Utilising Autodesk’s BIM360 platform, SSH streamlines its project delivery approach and improve collaboration despite employees working remotely
For the past 59 years, SSH has played a leading role in shaping the built environment and infrastructure of the modern Middle East. Established in 1961, the company has evolved into one of the leading master planning, infrastructure, building design, construction supervision and project management firms in the Middle East, with a reputation for design integrity and a portfolio that includes several landmark projects in the region.
The firm has completed more than 1,000 projects and has been ranked the number one practice for fee-earning architects in the Middle East for a third year in a row by World Architecture Magazine, and amongst the top 100 Architects in the world. Along with its headquarters in Kuwait, SSH currently has offices in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Bahrain, Dubai, London, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
At any given time, the firm is working on dozens of live projects, with each having dedicated resources and personnel assigned to them – all utilising various Autodesk technologies that include BIM360 Design and BIM360 Docs.
“We have always been an advocate of 3D modelling and enhancing the information in our 3D modelling environment. The full implementation of BIM is a much wider context issue for the construction industry and there have been significant strides made to utilise models through the construction stages of delivery,” says Jason Palmer, Senior Architect at SSH.
However, with the adoption of remote working, the Leadership team at SSH has been faced with a raft of new challenges, requiring bold and innovative solutions that fully utilise the technology available to them.
The challenge of change
Two key challenges facing leaders across all industries, include, firstly, the need to adapt to rapidly evolving market conditions, and, secondly, the importance of ensuring employee safety – both on site and in the office.
SSH is no exception to these issues. With employees being directed to work remotely, the firm’s top priority was to make sure all staff members are fully equipped to be able to work remotely, while still ensuring that deliverables are on time, client expectations are met, and that business continued as usual.
However, while the decision to make employees work from home was a fairly straightforward one, it also posed an additional challenge – one that involved moving all projects to the cloud and making sure that hundreds of employees, who were suddenly working remotely, were able to seamlessly access their projects and collaborate with other specialists and disciplines. For example, one major early challenge was an issue with connectivity speeds when attempting to access information on the native server.
“Change is not without challenge and, for most of us, this always yields an opportunity. In our case, we were quite heavily bound to the traditional server-based ways, working only with some ‘cloud-based’ platforms. With remote working, SSH has fully embraced the BIM360 Design suite for our team in the UAE and found this to be much faster than the older, more traditional approach,” says Keith Hill, Operations Director at SSH, adding that teams working on projects with BIM360, have found reduced downtime and improved synchronisation in their workflow, enabling more efficient remote working.
Finding a solution
As a first step, SSH Design investigated the wider implementation of BIM360 Design by taking advantage of the Extended Access Program and ensuring that all their staff was well trained to use the software. The number of users also grew significantly by 80%. This transition took place over a two-week period, and the company is proud to state that it has been successful in ensuring the upheld of standards through the employment and collaboration of cloud-based models.
“We were utilising many of Autodesk’s collaborative applications, such as BIM360 Design and BIM360 Docs. When remote working was initiated as an urgent requirement, setting up models on the platform took no more than a day, making the transition a quick process,” says Jason Palmer.
“We have used this as an opportunity to enhance collaboration by using virtual systems such as BIM 360, which has proven to be beneficial in the time efficiency and productivity of our teams. We have been able to successfully deliver and keep up with project programmes, even while working remotely.”
“One of the key challenges faced during this process, was to provide effective tools or methods for SSH’s teams to continue collaborating effectively while working from home. BIM360 and Autodesk’s PPU-based licensing model enabled the teams to interact and work collaboratively on the same design model, across various disciplines,” says Huzaifa Hussain, Software Asset Manager. He explains that previously this had occurred in isolation, with the teams having to face many hurdles when putting the models back together.
Huzaifa Hussain adds that cloud solutions, training, collaboration and maintaining productivity by utilising applications and tools to keep the teams’ dynamic intact, were crucial as it helped overcome the team communication challenges encountered while working remotely.
“We have been communicating with Autodesk regularly through a single point of contact to direct any queries, prior and during the remote working transition. This has enabled SSH to resolve issues effectively and in a timely manner,” Jason Palmer adds, highlighting Autodesk’s role in this process.
“In addition, the periodic training webinars provided by Autodesk have ensured that our users continue to develop individual skills and knowledge by staying up-to-date with the latest BIM360 features and products. Consistent interaction with Autodesk has also enhanced sharing experiences and suggestions for potential improvements to existing BIM tech services,” Palmer adds.
With these essentials in place, SSH’s Leadership then turned its attention towards briefing staff on deliverables and remote working best practices. They tested the model by asking employees to work remotely for a few days, following which the lessons that were learnt from this pilot were taken into consideration for a company-wide implementation for remote working.
“The main challenges SSH fought to overcome, included personal team isolation, maintaining productivity, and ensuring team collaboration. Autodesk BIM360 allowed SSH teams to maintain dynamic interaction,” says Richard Toby, Head of Information Technology at SSH.
“We highly value the psychological support to our teams and, for us, this is just as important as the technical support. Through the implementation of the right applications, we strive to overcome feelings of disconnection and isolation, as well as encourage collaborative working, as this significantly mitigates the psychological stresses on our teams,” he adds.
The SSH success story
Today, SSH is managing numerous projects on Autodesk’s cloud platform, and the firm’s Leadership is quick to applaud the fact that the company is fully functional, with 100% of its employees working remotely.
As pointed out by Sneha Menon, Senior Architect at SSH, “While there are several factors to this success, a key aspect has been how the change was managed in an efficient and timely manner, which meant that there were minimal disruptions and that business could continue as usual.”
“Adopting the collaborative and internet-based Autodesk applications at an early stage, has enabled SSH to build on previous working experience and continue working as seamlessly as possible during the remote working transition, maintaining close relationships with all our clients to sustain project delivery milestones where practical and pragmatic.
“Our clients have been appreciative of our positive approach, and through close collaboration for any latency from previous delivery dates, we have worked together to both release documentation and receive client feedback on projects,” she says.
Palmer adds that another added benefit has been an improvement in knowledge transfer and co-ordination efforts throughout the Design team through the mark-up function on the BIM360 platform. As he explains, the ability to save and publish comments to team members has resulted in considerable time-saving whilst also improving the quality and efficiency of the process by automating and recording comments.
“The version comparison function has assisted the team to quickly and effectively compare changes between models and drawings. We have also utilised BIM360 for data transfer, which has streamlined and secured information sharing between our clients and consultants,” Palmer says, adding that the company intends to explore the use of the Revit Communicator app/plug-in further and that it plans to investigate and implement the functions available to potentially improve communication between the Design team when collaborating on cloud-based models.
Richard Toby is quick to agree with this and points out that BIM360 solutions have enhanced the firm’s design consultancy service skills, allowing it to expand its offerings into new areas, such as remote access and potential plans for the judicious use of drone technology for inspections.
“From a product management point of view, cloud-based licensing has allowed a streamlined management of our teams’ needs and requirements, and we can utilise products more efficiently.
“In line with the SSH ‘cloud-first’ strategy, moving to a PPU-based licensing model and BIM360 have resulted in increased efficiency for our staff. The technology that drives these products manages the internet speed and latency, allowing us to concentrate on what matters most when helping our Design teams get the design off the ground and delivered,” Huzaifa concludes.