Note: Originally published on linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/open-source-bim-platform-architecture-design-dimitar-pouchnikov/

What if the AEC industry reclaims control of its businesses through being key players in development of its tools. What if design software adapts to our needs instead of us adapting to the specific way a certain software works? What if IFC does become the standard that we all wish it it were? What if there is a new or expanded Open BIM alliance in charge of steering an actual software, not only the data format? What if it is as easy updating a model on an iPad as it is sitting in front of a powerful desktop workstation? I would like to ask you to keep these questions in mind whilst reading on.

Revit as an evolutionary tool and as a hurdle

I have been a Revit user for over ten years, and I have seen how essential the software has become for design, construction, and facility management. It is perhaps the first time that one piece of software can be used as a database for the full lifecycle of built projects. This singularity notion is both exciting and worry-some.

Revit as an all-in-one database is revolutionary because it eases the processes of exchanging information between various different programs, or in the case that different programs are used, they all plug back into a series of central Revit models. As such an essential element of the modern AEC workflow, most medium-to-large offices and independent AEC tech firms have started building custom tools on top of Revit. This is precisely what's worry-some for the industry. Companies are making significant investments into expanding a closed, proprietary, rentable software.

Let's expand a little bit on why this is a critical issue. In my office, Adobe Creative Suite has been used extensively, as I imagine in most Architectural firms. Even though, we have a long-term relationship, at one point, Adobe decided to substantially increase the annual subscription and change its business licensing structure from per-workstation to per-user. Because Adobe believes that there are no alternatives, it is abusing its monopoly power for its own benefit. Meanwhile, its products have evolved little since the time that Adobe decided to switch to a subscription-based model. There are incremental updates that are essential within any software development, but nothing to justify such a significant price-hike.

Now, thinking back again about Autodesk and Revit. Revit has become a monopoly within the AEC industry. Autodesk, with the understanding that many AEC firms depend on its software knows that companies would be willing to pay for a significant price hike to keep their the businesses running. So, here are a series of questions that we should all be asking:

  • What if Autodesk decided to significantly hike up its prices without offering substantial new value?
  • What if during a downturn financial cycle, a firm with custom Revit tools doesn't have the budget to pay for as many licenses to cover its whole workforce?
  • In these cases, a firm's investments into research and development of custom tools could be considered without a valuable Return on Investment.

To understand the absurdity of the situation, let's look at other essentials that we pay recurring fees for - utilities. Electricity is a prime example. Imagine, if your electricity provider decided to charge you 150 percent of the current rate. Of course, this wouldn't happen, as hopefully in most situations, a government entity would prevent this type of price hike. Or, if the electricity company could justify the significant price increase, in many cases, the customer has a choice of switching to another electricity provider with a cheaper rate. Internet, although not classed as a utility, is another example, where if one internet provider decided to significantly hike up its prices, typically, there are other choices, and internet companies acting as monopolies that unjustly rise their prices in certain areas have been investigated by federal authorities

In the context of BIM, Revit has essentially become a utility for most architectural and design offices. And although, there are some alternatives to Revit, many clients specifically require Revit models as deliverables. However, the pricing isn't regulated and there is nothing preventing Autodesk from raising its recurring subscription prices. Competition is needed. IFC, Archicad, new versions of Sketchup, Speckle, BimServer, VisualARQ and other industry endeavors are important examples of looking beyond Revit within the BIM World.

And open-source BIM Modeling Alternative?

What if the AEC industry invests the money it is currently investing into Revit development into a ground-up modern open-source BIM design and analysis software?

Due to the proprietary nature of Autodesk products, many companies are replicating each others' development efforts into extending Revit to suit their needs. In many cases the needs of one company are fairly similar to the needs of another. For example, in Revit, easily creating multiple sheets is a challenge, so some firms develop their own tools, while others buy Revit Express tools or a similar addons.

Instead, if custom tools are developed on top of an open-source platform, where companies have the choice to release them as open-source, the tools that provide essential features could become part of the main package, for the benefit of all users. An open-source software would allow for significant extendability, where efforts aren't doubled between various companies, but instead invested together into creating better tools.

Within an open-source BIM platform, not everything needs to be open source either. If one firm has developed proprietary tools that could potentially give them an edge over competitors within a specific market, then let this be so. Examples could include tools for stadium seating. Yet, most Revit addons improve upon essential day-to-day functionality, which in reality should be part of the software. An open-source platform would allow for this inherent extendability.

In addition to open-source plugins and in-house proprietary tools, a healthy marketplace will exist provide premium functionality, again similar to Sketchup Extension warehouse and the Autodesk App Store.

So, to ask again, what if the AEC industry reclaims control of its businesses through being key players in development of its tools. What if design software adapts to our needs instead of us adapting to the specific way a certain software works? What if the return on investment could be doubled with the same amount of funding?

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