Behind the Build: Interview with Nima Jafari, Senior BIM Manager at Amazon

customer interview, Nima Jafari, Amazon

The future of construction is approaching quickly with emerging technologies and AI at the helm.

In fact, this new technology continues to enhance systems, productivity, and efficiency. Adaptation to new circumstances is how you become a part of the paradigm shift. The industry is already moving fast – and discovering, developing, or implementing new solutions will work in your favor.

Nima Jafari, Senior BIM Manager at Amazon and 40 Under 40 Champion of Construction in 2021, is a pioneer in using BIM technology. He’s built an impressive Emerging Technologies Department in Amazon TES (Transportation Engineering Services) from the ground up. Learn more about how he ended here and what he has in store for the future. 

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

I’m sure that you’re familiar with Amazon, but it’s a massive company that owns the cloud service AWS. I work in e-commerce, but essentially our team is in the background making sure that our robotic and fulfillment centers – including all the processes for sorting, packaging, and delivering – run smoothly. My role is to handle the construction of fulfillment centers for North America and some parts of Europe.

Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming a Senior BIM Manager.

By trade, I’m an architect. I used to own an architecture company and had projects in Cypress, Thailand, Dubai, and Iran. I was also teaching and studying urban design at NYIT—New York Institute of Technology

I started to understand that the future of construction and design was going to be based on BIM and AI, so I wanted to become a pioneer of that effort. Around 11 years ago, I began working on software to add information and to design, construct, and model. 

My company began writing BIM execution plans for different city agencies and big construction. We focused on presenting BIM to them. At the time, BIM was new, and most people didn’t know what it was or what we were talking about.

I was involved in a couple of billion-dollar projects while working on the implementation of BIM in construction companies. The first was the Second Avenue Subway. Next, I worked on Hudson Yard, a mega block project. Around the middle of that project, the opportunity to work on Grand Central, which was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a complicated project that required a full redesign since the original drawings and documents were from around 150 years ago.

After finishing that project, about five years later, I thought that my abilities for BIM implementation and AI could go further. And that I could innovate and achieve more with a bigger company like Amazon. Most construction companies don’t want to go the AI route or don’t have time to try new technologies, but bigger companies tend to be pioneers of inventions and new works in AI. That was my reason to join Amazon. 

Now I’m in on the building and processes from the start. That includes choosing a site, having the conceptual parametric design on that site and project, adding more information, doing due diligence, talking to the architect, focusing on construction and sustainability, and then working with asset management and determining all the supports the building will need after it’s built. 

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Amazon? Why?

The proudest moment wasn’t for me to actually build this connection from start to finish, but instead to work with people along the way. There was an Autodesk article about the three pillars of implementing technology, I believe, which mentioned technology, people, and processes.

And I do believe that the technology aspect is important, as are the processes. However, I think the part that makes me proud is working with people – how you implement the new technology for people. How you’re able to work well with them in taking them out of their comfort zone. 

Being able to help someone step away from what they used to do while introducing them to something new – sometimes a completely rebuilt process – is what makes me proud.

–Nima Jafari, Sr. BIM Manager, Amazon

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

In the future, I think it’s going to change to working more with emerging technology. It wouldn’t be just building information modeling. It will be any new technology and AI that can help make our technology better. 

For example, we have a robot called Astro that is currently used for home security or completing basic tasks at home. But you could bring that into construction to provide you with safety alerts. It could give you a 3D tour of your project virtually. It could catch intruders, too. So, that’s not really BIM, though you could use some BIM technology with it. Instead, the role will be focused on bringing in new technology, and using what you have in combination, for a project.

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

The greatest challenge I used to have was implementation and getting people to buy into a new system. It is a challenge getting past the introduction of something new when some people have the mentality of, “why fix it if it isn’t broken?” Showing how making changes will improve the process in the future was a roadblock that I think we have gotten past. 

Another challenge we’re having is how to customize out-of-the-box technology or software for a company. Autodesk Construction Cloud is designed to work for construction teams, owners, architects, and the sustainability team, but the difficulty comes in customizing that software without adding too much code. On my team, we use 57 different pieces of software right now. My challenge is figuring out how to eliminate all of those individual products and turn them into just a single, common data environment. That’s [Autodesk] Construction Cloud’s role. 

My challenge is figuring out how to eliminate all of those individual products and turn them into just a single, common data environment. That’s [Autodesk] Construction Cloud’s role.

–Nima Jafari, Sr. BIM Manager, Amazon

It works as a window within a window, creating a single point of access for multiple pieces of software.

What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your projects?

I tried many of the programs that are available today and scored them based on the way they work. Autodesk’s BIM 360 came out on top with the highest score for me. From a technical standpoint, it made sense to look at programs by functionality. 

The second reason is that I’ve used Autodesk software for many years. Autodesk has good security, feels familiar thanks to plug-and-play options made easy with BIM 360, and offers a great support team. 

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

I believe that using AI will help with productivity. It will help with risk management, construction modules, and work with Construction IQ, which will boost productivity.

With the data from projects, you’ll be able to estimate new project timelines in seconds.

–Nima Jafari, Sr. BIM Manager, Amazon

With the data from projects, you’ll be able to estimate new project timelines in seconds. AI and Construction IQ will tell you if there is a conflict between what someone is saying a timeline is and what has actually been the case in the past. It will alert you if a subcontractor, for example, is putting your schedule at risk by overestimating what they can get done.

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

The construction industry is going through a paradigm shift now. Automation, AI, and emerging technology are going to be the future of construction. For those considering studying or who are studying to go into the industry now, learning about that paradigm shift and the technology that comes along with it is going to be important. 

I would encourage anyone going into this field to learn more about emerging technology in construction because it’s going to be used in their future and lifetime. The earlier they start working on machine learning, and AI, the better their company’s system is going to be.

Want to read 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 our entire series of 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.