When location is everything, the best place to be is in the cloud


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OVD919, Cape Town, South Africa.

Working from Home

As architecture and engineering firms around the world are working hard to adapt to a new work-from-home business model, Cape Town-based SAOTA was able to make the switch easily as it had already started exploring Autodesk’s cloud collaboration tools before the global Covid-19 outbreak.

With a global footprint spanning six continents SAOTA tried numerous solutions to keep their projects around the world in sync with each other. Autodesk BIM 360 Design proved to be the most capable solution allowing teams to work together, even where internet connectivity was less than ideal.

“The uncertainty of Covid19 has been daunting but we are lucky enough to have been equipped and prepared to manage our international projects through the infrastructure we have in the office. We were able to move to a work-from-home situation fairly easily,” says Mark Bullivant, Director at SAOTA.

Impressively SAOTA was able to move their design process, and over 100 projects, onto the cloud within days with the help of BIM 360 Design and support from their Autodesk partner, Micrographics.

From South Africa to the world

SAOTA was founded in 1986 in Cape Town, South Africa. Their projects span over 86 countries, across 6 continents and in 143 cities. This makes SAOTA perfectly positioned to manage the requirements of remote working without sacrificing quality or project deadlines.

With its core business in architecture, SAOTA built its reputation on high-end single residential developments. Over the last decade it has evolved into a company with a much broader scope that includes a variety of building types: commercial, hospitality, public and cultural, master planning and multi-residential (apartments and housing estates).

SAOTA also boasts a large number of local and international awards spanning over 25 years. “Our most recent award was another CIFA award – the highest regional honor – for our Kloof 119A project in 2019. Local recognition is important to us," says Bullivant. Any recognition is important and appreciated, especially with the immense effort put in by the hardworking teams in our studio.

Beyond, Cape Town South Africa (Photo by Adam Letch)

“The studio culture is central to our process; ultimately design is about people, interaction, and collaboration,” says Bullivant. “Working from home, we’ve managed to maintain that work ethic. We still have regular meetings and design forums; they are just digital now.”

Bullivant says that a lot of the design studio’s work and meetings were already online due to its global client base but there are some elements they needed to adapt to. “One of the challenges has been losing office infrastructure that one takes for granted, like printers and a fast internet connection.”

Location is everything, in more ways than one

While communication tools have evolved tremendously in the last 10 years, there are cases - especially with clients in cities like Los Angeles or Sydney – where SAOTA must work around a 9-hour time difference. It means they are not always around to talk to clients and consultants through drawings – and the time they do have together on calls needs to be highly effective.

This forced SAOTA to develop documentation with improved new visual quality which included more 3D-based drawings, renderings and video. “To this end, Revit remains at the core of our process,” says Enslin Joubert, BIM Manager at SAOTA.

Joubert adds that SAOTA started to use other products in the Autodesk AEC Collection to push the boundaries of the technology it employs. “Now that Autodesk has broadened its offering and improved cross-talk between software within the collection, we use the software to help us design better.”

Kingsway Tower, Lagos Nigeria (Photo by Adam Letch)

BIM 360 Design is the key to remote design collaboration

When they adopted BIM 360 Design, Joubert says that SAOTA needed a common data environment. “Having worked remotely for a while now we’ve realised how many variables there are to take into consideration when you are doing work outside of the office,” says Joubert.

He says that things like flexibility to adapt to various internet speeds, team sizes and file sizes were all critical factors that most solutions they looked at simply did not offer. Indeed, the biggest challenge for large teams working on a project remotely is that, before BIM360, the team was limited to the lowest common denominator.

Oculus Stockholm, Sweden

“One of BIM 360 Design’s key features is that it works despite poor network connections and design models stay in-sync without data corruption. “With BIM 360 Design, suddenly it did not matter if one of our employees had a slow internet connection. While downloading of data may take longer for them, we have found that the work does not end in corruption or data loss as we have found with other software solutions””

Enslin Joubert, BIM Manager, SAOTA, South Africa

Thanks to its powerful management and design review capabilities, BIM 360 Design enabled SAOTA to be a lot more efficient in its project workflows. “It has been absolutely pivotal to our success in working from home,” adds Bullivant, “but we still have a lot of upskilling to do before we get the most from this powerful software.”

According to Joubert, the key benefit that BIM 360 has given to SAOTA is stability. Someone else with a keen eye on stability in SAOTA is IT manager, Grant Hall. Referring to how the company is adapting to managing data in the cloud compared to on-premise Hall mentions that "The storage, versioning and backup capabilities of BIM 360 is quite impressive.”

Tamuda, Tétouan Morocco

The AEC Collection is a must for efficient coordination

Today SAOTA uses most of the tools in the Autodesk AEC Collection. While BIM 360 Design allows the design studio to manage effective remote working, other tools in the suite have shown to save SAOTA time and money on each project so far.

This forced SAOTA to develop documentation with improved new visual quality which included more 3D-based drawings, renderings and video. “To this end, Revit remains at the core of our process,” says Enslin Joubert, BIM Manager at SAOTA.

Most notably, the ability to exchange and reuse data across various platforms within the Autodesk AEC Collection reduces rework and errors and improves efficiency across SAOTA’s workflow.

Hillside LA USA, (Photo by Adam Letch)

Revit has been pivotal in coordinating full sets of drawings with all the data and information that their clients need.

For SAOTA, digital technology is essential to collaborate with their peers and clients and to continue evolving and adapting to the reality of this ever-changing world.

Using BIM and Virtual Reality software, SAOTA is already able to work on sites without ever visiting them. This also means huge savings for clients and the environment as SAOTA reduces its carbon footprint.

Value added support from their Autodesk partner

Autodesk partner, Micrographics, has over 25 years of experience developing hand-in-glove relationships with its clients. Micrographics was central to supporting the adoption of BIM 360 Design at SAOTA.

“Our partnership with SAOTA ensured we not only provide solutions for existing challenges, but further enhanced the relationship we have to strategize and play with new technologies and operating processes,” says Keith Stewart, Managing Director from Micrographics.