Local vs Cloud – A Limited Argument

Local_vs_CloudI’ll claim that when you’re talking about content management “local vs cloud” is a limited argument. In a broad sense it’s analogous to saying “now that we have cars you don’t need to walk”. If you’re in the business of selling cars (or cloud services) that argument might make sense. For most of course, reality dictates that you need to manage content across “all” environments. Sometimes the cloud makes sense but, for the foreseeable future, you will also have content on your local network. Even the most popular cloud storage solutions like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, you name it, cache a copy of the content locally.

Valid arguments for storing content in the cloud include 1) a need for external teams to have access to content, 2) consolidating content in one location, 3) making content accessible via the Internet, 4) “outsourcing” IT/storage.

For most people local versus cloud is largely a storage decision. If you have teams needing to access that content in the field there is indeed some good arguments for cloud storage but if most of the content is accessed at the desktop the cloud doesn’t solve many of the real content management problems those users encounter daily.

Another way to think about the challenge is to think in terms of Storage and Retrieval. I’ll make another claim… with regards to content management, storage isn’t the real problem, it’s largely a retrieval problem and going to the cloud does nothing to solve it. The graphic above was used in a class we presented at RTC Europe in Budapest a couple of weeks ago. It illustrates the challenge not only of your own content being stored locally and in the cloud but of trying to manage cloud-based content from 3rd parties that is being downloaded and stored in the your local environment.

At ArchVision we’re working on some unique solutions to the retrieval problem. We have a new content management platform named AVAIL that is attacking content retrieval in new ways and tackling the reality of managing content in a “blended” environment. I’ve blogged about how important we think context is to accessing content and how AVAIL is addressing some of those problems. If you’d like to keep track of our progress you can continue to follow this blog but you may also want to sign up for AVAIL notifications at avail.archvision.com. If you are planning to be at AU in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks be sure to stop by our booth #1213 for a sneak peek.

Context Matters

What makes you different?

What makes you different?

As ArchVision began contemplating entering the crowded content management market we spent a lot of time trying to identify what was missing. We have dabbled in content management over the years as we attempted to provide solutions to manage our RPC subscription content and provide customers with easy ways of managing thousands of pieces of content. We learned a lot over the years and developed some philosophies to build on.

While at RTC 2013 as I looked around the exhibit hall I half-jokingly started saying “we’re going to be the 159th company with a content management solution!”. You start to question what makes you think you’re different. Why hasn’t this problem been solved? I think the answer probably lies in the fact that it’s hard to get people to change their habits and that’s what most solution providers have offered. In regards to change I often say “of course it’s hard, it’s biological. We’re wired for stability, not change”. An exercise in futility would be to bank on convincing people that a new process will be better.

We started asking anyone that would indulge more questions about how they manage content and kept hearing a couple of things over and over. When asked how they manage their centralized libraries of content there was 100% unanimity. Heads would inevitably lower and voices soften as if embarrassed by their answer. The dark chorus was in unison on their reliance and contempt of Windows file folders. We had more than a hunch that would be the answer. After asking the first couple of dozen times and hearing the same answer from teams that ranged in size from a handful to thousands we knew there was an opportunity to try to help solve a big problem.

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Windows file folders make for a terrible database. I think everyone can testify that digging through directory trees to try to find something can be a frustrating experience. When added up would you want to know how much time you waste each year digging? A couple of minutes here, ten minutes there, no occurrence is painful enough to cause a revolution but in aggregate the pain is real. It’s the classic “death by a million cuts”. With Windows file folders, each individual file is relegated to a single location or worse, copies have to be made if you want the same thing accessible in different locations. Why do we do this?

We also had a suspicion (I’m painfully aware of my own habits) that many people also “keep their own local stash” apart from the central repositories. When asked how much of that went on in their operations that reality was also confirmed . But perhaps more interestingly, we began hearing another theme. When you need something, particularly AEC-related content, you’re likely to try to dig back through an old project file to find it rather than fight the Windows folders someone spent an inordinate amount of time organizing. “Hey Bob, what was that project where we used x” or “Kim, do you remember if we used x in project y?”. And then off you go, a new scavenger hunt. Sound familiar? The archived project file served as a better database than the central file folders!

Parsing these hundreds of conversations led us to identify what we think is at the core of efficiently getting to content. Context matters. Duh! It’s how people think. We’re frustrated with Windows file folders because it forces us to try to think in unnatural ways. We dig back into archived projects for nuggets of gold because the initial project context was a well-defined path and the first thing that entered our brain when those synapses started firing. If you enjoy learning about this kind of thing you should read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. It helps explain not only how people think but why our brains are wired that way. Here’s the short version… the brain is an amazingly complex organ, biologically wired for efficiency. Given this understanding we think the way we go about organizing and accessing content needs to change.

foldersWindows File Folders Do Serve A Purpose

The reality is that Windows file folder can work… for the person who created them. That’s why everyone else (sans the person who created them) gets frustrated with central repositories. It’s also why everyone keeps their own stash. It fits “their” context, at least until it doesn’t. Those file folders can work as a logical way to store content. All those files have to be named something and physically go somewhere don’t they! The trick is to separate the problems. Divide and conquer. Treat the storage problem separately from the retrieval problem. This led us down a new path.

AVAIL

With all of this newfound knowledge we set out to attack the problem in a new way. #159 will be different! We established these primary criteria for a solution…

1. Don’t disrupt current work flows. It’s futile to start there. Rather, augment what’s already going on.
2. Don’t require anyone to move their existing content (ie. you can leave it in those awkward Windows file folders). Admittedly this was probably driven initially by a desire to position opposite all of the “store it in the cloud” offerings that are popping up daily, but in reality it’s about separating the storage problem from the retrieval problem. Who cares where the content lives as long as your users can get to it easily. Moving content “to the cloud” doesn’t solve the context/retrieval problem.
3. Provide the end users with a visually driven, context-sensitive way of finding content.
4. Be content agnostic. There are any number of important types of files that need to be centralized, organized and retrieved.

Here’s how AVAIL works. First, we let you create Channels for accessing content. The concept of a Channel in AVAIL is the primary way of beginning to provide proper context for content. You can create any number of Channels and each Channel can contain any combination of content.

Secondly, want to build two or more Channels that contain some of the same content? You can, and without making copies of the file(s). AVAIL doesn’t move content around, it’s indexed. That’s how we begin separating where the content is “stored” from how it is “consumed”. The index provides flexibility on the front end. It let’s you get to content from multiple entry points (Channels) and is the key to providing unlimited contextual entry points to the same piece of content.

Thirdly, provide a visual way to drill down to the content you need. AVAIL does this with a new tag-driven filtering technology we call Panoply. Panoply provides the ability to create contextually sensitive arrangements of tags per Channel. As you click on Tags in the Filters panel of a Channel you are essentially expressing intent, a direction. Tags that are irrelevant based on your choices disappear. It’s a dynamic contextual path of sorts. It’s one of those things you have to experience to fully appreciate its effectiveness. A massive amount of meta-data can be encoded as Tags and arranged for logical context in AVAIL. You can parse through thousands of files to get to just the right content in a handful of clicks. Need to see the same content in a different context? The same content can live in a different Channel with filtering designed to fit the new context.

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We think we’re onto something and working hard to fulfill the promise. The first place you can experience AVAIL and the new Panoply approach to filtering is in the recently released Detail Warehouse product. AVAIL is providing the interface for managing a library of over 27,500 native-built Revit Drafting Views. We’ll also be showing off AVAIL at a couple of events before the end of the year. Look for us at the RTC Europe (booth# 18) event in Budapest, Hungary at the end of October and soon after at Autodesk University (booth# 1213) the first week of December in Las Vegas, NV USA. If you can’t catch us at any of those event you can sign up for updates at avail.archvision.com.

DETAIL WAREHOUSE, AVAIL & PANOPLY

0014668DETAIL WAREHOUSE

ArchVision has just released a new content subscription service called DETAIL WAREHOUSE. The DETAIL WAREHOUSE provides access to over 27,500 native Revit Drafting Views designed to kick-start or supplement your in-house Revit standards library. The collection is comprised of foundation, door, window and roof details representing 50 sub-categories of construction details. In addition, you’ll also have access to nearly 1000 Revit Components.

The goal of DETAIL WAREHOUSE is to provide you with an efficient starting point and ongoing complement to your own internal library. For only $499 per year you can access the entire reference library drawing on what you need, when you need it. Learn more at DETAIL WAREHOUSE.

AVAIL

DW_AVAIL_ChannelsBesides offering the most extensive collection of Revit Drafting Views available anywhere, access to the DETAIL WAREHOUSE is provided via ArchVision’s innovative new content management platform called AVAIL. Through AVAIL, DETAIL WAREHOUSE subscribers can access foundation, door, window and roof “Channels” and search and download content closely matching their needs. A Properties Panel presents high-resolution previews of each Drafting View. AVAIL let’s users browse or search the content in a Channel but also offers an innovative new way to find content we call “Panoply”.

PANOPLY

As you can imagine the terms and tags used to describe the construction details found in DETAIL WAREHOUSE can be complex making traditional search necessarily complicated. AVAIL solves that problem using our proprietary filtering technology called “Panoply”. At the core of Panoply is a concept we refer to as “contextual filtering”; allowing you to narrow the content being displayed in each Channel based on a pre-curated sets of relevant tags. As tags are selected Panoply reduces the relevant selection set providing you with a “dynamic path” of sorts for locating content.

Panoply is something you have to experience to appreciate. With just a few button clicks you can filter through thousands of pieces of content. AVAIL, with it’s integrated Panoply technology, is being developed to provide you with a robust solution for managing, publishing, and accessing content on your network in a user-friendly way. I refer to it as making content “human” again. No more archaic filename abbreviations or ridiculous file folder structures to stand in between you and the content you need. The centralized content on your network will be liberated, no longer the victim of traditional Windows file folders. We’ll be talking more about AVAIL and Panoply in the coming weeks.

If you’d like to learn more about AVAIL and be notified when updates are available visit avail.archvision.com.

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BCS / RTC Post Event Review

Whew… Blog PostArchVision was busy in July. Wednesday before last marked the inaugural Building Content Summit (BCS). The BCS was the day before the Revit Technology Conference (RTC) which was held in Washington, DC. I acted as co-chair for the BCS along with Parley Burnett of InView Labs (makers of Unifi). What an event!

The goal was to bring 50-100 manufacturers, arch firm content managers and software/service providers to talk about the ins and outs of “BIM Content”. We ended up with 104 attendees which read like a who’s who in the world of BIM from Anderson Windows, CertainTeed, Victaulic, Haworth, Autodesk, and Bentley to AECOM, HDR Architecture and Perkins + Will. We had a full day of speakers and small-group round-table discussions mapping out the many issues left to resolve in the BIM content world. Follow @rtcbcs for post-event info and plans for the next Building Content Summit. The event website can be found at http://www.rtcevents.com/bcs2015/.

So why was I involved? For those that hung around for the Revit Technology Conference and stopped by the ArchVision | Chaos Group | Cl3ver | IrisVR booth you got a sneak peak of why. Not only does ArchVision’s RPC file format and underlying delivery platform have an important role to play in the BIM ecosystem but we’re on our way to expanding our presence in the BIM world with some important new products.

First will be an exciting new BIM content collection called DETAIL WAREHOUSE. In the coming weeks ArchVision will release a library of ~25,000 (yes, you read that correctly) natively-built Revit Drafting Views of common, light-commercial building details (roofs, windows, doors and foundations). This subscription product will give you access to the industry’s most extensive collection of details. In addition to the details will be approximately 1000 new Revit Components. The combination provides a great way to start your Revit Standards library or augment your existing collection. Watch detailwarehouse.archvision.com for more info.

The big news from last week was the sneak peek at AVAIL, our game-changing content management platform. AVAIL is a content-agnostic, simple way to index the content on your WAN and consume it in new ways. AVAIL can be used to organize your company’s internal Revit Standards Library, inbound manufacturer content, your visualization group’s materials and textures, your marketing departments project photos and PDF cut-sheets and more! If you missed seeing it at RTC stay tuned for more details. All delivered through a modern, easy-to-use desktop application interface that finally makes finding and using your firms “content” a pleasure, not the nightmare you’ve had to endure trying to work with Windows file folders for managing content. Sound interesting? Watch avail.archvision.com for more details.

Summer of Content

U_K5Wi1sI’m pleased to announce that ArchVision is a Silver Sponsor of the 2015 Revit Technology Conference (RTC) in both North America and Europe where we’ll be showcasing some of our newest developments in late July (Washington, DC USA) and October (Budapest, Hungary).

Not content (see what I did there) with resting on our laurels the team at ArchVision has been working feverishly on some exciting new developments.

RPC

On the RPC front we’ll soon have a new update for Entourage Workshop that includes Autodesk Cloud Rendering support, support for RPC Planting families, and a new option for making 2D RPC geometry face the camera in Revit.

2.4 v-ray_for_ants_2 If you were in Atlanta last month for the AIA annual convention and expo I’m sure you were as blown away as I was at Chaos Groups preview of VRay for Revit.  Our teams have been working together closely to make sure your RPCs flow through seamlessly.  They do!  Take a look at these images.  Your RPCs in Revit have never looked better than when they’re rendered with VRay.  If you missed AIA don’t miss RTC so you can see it for yourself!

If you haven’t stopped by the recently relaunched ArchVision Labs site you may have missed the news that we’ve been working on an RPC Plug-in for Sketchup!  Been a long time coming but it was worth the wait.  There are still a few things to get sorted out but we’ll be releasing this to existing customers for beta testing soon.  We’ve also begun working with 3rd party Sketchup rendering partners such as Podium and VRay to ensure smooth workflows.

It’s in the Details…

We’re working to expand our content offering beyond RPC.  First will be a collection of approximately 1,000 Revit Components.  The Component Warehouse will be the first “Channel” of non-RPC content available leveraging a new content platform we’ve been developing (more on this soon).  The components are easily browsed or searched.

Need Revit Drafting Views?  Detail Warehouse is a subscription “Channel” where a small yearly fee gains you access to a library of tens of thousands of Revit Drafting Views ready to customize to your particular needs.  The Detail Warehouse is a great way to get your own standards library off the ground or augment your existing library.

If you’re already registered for RTC be sure to stop by our booth on the exhibit floor to see all of these exciting new developments.  It’s not too late!  You can still register for RTC and be sure to register for our class: “Take Control of Your Assets (including Families and Drafting Views) – an RTC Lab!

Why Architects Hate Entourage

Most arch visualization folks hate entourage. They hate seeing people in their renderings. They hate that they have to try to reproduce the world “around” their structures. They hate anything that breaks the realm of photorealism. They hate having to painstakingly place individual people in their scenes. They hate that the model of car they personally drive isn’t readily available to drop into their model. Haters gonna hate.

But you know who loves entourage? Clients! They love seeing their mall parking lot full of cars (customers!). They love seeing rows of semi trucks docked behind their warehouse (customers!). They love seeing life brimming in their restaurants, concert halls, sports venues and retail shops (customers!). We can talk about how entourage helps communicate scale; blah, blah, blah. In the end, customers want to feel great about their new project. Anything you can do to convey warm, happy thoughts about how well the project is going to be received transmits those happy thoughts. Architectural entourage can help.

In late 2013 I wrote a post titled Rendering vs Presentation that outlined our view of the changing visualization workflow in the design industry. The democratization of visualization is changing who is creating the communication work-product, what tools they’re using, and the usefulness in various parts of the design/customer-interaction process. No longer is visualization relegated to “that guy in the corner” who is the only one with the tenacity (read crazy enough) to master the tools used to create photorealistic renderings. Rather, visuals generated from 3D models are being used to convey design intent in presentations at key points throughout the design process.  A new generation or two of new hires joining the workforce with 3D skills combined with less costly software solutions translates into  value understood by practitioner and client alike.

Entourage WorkshopOne of our goals in 2014 was to increase the usefulness of RPCs within Revit by providing users with the tools they need to customize the look and feel of the RPCs in their scenes. Entourage Workshop was born. Entourage Workshop is a Revit add-in that lets you create and apply Styles to RPC people and trees in your model. These Styles control the type of geometry and appearance (color, transparency and brightness) of the RPCs in your model allowing you to achieve photorealistic and non-photorealistic presentation results.

Entourage Workshop lets you create reusable Styles for achieving silhouettes of people or trees, control the model-view geometry of the RPCs in your scene including removal of the “base” and fine-tune the brightness of the RPCs to better match your scene in the various rendering modes.

There’s a love/hate relationship with entourage. We’ve heard thousands of stories over the years. The goal of RPC and Entourage Workshop is to help you learn to love entourage. Give your clients visuals, chocked-full of entourage, with your own personal Style. What’s not to love!

Presentation Styles of Christopher Dutton [Ocean Designs]

This month we’re profiling the work of Christopher Dutton of Ocean Designs in San Diego, California.  Christopher contacted us after he saw the new Presentation Styles section of our blog and offered to pass along some tips for creating better work in Revit.  Following are some of Christopher’s Revit renderings as well as some tips, tricks and techniques he’s learned along the way:

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Materials: “Materials, materials, materials! If you’re using the out-of-the-box materials that come with Revit, find ones that are as close as possible to what you want, then take the time to customize them in the Material Editor to get them even more accurate. Pay special attention to the scale of material and bump images to make sure they are properly sized (for example, roofing, tiles and siding are critical).”

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“Also, use the tint setting to customize the color of your materials. This usually takes some trial and error to get right, so you’ll need to do some low-quality renderings to test your colors. Another alternative that’s worth the time is finding custom material images. These can be found doing a web search, through third-parties and are slowly starting to be provided by manufacturers. Lastly, be sure to fine-tune the settings for glazing to optimize reflectivity and translucency. Getting the right effect from your glass can make a huge difference.”

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Content: “Start building a robust content library. There are many great resources online for downloading custom families, either from other users, third parties or manufacturers. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, take the time to create a custom family. Most of the time you’ll find another project to use it in later, so it’ll be worth it. Custom families will help add another level of detail and realism to your renderings so they don’t look so generic.”

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Lighting: “Lighting is key. For exterior shots, take into consideration your camera angles and prominent architectural elements when setting the sun angle so that you get nice shadow lines that accentuate depth and details of your building. Mid-morning and late-afternoon sun settings will usually give you a softer light and create shallower shadow casts that won’t engulf the faces of the structure, especially at eaves and overhangs.”

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Interiors: “For interior shots, proper selection and placement of light fixtures will really make your renderings pop. Also, mid-day sun will provide indirect exterior lighting and help eliminate long, distracting shadow lines at exterior openings. Make sure to set up light groups and turn off the groups that don’t affect the area you’re rendering to eliminate unwanted light casting and reduce the amount of processing.”

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Plantings: “Planting. Revit’s RPC plant library isn’t always perfect [… Christophers choice of words, not ours 😉  Perfect.. no, but pretty darn good!], but find plants and trees that you like and locate them to help accentuate and add texture and context to the composition of your rendering. I’ve found that locating a tree in the foreground just outside of the field of view so that some of the outer leaves and branches are at the edge of your view can help frame in your image and add a level of realism.”

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Backgrounds:  “Don’t use Revit’s sky and clouds for your background. It increases your rendering time and the quality is usually not that great. Build a library of images that you can use as backgrounds (the higher-res the better). I’ve created a library with categories such as sky, neighborhoods, landscapes, hills and valleys, cityscapes, etc.  Find images that relate to the context, scale and camera angle of your renderings. Render with the background style set to “Color” and “White (255-255-255)”. When the rendering is complete, select “Export” and save the image as a PNG. This will save your image with a blank background. Then you can open the PNG file in a photo editing program such as Photoshop and drop the background image you’ve selected behind your rendering. Scale and move the background image as needed to fit with the rendering and then adjust the layer’s brightness, contrast and exposure to get it to blend properly.”

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“Lastly, get creative with your camera angles. Use overhead views, think about perspective and focal point as well as overall context.  Hope everyone can find something useful to take from this!”

Thanks for the tips Christopher!

If you’d like to show off your work send an email to rstevens@archvision.com and we’ll work to feature you on the blog and in an upcoming newsletter!

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