Two Minutes With // CASE

Hello! We are excited to release today’s insightful interview with Steve Sanderson, of CASE. CASE exists where building and technology intersect. Recognized as industry-thought leaders on the integration of technology and BIM principles, CASE helps the building industry identify, implement and manage the technologies and business practices that enable more effective coordination, communication and collaboration. CASE is a Building Information consultancy with offices worldwide; check out their website for more.

Images courtesy of CASE.

VT: The Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame is made out of 1,000 unique cast stone panels — impressive. At what stage did CASE become involved in the process, and how did this collaboration inform the final design? What was learned from the challenges imposed by the panel detailing, and how did the digital workflow optimize the joint configuration?

SS: We’ve done a detailed case study on this project, which I have attached. It should address these questions directly.

VT: During your lecture at Virginia Tech’s CAUS 50th Anniversary event, you stated, “data changes the process as much as it changes the product.” You also presented a website alongside your lecture that contained collections of data, which was visualized in organized graphics. Is new data gathered for each client or is there an overall data hub that is continuously updated and studied? Do you find that your client views a building differently when the integration of data usage allows the designer to cater to specific business needs?

SS: Currently, there is so little actionable building information available to the various stakeholders within the building process, that any improvement in this area is bound to have a significant impact. In order to address this potential impact directly, we are focusing on being a consulting business, rather than a software business. A consulting business leverages the knowledge/expertise of their staff to deliver value to clients, versus the development of proprietary technology that is sold. Consulting businesses are generally slower growing and less profitable, but we felt this approach best addressed the current gaps in the industry. That said, we lean heavily on our software development expertise to augment our consulting work and find custom solutions to client challenges. Over time we’ve invested heavily in streamlining process and developing technologies that would enable us to arrive at these solutions more efficiently. One of those investments has been in a data schema that helps us extract, organize and visualize building information more effectively. This technology drives the backend of many of our custom solutions. Because the business needs are different and the way that each client looks at this data is different, each solution is specific to the client, so while they use the same underlying technology there is no central hub. There may be a point in the future as this offering matures that we will begin to find commonality across these different data sources and use it as a way to enable CASE to manage building information on behalf of clients, using our technology.

VT: CASE is a fairly young company that has grown from 3 partners to over 60 employees, including Maggie (the office dog CEO). What inspired you and your partners to start CASE — what were the industry needs/gaps/potentials that you initially recognized? Since discovering your niche, in what ways have you seen your implementation help to evolve the way A&E firms work? How will CASE evolve in the next five years?

SS: I addressed a lot of this in the answer above, but to sum it up, we saw a major gap in the management of building information throughout a project’s lifecycle that none of the existing stakeholders in the industry were taking ownership of. The way that the industry has evolved has limited the contract and fee structures of the existing stakeholders in a way that prevented them from looking at these opportunities objectively. For example, architects are hired and paid to develop new construction, but there are lots of instances where new construction may not be the best solution, there is an inherent conflict in the traditional expectations of that role and the broader needs of clients. As you note, we’ve grown significantly over the years and have shifted our role from working primarily for design professionals (architects and engineers) to working primarily for owner organizations directly. Most of the clients are organizations that view space as a critical component of their core business, like retail and healthcare, not merely as an operational expense. Over the next five years we will continue to focus and invest in ways that building information can provide better insight into the operations of our clients. Much of this will be empowered by custom platforms that we develop and maintain on their behalf.

VT: Since technology has become imperative to your process, what skills do you find most valuable in a recent graduate? Do you have an example as to how a particular skill was used by an intern who has recently joined CASE?

SS: The willingness to try new things and learn quickly are probably the two most valuable skills we look for in recent graduates. We tend to gravitate towards people that can demonstrate a range of technical fluency across numerous tools and interest in technologies that don’t traditionally fit within design, like Android development. We also look for people that are critical of process and like to develop new ways of working. Finally strong interpersonal skills and an interest in helping others or understanding how others may view a particular problem is important. Interns are involved with a wide range of tasks, largely driven by their interests and experience. A recent group of interns developed an entire curriculum for teaching computational design using tools like Grasshopper and Dynamo that we’ve used successfully in subsequent client engagements.