06 February, 2015

Some thoughts on ArchiCAD in India

A recent thread on LinkedIn got me thinking about ArchiCAD in India and how it can do better. What comes to mind is, I am sure, by no means comprehensive but, it should give us a decent starting point for discussion about the future of our beloved software in the subcontinent. First, though, a little history.

ArchiCAD officially came to India about a decade ago. The then distributors gave me a disk with a 30 day trial of version 9, at the expiry of which I was asked if I wanted to purchase it. It was certainly impressive enough for me to put down my hard-earned money and I was promised two days of training and a free upgrade to the next version as part of the package (in those days nobody here ever talked about SSA). Anyway, as it turned out, the trainer, after spending a few minutes with me decided that, since I knew what each of the construction tool icons stood for, I already knew everything of consequence, so he packed his bags and disappeared! Hello?

In those days, there were few, if any, YouTube tutorials so my initial progress out of flatland and into BIM was slow and rather unsteady.  Often I found myself reverting to 2D-CAD for quick drawings or details. It was around this time that the internet started to open up in India and I would scour the net looking for tutorials and tips from users worldwide. Most of all, I followed the ArchiCAD-Talk forum and, although I rarely posted anything there, I learned a tremendous amount from the veterans who freely gave of their time to guide others.

The resellers/distributor in India did little more than simply sell the software. This struck me as being in stark contrast to what seemed to happen in some other countries where they had highly trained ArchiCADders on their staff--not merely to troubleshoot--but also to develop region-specific templates, objects and addons.

Things went on unsteadily, for a few years until, abruptly, ArchiCAD was no longer available here in India. For whatever reason, things had broken down between the distributors and Graphisoft so users like myself were stuck on our last version even though we wanted to upgrade.  I tried getting in touch with other users in India and came up short. Essentially, I knew exactly zero! No, wait a minute. I knew one but his firm had dropped out around because he had come to believe that ArchiCAD had no future in India. Additionally, he told me, he didn't have any staff who were properly trained to use it so it had become a white elephant. By all accounts, he was hardly the only one to make this decision.

I tried to get information from what turned out to be the temporary distributors based in Calcutta but they were non-responsive to the point of rudeness.  Finally, just over a year ago, a new distributor was appointed and those of us who were keen on it, got to upgrade.  As it stands, I've paid my SSA in advance for the next three years and I'll see v.21 before I have to shell out again.

Okay, so here's what I think we, the users, and Graphisoft, need to discuss in the context of the Indian market:
  1. Be the First-Mover:

    Most architects in India have at least heard of Revit even if they know nothing at all about what it does. At job fairs in colleges, students tell prospective employers that they "know Revit".  I get online job applications from youngsters looking for internships and some of them say they've never even heard of ArchiCAD. Thankfully that number had dropped substantially in the last few years but the change is because of increased tech-savvy among students and has little to do with awareness created by anyone in India.
    In a country where most firms are still stuck in flatland it is imperative that ArchiCAD lead the move into BIM and define the segment. Once a firm invests its time and money in an ecosystem, it needs a very strong argument for them to consider migrating elsewhere. Autodesk will, as usual, try to project themselves as the default mainstream choice so, if they get first-mover advantage, ArchiCAD will permanently be an also-ran. It is very important that Graphisoft be seen as committed to going the distance because a prolonged break in their presence (as happened last time) will be pounced upon and exploited mercilessly.
  2. Marketing:

    Autodesk has a powerful marketing machine and is naturally trying to associate BIM with their own product. Graphisoft, on the other hand, may not have the same budget, so they have to rely--to a greater extent--on guerilla warfare. The strongest weapons in their arsenal are the users themselves. I'll expand on that a little later but it must be remembered that, although users have a role to play in publicity, they alone are insufficient. There still needs to be some level of consistent mainstream marketing--otherwise it sounds as though we're telling people ghost stories.
    Apart from focusing on trade publications, Graphisoft should also consider sponsoring relevant events where architects are invited. Have, say, a small kiosk there with someone from the distributor/local reseller's side presenting what ArchiCAD does and answering questions intelligently. Maybe s/he can distribute disks with trial versions along with how-to videos that are on YouTube anyway. Yes, people can go to MyArchiCAD and YouTube themselves but most people are lazy. A little spoon-feeding is inexpensive and the impact quite out of proportion.
  3. Online Presence:

    If you look at other regions where ArchiCAD had a presence--North America, the European countries, South Africa, the Middle East and, especially, down under--they are extremely strong online. The fact that they are also always active inspires confidence not just in existing users but in potential customers as well. In a connected world, it is not enough to merely put up a "please contact us if you are interested" message. A website has to be one of the major points of interaction between distributors and users and to be seen as such by others as well.
    What also needs to be done on this web hub, is to transparently post pricing, have productivity calculations, publicise special offers and to give news updates on what is happening within the ArchiCAD community of that region. Unless such a hub is alive and active, you are out of sight and out of mind. Of course the hub must maximise the use of social media. That's the easiest way to punch above your weight.
  4. User Groups:

    This is something I've tried to push with the previous distributors and with the current ones but have been singularly unsuccessful till date. Satisfied users can promote ArchiCAD better than an entire marketing campaign. It's all very well having a Facebook or a LinkedIn group but unless there is substantial interaction, these remain paper tigers. Our Facebook group has 325 members at last count but only half a dozen of us post anything at all. Most of us don't know each other so that makes it kind of lifeless. It could change if we met, though but real-world interactions cannot be organized by users alone--architects usually have neither the time nor the inclination for that--so the onus is on the distributor or the reseller for that region. Such groups also serve the function of assuring users that they are not alone and that they have the support of their peers. A user-meeting can also be a great publicity vehicle to convert invited non-users to users.
  5. Catch them Young:

    This one is a no-brainer so it hardly needs repeating but if students are made aware that they can get if for free, and they can be be helped to explore the potential of of the software, then we'll have a whole new generation of users to push ArchiCAD to new heights.

I'm sure there's a lot more to be said but I'm afraid I'm out of ideas at the moment so I'll shut the hell up and throw the floor open to comments.

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