Most businesses (in the construction industry and beyond) understand that the key to success is aligning three key components: people, process, and technology.
Having a trifecta of competent personnel, streamlined procedures, and advanced tech is essential for construction firms to thrive in today’s competitive market. And if you’re looking for ideas on achieving this, you’ll gain a lot of insights from our latest Behind the Build interview featuring Don Juan De Guzman.
As Building Information Modeling Director at Silicon Valley Mechanical, Don looks after all things BIM at the company. Beyond that, he also has a deep understanding of how to build positive team cultures and he has a knack for using technology to maximize efficiencies.
We recently chatted with Don about his professional journey thus far. We touched on several topics, including creating an empowering work environment, the evolution of BIM in construction, and the challenges that technology helps overcome.
Have a look at what he has to say.
Tell me a little bit about Silicon Valley Mechanical and what you specialize in.
Silicon Valley Mechanical is based out of San Jose. We’re a design-build commercial contractor specializing in HVAC, plumbing, service, and maintenance, and we also have a 24-hour emergency support team. As for me, I specialize in BIM and HVAC detailing.
Walk us through your career and what led you to become BIM Director.
As far as my career is concerned, I was actually going to school to be a biochem major. In my second year in college, we got pregnant, and so my dad was like, “Well, you need to support your child.”
So I ended up dropping out and joining the local apprenticeship because my dad (who’s now retired) was a senior engineer for the largest HVAC contractor in the Bay Area. He said, “Sheet metal’s a good career,” and told me to take the apprenticeship test.
I did just that and ended up working for the same company he worked for. I then started in the trade learning the different steps in the field. I eventually worked in the shop, learning the CAM system because while working for that same company, I was kind of looked down upon and people were saying I was only there because of my father.
I took that little chip on my shoulder to learn everything I could, and it was the biggest blessing in disguise for me. As I said, my dad has been with the company for 40-plus years, and he had a lot of pull, but it really didn’t affect my ability to work.
I wanted to learn everything, so no one could say anything. That led me to understand the shop CAM system because the plasma machines were relatively new back then. And since I knew computers, I was able to help out. That opportunity organically progressed from the CAM side to the detailing and CAD software.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Silicon Valley Mechanical? Why?
My proudest accomplishment is building the BIM and detailing department from scratch. I’ve worked for a lot of our competitors and have had many different bosses, both good and bad. The ownership group at Silicon Valley Mechanical was great because they allowed me to build a group how I saw fit.
So I could take out all the things I didn’t like from all the bad bosses but also incorporate the good things I liked from the good bosses and create a true team culture.
A lot of managers don’t realize that it’s the people who make the team great. I’m very fortunate that my team has a good mindset and that we’re able to focus on empathy and having a positive disposition. I care for my team; everyone supports each other and is willing to help when needed.
I’m grateful for that and very proud of it.
As construction evolves, how do you see the role of BIM Director changing?
I see my role not necessarily changing too much but more of adding data tracking to my position.
Right now, many people see BIM as building information modeling; but for me, it’s really building information management.
I’ve been fortunate to have my experience because it’s been helpful to have an overall knowledge of each part of the construction process—not just identifying a clash between object one and object two.
Now, I say data tracking because I’m a huge fan of blockchain technology, and I’m applying the same theories to the construction chain because the means and methods for construction are all the same.
But I feel a lot of people aren’t so familiar with the BIM process; they just see it as a task and a check mark that they have to complete rather than viewing the full value of all this information.
However, there’s a ton of data on these projects that can be used to track methods and progress through the life cycle of a building, and I feel that once we’re able to collect all this data, we could be using it to make projects more efficient and cost-effective.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenges are communication and getting the industry to adapt to new tech and processes. There are still a lot of old school foremen, and their thought process is, “Oh, I’ve been building this for the past 40 years like this, and I can build the building just the same way.”
So, it’s getting those guys to see the value and adapt to the technology.
The other challenge is that a lot of teams still operate in silos. There’s a project management group; then there’s an engineering group, plus another group for detailing and another for shop, field, etc. And so while people are trying to preach company culture and stuff like that, it isn’t being implemented—at least, that’s what I’m noticing.
Those are my biggest challenges right now. Thankfully at SVM, more of our forepersons are adapting to it, so we have plans to build that out. And that’s why I like Autodesk Construction Cloud. It’s one of the greatest things ever because it helps provide one source of truth. It allows all the project information to be held in one repository.
How many times have you been on a project, and then two, three years later, someone’s asking for information, and it’s like, “Oh, hold on. Let me try to track that email or that discussion. It’s like you’re dependent on different tools to track that information.
That’s one of my biggest frustrations. I help a lot of general contractors here in the Bay Area with the BIM process. What we’ll do is run the coordination process for them, and they insist on using BIM 360, along with different software like Procore, Dropbox, or Trimble.
So I try to educate them by saying, “You don’t need all of those. You’re trying to go to one piece of software for one part of your project, but another part is held somewhere else.”
It doesn’t make sense to me.
That’s why I’m a big advocate for Construction Cloud. It allows all that data to be stored and easily tracked in one central location. You don’t have to search through emails. The old schedule is there, all the RFIs are there, submittals… everything is there for that project, which rightfully should be.
Why are you excited about standardizing on Autodesk Build over the next few months?
I’m a very structured and detailed type of person. I like things organized, and I recognize patterns well.
Because I work with a lot of general contractors and have worked for a lot of our competitors, everyone likes to think they have this little secret sauce and they’re doing something different, but in reality, they’re not. All I see is a lot of inefficiencies from company to company, and I’m excited about standardizing it.
Autodesk Construction Cloud helps alleviate a lot of redundancy and increases productivity. With ACC, I’m no longer waiting for a submittal from a PM; everything is hosted all in one location, and it’s accessible.
I’m also using 360 Sync because we use Ignite for our central server in the office, and 360 Sync can push certain files back and forth. But I pretty much use ACC for all our coordination efforts.
What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your projects?
It’s all about what you guys were developing. It’s that one source of truth.
Plus, for the most part, we all use Autodesk products anyway, whether it be AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks, Forge, Fusion, or Inventor—they’re all Autodesk products, regardless. That’s why it only makes sense to stay with that one source of truth.
I’ve seen the pattern you guys have done regarding the previous licenses. I was using AutoCAD when it was still Map CC, and you had to use a dongle, and granted, there were headaches, but as Autodesk progressed, I saw the combination of the AEC suites. Then with BIM 360 coming out and Construction Cloud, I see the whole thing eventually converging into one platform.
I try to stay on top of technology, and I think this will eventually be all cloud-based.
When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Silicon Valley Mechanical?
I know Autodesk is working on a lot of tools. I’ve built some of my own custom add-ons because while I know eventually Autodesk will build those tools, they’re just not there yet.
And then I think that’s where companies like Procore were able to succeed. At the time, the UI on BIM 360 wasn’t up to date or as user-friendly for many of our PMs, so they just chose to go with the easier route with Procore.
But a lot of people that I’ve spoken with also have now canceled their Procore licenses and are starting to learn more about the Construction Cloud and switching over.
What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?
There are a lot of facets to this industry. There’s design, engineering, construction, etc. I recommend finding one thing they’re most interested in and learning anything and everything they can about said topic. From there, try to recognize an issue constantly occurring on the different projects and then find a solution.
I learned that being helpful and of service is the easiest way to get to know people in the industry and understand their daily issues. So, if you can make someone’s job easier, that solution would essentially make you more valuable.
I would also reach out to industry peers and network at events like Autodesk University, local BIM events, or construction meet-ups. You could join different groups, and they’re really helpful for networking.
I would also point out that you can learn from anyone. Everyone has little nuggets from their industry that you could take and then apply to your trade. Not to mention, those relationships are very important. So, find local peers you can brainstorm with, and hopefully, find a mentor to guide and support you.