As your “Online” correspondent, I try to track trends in electronic business, Web sites and more. In February, I journeyed to Orlando for the A/E/C Systems show, the only conference geared to construction computing. Here’s a quick look at what I saw and heard.

Design software/BIM

BIM stands for building information modeling. You can get an earful by saying “BIM” to tech-savvy architects and engineers; believers have the fervency of converts; nonbelievers are as strident as atheists.

Here’s the idea: Create smart “objects” for use in building design. A toggle switch, for example, would be represented by an object that had “within it” all of the information needed—manufacturer, size, colors available, installation info, warranty data and so forth.

When moved from architect’s drawing to an electrical contractor’s program, the switch object would “add itself” to the estimate automatically. PDFs with installation info and warranty data would be “attached” —and convey to the building owner. However, if BIM is making progress as of this moment, it’s only in the volume of words bandied about.

Building operation

Speaker Paul Doherty demonstrated a “futuristic” scenario at the A/E/C event. Displaying an operational building on the screen, he clicked on an elevator. Up popped a status card of info on the elevator itself including:

• Operational data—Floor it was on, occupants, direction (up/down), speed.

• Visual—A camera on the elevator feeding real-time images to the computer.

• Baseline—When it was last inspected; when it was installed; etc.

• Useful info—With a click, Doherty called up PDFs with warranty data and other elevator attributes.

What is important here is not the elevator, but Doherty’s claim that state-of-the-art building delivery involves not only the four physical walls but this electronic representation of the building. Perhaps it won’t always be uncommon.

There is a widespread movement to combine building operations data and control capability into a single “dashboard” that would enable a person or persons to “see” what is happening in a building from a single location. This transcends security cameras to include building energy use, datacomm throughput, lighting, security and more.

With all of that in a single location, building manager productivity would rise. In fact, what is attracting a lot of interest is the idea of remote building monitoring; this is said to already be in place for some bleeding-edge building owners/operators.

Dissing integration

Both BIM and Doherty’s realized vision require a leap that the construction industry is not prepared to make: integrating all of the computer systems now in existence. I verified this with a speaker from a construction-wide estimating software company.

A key missing component is relating estimating systems with construction accounting systems. Even in electrical contracting, which has only a handful of estimating software vendors, there isn’t much integration with accounting software.

Here’s the problem: Just counting the “major” vendors of construction accounting software packages, there seem to be on the order of 200. In answer to my question, the speaker noted that, in order to be comprehensive, his system would have to integrate with at least 200 estimating packages.

And that, he noted, omitted minor vendors, legacy systems (i.e., older accounting packages from companies no longer in existence that are still in use by some contractors), and customized software. Who, he asked me, was going to pay him for the effort involved with each and every one of the 200 systems?

As I was told, there is no “magic bullet.” While the speaker’s company has been “interfaced” with software from major construction accounting system vendors, it’s really but a handful ... and doesn’t necessarily account for the bulk of the market.

Ironic camera

Web cams on job sites? They are a subject for debate. The following story illustrates their potential, and their problems:

On Feb. 16, in Toledo, Ohio, a 315-foot truss—used in construction of a bridge—collapsed. With eight Web cams monitoring site activity, it should have been a simple matter to find the cause of the accident, which killed four and injured five others.

However, there was no film or digital images to recover; the cameras could not help discover what led to the collapse. The reason? The Ohio Department of Transportation had contemplated the likelihood of anyone reviewing hours and hours of recorded digital information from eight Web cams, and decided no one would ever use them, so the DOT did not specify Webcam images be recorded.

As a result, Engineering News-Record reported, the images were “automatically overwritten by new views” ... every 15 seconds. EC

SALIMANDO is a Vienna, Va.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. He can be reached at jsali@cris.com.