifi. The research identified some differences in the pricing models of the various products, and this information assisted Unifi in the creation of an additional pricing model.

Where can you learn more about this research? A couple of weeks back I mentioned that the details and results of the competitive research project will be shared in a global webinar.

You can register to attend the webinar here.

In summary, I really enjoyed doing this research project and I think the results will be useful to Revit users and BIM Managers who are trying to evaluate different content management tools. It is true that they each do have certain strengths, so which will you choose?

 

 

PS. It is interesting to look back, to where almost a year ago I asked you all:

BIM breeds information. In many cases, we probably generate too much Bimformation. It can become difficult to manage and analyse all of it. When it comes to content specifically, Unifi have already provided a brilliant solution for storing, distributing and accessing your Revit and BIM content, and it comes with lots of nice features.

But what about Reporting and Analysis? What is the point of a cloud content repository, without a cloud web app? Why can’t we manage our content outside of Revit, and make it useful and accessible to everyone in our company?

Happily, Unifi have developed a new portal web app that aims to do all of those things. And, it looks really really nice so far 🙂

But what is it, how does it work, and how can it help you manage your content more efficiently? Steve Germano, Chief Development Officer at INVIEW labs, has given me a sneak Alpha peek, prior to its imminent release next week at AU2015. The word is that it will be going live to Beta next Monday… shhhh 🙂

When it launches officially, you should be able to find it here:
https://app.discoverunifi.com

So, what can the Unifi app do? After logging in, the left sidebar provides links to a number of main screens:

sidebar.png

Dashboard
This is a one-page summary of all of the other portal pages. It gives you a quick overview of Unifi and general content use in your firm. Keep in mind that this portal is gathering live data from all of the users of Unifi across your entire firm. You may have hundreds of users in many offices worldwide, and all of the interesting information comes together here, in one place. Also, there are lots more data visualizations coming in 2016…

dashboard1.png

Analytics
Here you can see recent popular searches across your company content, along with a Top 10 of recent downloads. These metrics are invaluable for being able to determine what content is most utilised by those working at your firm. What’s your Most Popular Family? This type of information has previously been a matter of rumour, but now we have real data to back it up.

analytics1.png

 

analytics2.png

Analytics – Reports: This piece isn’t quite ready for the wild yet, but specific reports will be able to be generated and accessed from the web app in coming updates.

Notifications
On this page, you can see what content has been requested and the recent uploads that have occurred:

notifications1.png

Also, it allows you to manage content requests and submissions, such as:

  • Batch and Single file upload review and
  • Approve / Reject
  • Content Request review process workflow


Libraries

This area of the site is still under construction, but a recent ‘leak’ from Unifi has already revealed that they are going to allow inter-company sharing of Libraries. This is a huge deal! Rather than hoarding content in our individual silos, we could establish a more open approach. And maybe this provides a new way for professional content creators to deliver good content to a large audience of consumers. I noticed that Aaron Maller already expressed interest… this could provide a way for guys like him to share and maintain a quality set of content for small-medium offices, possibly with a reasonable price tag attached?

This Library sharing has been born out of real-world demand, and here is what Steve has to say about it:
This is completely new to our industry, the ability to share a library of BIM content with a partner/consultant for a project use can raise the consistency of data in BIM models across the world. One of our biggest beneficiaries of this feature is building owners directly, who will take their inhouse libraries and share them with consultants across the globe who are working on delivering designs for their properties. This enhances the total usable data across their portfolio, seamlessly, efficiently, and at global scale.

libraries1.png

You will also be able to move content from library to library.

Tags
I have to admit, this seemingly simple feature is to me one of the most powerful things we have seen in Revit content management in recent years. It essentially allows you to manage and add intelligence to your content without having to be in the Revit environment. It also allows you to browse your content using all of the nice, intelligent tags that Unifi has automatically added for you. Imagine spending some of your time directly adding tags to content, which is in effect making your entire content database more intelligent, with benefits to all downstream users.

Available functions:

  • Search across tags
  • Batch apply tags
  • Edit tags
  • Remove tags
  • Merge tags
  • Rename tags etc.

tags1.png

Consider this scenario:
you could be sitting on a bus or train wondering if your firm has a specific piece of content. You start browsing using the Unifi Portal, and you click through a few tags trying to find the content that you want. Then, you decide to check out the Notifications to see if anyone else has requested this piece of content recently – perhaps it is already under construction by one of the professional family creators at your firm? You can see that a similar piece of content has almost reached completion, so you go home happy, knowing that the exact family you need should be built and ready in the morning for you

So, here is my current Favourite Features in the Unifi web app:

  • Ability to view a one page snapshot of the content utilization in your entire firm
  • Ability to share content libraries between companies (more details at AU2015…)
  • Batch edit tags for your Revit library from anywhere in a web browser!

Also, some more cool stuff coming in 2016:

  • User Management (batch utility) – adding in the ability to add/remove users from user groups with the same intuitive interface
  • Licensing – New payment portal and processing
  • Project Data!

Personally, I have enjoyed working along with Unifi for a while now, so sometimes I take for granted that people know who Unifi is and what they are about. If you are new to Unifi, and if you want to know more about recent developments, this little Q and A provided by Unifi may help…
____

Unifi mission statement: The essential platform to organize, analyze, and distribute the worlds Revit data.

Why did we build the Unifi web app?
To provide a web app that would be globally accessible from any device. Our customers have consistently requested to have instant access to workflow task alerts and other realtime analytics that may need their attention. The Unifi web app provides a home for an abundance of analytics, reports, and batch utilities.

What type of analytics and reports are available in the Unifi web app?
At the time of launching the beta we are providing usage analytics on every piece of content, by every user, in every library, across your entire firm. You will be able to visualize not only usage, but user ratings on your content which is one of the key indicators to quality across your library. On almost every page there is a “Reports” section with a list of various reports you can view. The intent is to provide slices of commonly requested data analytics that will be useful to firms. Want to know which content is rated the lowest across a particular library, or see which employees are actively rating and providing feedback on content, or which library of content is being used most, there is a report for it.

Each report can be easily customized in the web app so you can drill down to see just the exact data you would like to. Interoperability is also important to our customers and is why we have provided formatted exporting and printing capabilities for reports.

We currently have around 40 premade reports planned to roll out early 2016 to all customers, and will be taking requests during the beta period.

Who can access the Unifi web app?
Currently the app is limited to only the Company Administrators in a firm. As the Beta period progresses access for Library Admins and normal Users will be added. We have plans to add value for normal level users around the areas of content discovery and other project related data and analytics.

How does the Library Sharing feature work?
“Collaborative” Library sharing is the ability for two Unifi companies to share a library amongst their teams. This feature has been a high request from various customers who would like to collaborate for specific projects with their partner design firms. We also have building owners who want to own their own core library of content to maintain consistency in the data they will receive from their various building designs. Library sharing allows them to share their library of core Revit content with various design teams for easy access and use amongst their design projects. Unifi provides them the ability to maintain consistent data from their portfolio of properties which can be mined and used for the operational phases of the building. There are many use cases for this sharing type and we are currently exploring the value of this feature with several various stakeholders within the BIM lifecycle.

There are two other Library sharing types coming to the portal soon. In addition to “Collaborative”, firms will be able to share a library as “Patron/Client which has a limited permission set, and also a “Public” library where any firm can discover and subscribe to a published Public library. Lots more about this coming in 2016!

What else is planned for the Unifi web app?
A library analysis tool – We need to provide better tools for our customers during the initial setup phase of a firm implementing Unifi. The first thing every customer wants to do is “purge” their existing library by manually going through and evaluating thousands of families. This is a lengthy time consuming process. We believe we can assist this process by providing an automated QA tool directly in our cloud.

More batch tools – Batch file renaming utility, Batch moving content from library to library, and a batch user management utility. We understand that in order to properly manage dozens of offices, personnel, and their access to tens of thousands of pieces of content you need the right tools to do so and we plan to make those tools intuitive and a joy to use.

The “stage 2” of our platform maturation includes several other large scale value adds for our existing customer, and new markets which will all in some form or fashion be integrated into the Unifi web app. There’s a lot of exciting projects planned!

To summarize, the Unifi team is very excited to start providing the necessary tools, analytics, and access for design firms to organize, analyze and distribute their Revit content globally in an effort to make Unifi an essential tool for every Revit user.
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Learn more soon at AU2015

au2015.png

So, you have received a RTE or RVT file (along with related CSV lookup tables) and want to upgrade it without getting the “One or more families in this project are missing .csv files” error…

For example, you may download a Piping Template (like this one from AUGI), and it comes with CSV files but you don’t know where to put them? Or you have received some other MEP template file from the wild, and you would like to upgrade and use it?

The thing with MEP content is that some of it is based on, or related to, Lookup Tables. These are text (CSV) files that contain type data, essentially making it easy to create and manage types without having to always use the Family Editor to do so. However, if these are missing, you will get an error message when you attempt to open or upgrade a project that needs them:

To fix this, you need to copy the required CSV files into the Pipe and Conduit subfolders of the Lookup Tables folder that matches the version of Revit that you are upgrading TO.

The key Project Browser tree entries are Conduit Fittings and Pipe Fittings:

If you have a Suite installed, you may find that these CSV files are duplicated in various locations, to provide support files for 3dsMax and Navisworks. Some of these paths are shown here:

You can browse to the above paths, and start to put together a “consolidated” or “combined” CSV Lookup Table folder, that you may want to maintain in a network location. Once you have collected all of the necessary CSVs, here is how you “install” them:

  1. Determine location to put the CSV files into (usually it will be near your Family Templates folder, a few example paths are provided below)
  2. Create a master folder of all required CSV files (you could maintain a consolidated folder in a network location)
  3. Copy these CSV files to the Pipe and Conduit folder locations (you shouldn’t need to restart Revit).
  4. Open the MEP RVT or template file that you wish to upgrade
  5. Any CSV files that are still missing are the ones you need to find, and put in the Pipe and Conduit subfolders as per steps 1-3.

You could script some of the above steps to aid in deployment.
Revit 2014 Lookup Tables default location:
C:ProgramDataAutodeskRVT 2014Lookup TablesPipe
C:ProgramDataAutodeskRVT 2014Lookup TablesConduit

Revit 2015 Lookup Tables default location:
C:ProgramDataAutodeskRVT 2015Lookup TablesPipe
C:ProgramDataAutodeskRVT 2015Lookup TablesConduit

NOTE: Massive amounts of CSV lookup tables in the default directory may result in slow Revit performance, particularly when starting Revit.

If you want to import Lookup Tables directly into families (and you are perhaps experiencing errors with nested families), this PDF may be of interest.

Finally, you can actually modify Lookup Table location using the revit.ini file, as described here. You could therefore point your Revit installations to a network location containing all of the required CSV files for your firm.

You can download content from Seek and other places online. Sometimes you will find a CSV file, sometimes you may have to export one as per the video below:

There is some related info at:
http://revitoped.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/revit-mep-lookup-tables.html

Feel free to comment if you have any other tips related to Lookup Tables…

Some of the old-school Revit users may already be familiar with this process, but here it is…

… you want to make your own RPC, perhaps to signify an existing tree to be retained, and you would like it to show in a render.

These are actually very useful in Realistic views too, because (as you probably already know) Revit shows the RPC image when a view is set to Realistic.

In simple terms:

  1. Use the free RPC Creator utility, a photo of the tree, and an image mask (a black and white image created in Photoshop or a similar tool, where white is the part of the image to be rendered)
  2. After you have created the RPC file, you need to put it into the appropriate location, probably:
    somepathCommon FilesAutodesk SharedMaterials2013assetlibrary_base.fbmRPCs
  3. Restart Revit
  4. Your RPC will now be available in the RPC library, and accessible when creating or modifying a Family based on the RPC template.

I used an old version of the RPC Creator installer that I had, but you can download the ‘current’ free version at:
http://acm.archvision.com/support/downloads/RPC_Creator_1610.exe

One key thing – you need to enter size units in cm when using the RPC Creator.  For a full tutorial, check out:
Creator Pro Tutorials

Also, to help size the ‘width’ of your tree, you might want to measure the aerial image on Google Earth (using the Google Earth measure tool).  At least then you know that the image will be in the right ballpark for size.  The size can be easily modified in the Family Type Properties once you have the RPC installed in the right folder.

Notes:
RPC location for XP 64 bit:
C:Program Files (x86)Common FilesAutodesk SharedMaterials2013assetlibrary_base.fbmRPCs

You need to exit and restart the Revit program each time you add or modify an RPC file in that folder

If you want to activate RPC creator (this should be free), use the ID number submit tool at:
http://archvision.com/products/plugin#rpc-creator-pro

I actually posted about RPC Creator way back in 2009.

Enjoy 🙂