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Architosh Talks to Viktor Varkonyi, CEO Graphisoft

At Build Boston 2009 Viktor Varkonyi, CEO of Graphisoft, sat down with Architosh to talk about ArchiCAD 13. The keynote speaker that morning at a Boston area architects BIM forum, Varkonyi explained that his company’s latest Building Information Modeling (BIM) software has changed the game in terms of what is possible with collaboration in architectural practice.

Technology has changed dramatically in just the last five or six years. We now expect a constant connection to the people and information that matter to us regardless of where we are in the world and what type of device we happen to have with us at that moment. With fast 3G cellular networks, ubiquitous WiFi access points, and affordable broadband at home and in the office the ability to now stay “connected” means that a whole new range of “opportunities” can exist.

In this interview Varkonyi explains that Graphisoft began to realize these new possibilities back in the middle part of this decade. The company spent years studying and thinking about how architectural practice was going to change in the face of these new technologies. The result of this has been the new ArchiCAD 13 with BIM Server.

This talk delves into both the industry and cultural aspects of the BIM Server and its ramifications on global practices, gaining work in this depressed economic environment, and its affect on the competition. Moreover, Viktor Varkonyi explains for the first time some of the detailed explanations behind the creation of the BIM Server.

The Interview

AFR (Anthony Frausto-Robledo): What drove the primary decision to create the new Graphisoft BIM Server? What was essential about that decision?

VV (Viktor Varkonyi): The primary driver was to provide for the growing number of users coming to BIM a collaboration environment that fully utilizes BIM for teams in the daily design work. We invented Teamwork 1.0 in 1995 with ArchiCAD 5.1 and at that time it was a huge invention that really revolutionized how architects can interact with a virtual building model. But technology had dramatically changed since then and by “offline” being replaced by “online” as the standard we felt there is a revolution coming in model based collaboration as well and with Teamwork 2.0 in ArchiCAD 13 we wanted to be the driver of this change.

What you see around you now, for example, is that you have an iPhone and you can get any information anywhere you are, the Internet is accessible everywhere now, everybody can have a laptop these days. The general expectations on speed, connectivity and user interaction have changed dramatically in just the last few years.

AFR: So are you saying that it is essentially technological advancement that has driven your decisions behind creating the Graphisoft BIM Server?

VV: Yes. And with this technological revolution, especially email and the Internet, architectural practice has changed. More and more practices have gone global, for example. By global I mean they have more than a single office location. Many of our user accounts have multiple offices here in the US and several have offices over seas.

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AFR: So were your users with multiple offices asking for this technology?

VV: Yes and no. Five years ago no. Things were very different just five or six years ago and the BIM market has changed a lot in that time. For us there was an effort to try to find a way to link these offices, so when we go back five years to when we started looking at this problem we recognized that what we did in 1995 was great for the time being but the industry was going to face huge challenges going forward.

AFR: So are you saying that collaboration is the big differential about BIM going forward, that this is the most important technology in BIM?

VV: Giving focus to collaboration is extremely important. It is one of the most important issues today. At the same time this is something you cannot fix or achieve overnight. When customers evaluate BIM solutions they often conclude feature level differences, which might be addressed by the competitors in the “next version”. It is just the matter of development priorities. Efficient team workflow with high performance on BIM projects are different things – they require constant focus through many years even touching the software architecture itself. For several years it has been a high focus for Graphisoft and here we feel we are well ahead of anybody else in the marketplace.

AFR: It sounds like Graphisoft today is better positioned than ever before to compete for large multi-office practices because of Graphisoft BIM Server and the new Teamwork 2.0. Are you deliberately trying to compete for the larger firms?

VV: Yes, but please don’t misunderstand that this BIM Server thing is just for the big guys. I would say it is at least as good for the small and medium sized firms as well. It might sound strange to hear that but there is a misperception in the market that the big projects are only dominated by the real big firms; that’s not true, the really big design offices are only able to drive more big design projects simultaneously. Really big projects are driven in many cases by 20, 30, 40 person offices that I wouldn’t call big accounts. At the same token these offices have in most cases enough reputation to be able to bid for projects and eventually win them.

AFR: So do you feel that the way the architectural industry is going is that bigger and bigger projects can be tackled by smaller and smaller teams, because of the way technology is aiding the design and process? Is that sort of what you are saying?

VV: I think when we talk about the Western world the answer is definitely yes. But when we talk about Asia BIM doesn’t get too much attention because the labor force is very cheap. It is much cheaper to utilize a well-trained 2D workforce and just let them work.

AFR: That’s very interesting, I didn’t know that about Asia. What about the small firms and solo architects…how is BIM server of great value to them?

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