Stop, Collaborate, and Listen- An interview with Brian Skripac
For Brian Skripac, the key to implementing new technology is to try not go get bogged down in the technology. Counterintuitive, right? But for him, tech is less about the “what,” and more about the, “how.” He asks, “How do we plan our work and work the plan?” In other words, it doesn’t matter so much what a tool can do unless you know how to use it. And knowing how to use it requires a thoughtful approach to teams and processes. It’s about being focused on operational excellence.
Brian is currently a Vice President and the Director of Virtual Design and Construction at CannonDesign, where he continually drives innovation by merging technology and practice. He has 21 years of industry experience, with the last 11 focusing on the integration of BIM to transform the design and project delivery process. Brian has successfully developed and managed BIM-enabled delivery systems for large efforts in Design-Led Construction. In addition, he focuses on the use of BIM to capture and structure relevant facility data, implementing the value BIM brings to facility owners from an interoperable lifecycle management strategy. A thought-leader in this field, he is an advisory group member and past-chair of the AIA National Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community and serves on the BIMForum committee responsible for authoring the LOD Specification.
How long have you part part of this industry?
I’ve been part of AEC industry since 1996, and then I really started with a BIM focus back in 2005. I was working as a post-graduate architect looking to get into a project architect role, and I was teaching a college-level 3D modeling class in the evening and on the weekends. Someone mentioned an opportunity to work with an Autodesk reseller consulting firm, and it was there that I came across Revit for the first time. I thought to myself, “This is a game changer.” In that moment I saw that it wasn’t just about using a new software. It’s about driving a whole new process about how we practice architecture.
What changes have you seen for the positive in the AEC space since then?
A better focus on collaboration and integration. The more we work with these new technologies, the more we start to embrace processes where we work more collaboratively. We’re doing a better job of breaking down the silos of architect and builder. We’re able to take advantage of information and knowledge on the construction side to come back to the design side and raise the bar on how we deliver projects.
This BIM wave we’re on is certainly something that’s facilitated that. More owners have adopted this model, which gives you better deliverables, reduced cost, improved schedule. It used to be you could get two out of three: cost, time, and quality. Now we do a better job of planning out our work and sharing knowledge and information.
A tool like BIM can be a catalyst but it’s not the easy button. It’s gives you the ability to know and plan for what you want to capture, but you need great teams and processes to take advantage of it.
What changes have you seen for the negative?
With BIM, the constraints of sharing information is a concern. But that’s also an opportunity. It’s not about risk avoidance, but risk management. In the industry, at a project manager level, there’s still trepidation to share what we’re doing. That’s the difference between the people who are excelling and the people you aren’t: the ones who are sharing, collaborating, are excelling. At CannonDesign, we’re embracing this Virtual Design and Construction idea, and we have a design-led construction team. Part of our delivery model is the larger idea of being a single source environment. When we can do it, we’re much more collaborative and the sharing of information goes further to building repeatable, collaborative engagements.
What draws you to the technology side of things?
For me, when I first came out of school, I had to do the same mundane things over and over; repeat the same change ten times across a set of drawings. Initially, I was attracted technology, but when I got to really learn the tool, I quickly saw beyond the visualization aspects and realized it’s about a larger project performance idea. As an architect, I’ve always been intrigued by the construction side, and having project opportunities to work with owners on how to set delivery standards as it relates to BIM has been a full circle endeavor.
Why do you think this industry lags behind in tech?
I’ve seen this problem from multiple sides. Sometimes in architecture it lags because a majority of architecture firms are ten people or less. There’s a financial constraint of switching over systems, and a human capital constraint of who’s going to lead that. With large firms, it’s like turning a cruise ship, so pushing standards and process changes has its own unique time constrains to get a full adoption.
Imagine you’re talking to a HS senior. What would you tell her to major in, and why?
Whatever they’re interested in. Find something that you like doing and go all in. My kids explore different things and I want them to be savvy and creative at the same time. A lot of their activities in school are very tech-focused and I just want them to keep learning. My son had a class this year where they were using modeling systems and 3D printers and my daughter just attended a summer camp called Camp Invention, which had a STEM focused. There are so many opportunities to innovate.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t be bogged down by, “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Find new ways. That’s the biggest killer: “that’s not how we do it”, or “we’ve always done it this way.” No. We’ve got to evolve.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
At a previous firm, we were doing testing and vetting new sustainability tools — looking at analysis software, trying to figure out how it works and how to integrate it into our design process. My CEO at that time was in our presentation back to the firm when he stood up and told us, “You guys are just wasting your bonus checks spending your time on this. We’re not going to waste money on this and you’re just wasting your time.” Needless to say I started working on my resume and left that firm shortly after that.
What was your first job ever?
I cut grass when I was 10 or 12, around the neighborhood and the front yard of my dad’s office on weekends.
What is your must-have smartphone app?
Cozi. That is our family calendar app. Everything’s color-coded, so you know who’s going where at what time: who’s traveling for work, who’s got baseball, softball, orchestra and whatever else after school. It’s a sanity check.
What are your 3 favorite technology tools you use throughout your day?
I love Twitter for staying up to date and sharing and gathering information. Trello is a great one, using cards to keep manage to-do lists, get feedback on ideas and communicate with our team. We also use join.me for communications — I spend more time on the phone with our offices around the globe, so being able to connect with people that way is pretty important.
Windows/MAC/Linux and why?
For whatever reason, I’ve never been in a working environment besides Windows.
iOS or Android, and why? I love my iPhone!