Behind the Build: Interview with Mark Decker, Sr. Manager of BIM at CDM Smith

Behind the Build: Interview with Mark Decker, Sr. Manager of BIM at CDM Smith

BIM Managers carry the burden of having to make clear, quick, and concise decisions. Under their direction, data and digital workflows are continuously scrutinized and improved upon with the goal of supporting stakeholder collaboration and ultimately, successful project delivery. 

For Mark Decker, Senior Manager of Building Information Modeling (BIM) at CDM Smith, it’s choosing and leveraging the right technology to enable him, his firm, and his clients to reach or exceed expected outcomes.

We recently spoke to Mark about what it takes to work as a BIM Manager at CDM Smith, the challenges he faces, and the advice he has for people looking to get into the industry. 


Tell me a little bit about CDM Smith and what you specialize in.

At CDM Smith, we are a global engineering and construction firm providing legendary client service and smart solutions in water, environment, transportation, energy, and facilities.  Responding to the rapidly changing data demands of our industry we have recently created a new company called Trinnex. Trinnex offers custom-built solutions to help our utilities and infrastructure clients develop powerful technologies to navigate their digital journeys.

My role at the company is the Senior Manager for Building Information Modeling where I focus on leveraging technology to make better decisions. I’m not just managing a model, but also the information coming from the model, and those who use it.


Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming Sr. Manager of BIM.

I would say that my path is typical. BIM Managers usually come through architecture or construction. I took the architecture path, gaining my education in architecture, then working in construction for over 10 years. I was given an opportunity to work for an engineering firm, CDM Smith, and have been working here since the onset of the pandemic.


What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at CDM Smith? Why?

Explaining, rationalizing, and getting buy-in from large companies to make fundamental changes to process and workflows is hard. I am excited to be a major contributor to strengthening a company's mantra to leverage a broader and deeper adoption of VDC Services, technology, and process improvement.


As construction evolves, how do you see the role of Sr. Manager of BIM changing?

We know that best-in-class project management requires optimum coordination starting at project pursuit, carrying into design and construction, and continuing through facility management.  However, most project teams and tools are not structured to allow this to happen.  The BIM Manager role, now and in the future, will be fundamental to unlocking the culture of better decision management and collaboration between companies and their constituents.

Many companies understand the importance of BIM and data management for internal workflows, but someone like a BIM Manager can influence the cultural resistance to workflow changes, unlocking the common data between companies, bettering the overall project decision management and collaboration.  

The BIM Manager role, now and in the future, will be fundamental to unlocking the culture of better decision management and collaboration between companies and their constituents.

–Mark Decker, Sr. Manager of BIM, CDM Smith

This evolution is multifaceted. For BIM and a common data environment to be successful, they need to be connected to many facets of a company at different times. Being able to understand how to manage, plan, and contribute with different stakeholders as a project progresses (and their data) is really where the position thrives.  When properly executed, relationships and agreements between companies will allow for better data aggregation and technology utilization. This will allow the overall project team to make informed decisions at the appropriate time.  


What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

The largest obstacles are changing the habits, culture, and standards within a company, that allow for change and better decision making. Many times, we have the opportunity to provide our company with a great solution to a systemic problem, with or without technology, but if many are not willing to adapt and change, then we will fall short or worse, become less efficient. Creating a learning and growth environment for software and processes in a company is a major challenge. 

True with most if not all industries, modern technology allows decision makers to better see and understand design.  Modern technology and workflows can also support the ability to act on design changes.  This is where choosing the right technology can be a game changer for a company, combining the ability to understand design, collaborate on design, and have the ability to communicate and actively manage design changes.  This is what technology can bring to a company that is willing to accept it.


Speaking of Autodesk Construction Cloud products, why are you excited about implementing Autodesk Build over the next few months?

We’re excited to focus on takeoff in the Build environment. It allows us, as designers, to look at our designs differently and add a cost structure level of understanding to early design. The counts and quantities are there, and then it’s easy to see how design affects those counts and quantities in the common data environment.

This makes a huge difference to early design development and design options. We can easily see the cost ramifications of changes as they are made or suggested.


Why did you choose to partner with Autodesk on your projects? 

One of the biggest reasons we partnered with Autodesk is that we have a desire to work globally, and not from a centralized location. The “COVID crunch,” or globalization of the workforce, made it so that we couldn’t work from home or use some of our Global resources without a common data environment like Autodesk Construction Cloud. So, we did some shuffling and were able to work through the COVID situation. We couldn’t have information in multiple locations—it had to be in one place. 

Another reason that we chose to partner with Autodesk is that we see how Autodesk is approaching today’s challenges and preparing for the future of the industry. Not all companies do that, but we see it happening with Autodesk, and that’s something that really makes Autodesk stand out. 


When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at CDM Smith?

The biggest thing is that we want to make better decisions sooner when working on a project. Getting buy-in sooner from designers or clients is critical to making that happen and keeping the project moving. So, while we will always have changes and expect changes to occur, we also need to move faster and make decisions more quickly. This is how we make room for stronger workflows and introducing innovative ideas

Autodesk services helped remove the technology hurdle that we were having, making it easier to access the model and drawings in a cloud environment.

–Mark Decker, Sr. Manager of BIM, CDM Smith

Making better decisions sooner is one of the biggest things we’re focused on, and underpinning this idea is the Autodesk Construction Cloud environment. Autodesk services helped remove the technology hurdle that we were having, making it easier to access the model and drawings in a cloud environment. Information is accessible and secure anywhere, so we can get decisions from clients and engineers without having to spend time addressing technical access issues. 


What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?

I would tell new generations to appreciate the decision making experience of industry veterans. BIM Managers should observe this process and learn how and why decisions are made.  

Also, having grit, personal resolve, and the commitment to see a project through will make a lasting impression on your company and the industry.


Interested in more interviews like this?

Myself and team regularly sit down with construction leaders to promote knowledge sharing among our community. We cover what works, what doesn’t, and what the future holds. Check out previous Behind the Build interviews, featuring some of the best in construction.

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.