Aptitude Becomes Member of the Digital Building Lab

Wes McRae | February 25, 2022

Aptitude: Intelligent Integration, a strategic trade partner of JE Dunn, has become a member of Georgia Tech’s Digital Building Lab.

Sam Holt (BC ‘05), Managing Director of Aptitude, said, “The membership is a win-win, because while we share our knowledge and experience with real world challenges, the fresh perspectives that students bring, and the conversations isolated within a classroom setting help us to generate new ideas.”

While it’s usual for Georgia Tech students to develop specific interests regarding their academic research, “it changes their world if they can connect with a company that’s actually applying that kind of knowledge,” said Russell Gentry, the lab's director. “A lot of the Digital Building Lab’s work facilitates that.”

A membership doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re sponsoring research in the lab, said Gentry, but through the relationship, “a member company might say, ‘Well, we have a serious need in this area, and we might support a Ph.D. student for a year.’”

Holt also sees recruitment opportunities. “We also expect that the connections we’re making will contribute to developing a talent pool for Aptitude as our team continues to grow.”

As part of their membership, Aptitude is working with Gentry and the students in a graduate course called “Building Systems and Data.” Aptitude will present their work on designing and implementing complex IT systems in buildings, often referred to by the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Division that describes this work: Division 25.

Working in a New Field

Division 25 refers to a part of the format for construction specifications. This part, Integrated Automation, covers connecting multiple smart systems, such as lighting, HVAC, fire suppression, etc., into one central operating platform. Aptitude is a provider of integrated building systems.

Integrated automation is a new field, and, according to Gentry, “the architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) industry has not assembled itself properly to deal with these complex ‘Division 25’ building automation systems. I think that’s why there’s a lot of headroom for Aptitude to grow.”

In the DBL, “we use some very systematic ways of documenting workflows and data exchanges,” he said. “Over the next year, we aspire to use our means and methods of documenting what the Aptitude team is doing and sharing that back with them.”

The goal is to make the design process more efficient and repeatable, eliminating lost information, and automating repetitive but necessary tasks.

“There’s a lot of information that standard building information modeling (BIM) software doesn’t know how to represent, so the information that Aptitude needs to specify systems has to be recreated,” said Gentry.

“We’d like to be able to do that in a reproducible way so the next time there’s a hospital or some really complicated building, the process is less ad hoc, less one-off.”

A hospital project like Aptitude is working on “is more of an IT data center than it is a reinforced concrete frame, and that’s anathema to people who think about buildings as just walls and floors and columns and ceilings,” Gentry said.

These decisions impose considerable cost, Gentry said. “All these information technology systems in buildings are comparable to the cost of the building structure itself.”

Adam Farlow, one of the Aptitude project managers who will present to the class, agrees. “Typically also the information technology side has a shorter life cycle and is going to be constantly evolving, when compared to the traditional building core and shell.”

Aptitude Presents Real-World Case Studies to the Class

At the beginning of the semester, Aptitude will present case studies from their work on building fire alarm systems and security and access controls.

Many of our applied research projects start as case studies, Gentry said. “Professor Eastman’s BIM Handbook started as a collection of case studies on how the AEC industry uses information technology and advanced computational tools to deliver ever more complex buildings.

"And we all know that BIM has become a set of methods and technologies that has revolutionized the architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) industry."

Students will do a joint project at the beginning of the semester using the case studies presented by Aptitude. “We develop a stakeholder map and try to understand how the data is collected and modeled in the beginning and design phase,” said Gentry. “How does that scope get brought out in the design phase? How are design decisions made? How are systems specified and procured? How do they get installed?”

Architects in traditional programs don’t usually see these kinds of real-world use-cases.

“Most of these students in our courses are in architecture, engineering, and construction, not computer science,” Gentry said. “And I can tell you that most architects don’t think about IT in buildings. Somebody else does [the information infrastructure], and the architect just has to learn to interface with them.”

Andy Doan, Senior Estimating Engineer for Aptitude, agreed. “AEC students don’t typically think about the IT and BIM interoperability that is required to enable and automate building systems, but this is an important part of what we do on every project.”

Looking at data needs early in the process means information infrastructure becomes part of the building design from the beginning.

Once the joint project is complete, students will take what they learned to generate their own use case.
“In their own world of research, they will have to follow the same rubric and develop models, data flows, stakeholder maps, etc. It may have something to do with what Aptitude does, but it could be completely different.”

Farlow sees a lot of potential in the collaboration. “The thing that I really get excited about is thinking from the academic side and having all these fresh minds that are working to build their skill set. Being part of the Digital Building Lab is very exciting for me. I get an outside look at difficulties or speed bumps that we might see in automating some of these processes.”

“I think that conversation is where a lot of new ideas can originate.”

Holt also has personal satisfaction in the collaboration. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to give back at a place that played a huge role in my life.”


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