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Return to Information Selector The Role of Software in the Business


Some of the most frequently asked questions about the Visionair Builder business are software related. This focus is understandable because computers and software are more tangible to most people than business concepts such as marketing philosophy, competitive strategy and business models. However, the business process that is built upon these fundamentals provides the real key to success. Computers and software are essential tools used to implement the business process, but they still are just tools in the overall scheme of the business. As such, the following points are emphasized in this paper:

  • Computers and software are not the focus of the business
  • A unique type of software tool is required by the business
  • The Visionair Builder is a business, not a software tool

This paper discusses the true role of software in the business by answering common questions that people ask about the software. The format provides a better response than is otherwise possible because answers to a specific question often build upon the background information from another question. Thus, you may click on any of the topics below that interest you, but it is recommended that you scroll down to read through the entire paper if possible.

 
Topic List

  1. How is the Visionair Builder business model different?
  2. What fundamental role do computers play?
  3. Are there different types of visualization software?
  4. What kind of software does the business need?
  5. What makes the Visionair Builder software unique?
  6. Is the imaging system similar to software I use…
  7. What about inexpensive software at computer stores?
  8. Don't architects and builders have similar software?
  9. How does the imaging process work?
  10. What skills are needed to operate the imaging system?
  11. What software do you compete with?
  12. Final Comments


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Imaging System
Frequently Asked Questions



How is the Visionair Builder business model different?

The business model for a traditional home planning service is characterized as follows:

  1. Project requirements are obtained (typically from the architect or builder)
  2. Design /construction drawings are created (2-D technical blueprints)
  3. Visuals (if any) are done, but limited to artistic illustration (for marketing project)
  4. Drawings are provided to customer (for approval and use in construction)

This model is consistent with traditional architectural services such as drafting and illustration that have been around for years. The focus is clearly on creating drawings or illustrations that are typically used by architects and builders to build and showcase a new project.

In contrast, the Visionair Builder is a totally different type of home planning service. Instead of creating drawings and illustrations for the developer team, the Visionair Builder service helps homeowners through an otherwise complex and frustrating decision making process to explore ideas for their project. The focus of the business is on decision making, not design or illustration. Decision making involves customer participation, interactivity, exploration of options and alternatives, and real-time visual feedback. As a result, many unique factors influence the Visionair Builder business model that aren't a factor in traditional services:

  • Visualization is done for the homeowner's benefit, not just for the architect or builder
  • Interactive decision making replaces static drawings and pictures
  • Focus is on visual aspects (materials, colors, plants and decorations), not on structural or technical details
  • Options and alternatives are explored, not just a final result
  • Visual realism is needed, not drawings or artistic renderings
  • Design information is the starting point, not the end product
  • Imaging is done in front of the customer, not offline
  • Customer is a participant, not just a recipient of drawings or pictures
  • Personal interaction to assist decision making is more important than technical prowess to create the perfect illustration
  • A "human" solution is needed, versus a technical solution
  • Remodeling and landscaping are just as important as new construction
  • Consumer demand for affordability, quick turnaround and realism require non-traditional imaging methods

IdeaVision devoted several years and made a large investment to develop a business model that is viable in the real world. Continuous development of the model is ongoing today. It's this level of knowledge and commitment that's required to provide the service successfully.

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What fundamental role do computers play?

Computers provide powerful graphics capabilities. As such, computers are a good tool for creating the visual imagery that is used to help homeowners explore options and make decisions on their projects. However, it's important to understand that the computer, including the software that drives it, is still just a tool used to implement the various steps in the Visionair Builder business model.

The initial tendency for people evaluating the business is to place too much emphasis on the computer aspects. In a few cases, there is a desire to judge the business based on what kind of computer is used, or on some perceived notion of how the software should work. The fundamental objective of evaluating the business model is replaced by a meaningless hardware or software review. Applying this philosophy to other endeavors equates to starting an accounting business by purchasing financial software or setting up a dental practice by investing in dental equipment. Of course, the key to accounting or dentistry entails much more than the tools used in the business, and the same holds true for visualization.

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Are there different types of visualization software?

Visualization is a generic term used to describe the process of creating visual images in the mind. As such, all graphics software provides visualization capabilities by letting us "see" a graphical representation of some aspect of the real world. There are literally hundreds of different graphics software packages sold at the retail level. An even larger number of custom applications have been developed for business and scientific purposes. This proliferation of software is the result of the many unique applications for graphics, with each one requiring a different solution. Artistic illustration, technical drafting, design layout, photographic editing, computer imaging (and the list goes on) each have their own special needs.

Businesses use two fundamental types of graphics software. The type that most people are familiar with is the off-the-shelf package which is sold in retail stores or via the Internet. Products are offered for many different business purposes, including home design applications. Off-the-shelf packages are used to perform generic tasks that are common to many businesses. A task is a specific piece of work that is normally assigned to one person or a small group to complete. Drafting and illustration, done in a traditional home planning service, are examples of tasks. Many of the products serve their intended purpose well. For example, a skilled illustrator can produce beautiful artistic renderings of homes on the computer, applying a wide range of artistic effects that are difficult to accomplish by hand.

However, a different type of software package is required by businesses which utilize a custom process to deliver their primary products or services to customers. This process is often unique to the business and may even be classified as proprietary in order to protect the investment made to create it. A process typically consists of a series of many interrelated tasks, and thus is much bigger and more complex than any single task. Off-the-shelf software is too generic and task-oriented to support this situation. A custom, dedicated software package designed specifically for the business process must be used instead. The Visionair Builder imaging system is a good example of a process-oriented tool that is often referred to as mission critical software.

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What kind of software does the business need?

The Visionair Builder business requires a tool that first and foremost makes it feasible from a business standpoint. Each step of the business model must be automated so that visualizations are done efficiently and cost effectively. Otherwise, the service won't be affordable from a buyer's standpoint or profitable for the business. The tool must support an interactive decision making process in a manner that entices customers to utilize the service. Typical customer requests need to be handled effectively as well. These human elements are every bit as important as any technical feature.

Workflow, including the ability to delegate parts of the process to partners and employees, is another important consideration. Technical complexity must be minimized so that the service can be delivered by business people who focus on their customer's needs. Operation of the computer itself should be as transparent as possible. Support is needed for business functions such as marketing and promotion. A mechanism is required to implement new capabilities specified by a business owner that benefits their business as well as the other owners. Continuous development is critical for staying at the forefront of the business.

Thus, the interactive visualization offered by the Visionair Builder business focuses on the human and business elements, in contrast to technically oriented design or illustration services. As a result, the business needs identified above extend beyond technical visualization tasks. The only practical way to meet the overall business requirements is to utilize tools that are customized specifically for the business. The use of specialized mission critical software is the norm for any business that relies on a well-defined and repeatable business process.

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What makes the Visionair Builder software unique?

The Visionair Builder imaging system is custom designed to automate an entire business solution for providing visualization services. This solution is based on a proprietary business model that was developed by IdeaVision to help people make decisions through visualization. Like any mission critical software, the tool's sole purpose is to enhance each step of a one-of-a-kind business process that is the backbone of the business. In short, it makes the service feasible from a business standpoint. The imaging system is used exclusively by the business owners and is not offered for sale separately in any form as a retail software product.

A business automation system such as the Visionair Builder sharply contrasts with off-the-shelf software that is sold in stores or online. Off-the-shelf software provides tools to perform certain visualization tasks, versus supporting an end-to-end business process.  Functionality of off-the-shelf tools is generic because the software is sold on a high volume basis for general use. Thus, the tool design can't focus on the critical needs of any specific user. In addition, task-oriented software doesn't provide support for business level requirements discussed previously such as workflow, process affordability, customer interaction and profitability. These business needs are a necessity for operating a successful visualization service. 

Key differences between the custom tools used in the business and standard (i.e. off-the-shelf) home design packages are highlighted in more detail below:   

  • The imaging system automates all aspects of a specific business process; Standard packages perform a selective set of visualization tasks without regard to any overriding business process.
  • The imaging system is designed for business people; Standard packages are designed for either technical users (at the professional level) or inexperienced home users (at the consumer level).
  • The imaging system is tuned to meet the exact needs of the business. For example, the imaging code is optimized to work at the inherently low resolution of a computer's video output because display quality is critical for our visualizations; These types of optimizations don't make sense for standard applications.
  • The imaging system is built upon a defined workflow for completing projects in order to maximize efficiency and profitability; Workflow isn't a consideration for task-oriented software.
  • The imaging system uses code that is written 100% from scratch to support the exact business requirements; Standard applications use purchased imaging code from software tool kits whenever possible. Tool kits are written by programmers for general use across multiple applications, and thus are not optimized for any specific application.
  • The imaging system code is fully analyzed using convolution, spatial frequency and other mathematical techniques to optimize the many types of geometric transformations that are required; Mathematical analysis is done infrequently, if at all, in standard applications due to the cost, expertise and time required.
  • The imaging system provides 3-D realism without the need to create time-consuming and expensive 3-D models first; The 3-D modeling capability in many of the standard applications is necessary for creating certain types of designs and illustrations, but it isn't a good approach for an interactive decision making concept.
  • The imaging system is built upon a business model that emphasizes affordability of the visualization process; Process affordability is rarely a consideration for standard applications because they're not designed to support a specific process.
  • The imaging system supports customer participation in the actual visualization; Standard applications are used "off-line" without customer involvement.
  • The imaging system is designed to be interactive and friendly in order to keep attention focused on customers; Standard applications tend to be driven more by technical, detail oriented user inputs that require full attention on operating the computer itself.
  • The imaging system handles a wide range of projects using the same imaging process; Standard application normally focus on a certain type of project.
  • The imaging system incorporates "marketing" functions such as custom imaging demos for use at trade shows and other types of customer presentations; Marketing and other business functions are not a consideration in a standard application.
  • Guidance on using the imaging system in a business environment is routinely provided to its users; Business guidance is not available with a standard application.
  • The imaging system facilitates training of new employees that don't have special computer skills; Standard applications at the professional level are normally intended for users with specialized design or graphics backgrounds (i.e. an expensive employee!).

It should be emphasized that many off-the-shelf products are useful, well-designed tools for their intended purpose. The products provide good solutions for drafting, engineering design, architectural illustration and many other important tasks. However, they simply aren't designed for a custom application such as the Visionair Builder business.

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Is the imaging system similar to software I use…

…or perhaps came across elsewhere such as on the Internet? Many people ask this question in one form or another, probably with the intent of looking at some type of feature by feature comparison. However, a feature comparison in this case is meaningless because the imaging system and off-the-shelf software packages are designed for entirely different purposes. The software that you're inquiring about may be an excellent tool for its intended application. However, it's not designed for the Visionair Builder business model, nor is it likely that any business process is part of the product design. A discussion with the product manufacturer is one way to quickly clarify this point. The previous question "What Makes the Visionair Builder Software Unique?" describes the differences between the imaging system and off-the-shelf products in detail.

Note that feature comparisons between software packages that have the same purpose aren't always valid either. Have you ever wondered how inexpensive software often touts the same features as professional packages that cost several times more? The reality is that a basic feature is easy and cheap to implement. In fact, a basic feature may take just a few hours to add using generic code that is copied without change from standard software tool kits. In contrast, a comprehensive version of the same feature in an advanced package may take significantly greater programming effort and skill, resulting in weeks or months of work. In the case of a custom application, features often are based on a whole different set of requirements than those used in an off-the-shelf package. Unfortunately, software reviews and advertisements tend to be feature oriented (and thus misleading) because the inner workings of software aren't visible to the user.

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What about inexpensive software at computer stores?

The inexpensive home design software is intended for people who don't have a background in either graphics or imaging and want to do basic visualization for their personal use only. In order to keep the price low, shortcuts are taken to provide a basic set of features and a minimal implementation of these features. The end result is a crude visualization that may suffice for some do-it-yourself projects, but is definitely inappropriate for a professional service. As you can imagine, it would be very embarrassing to have customers discover that you use this type of tool in your business.

The software is often heavily promoted in order to achieve the high volume sales that are required to make it profitable. However, the most common practice for purchasers of the software is to run it once or twice, then never again. The basic problem is that effective imaging requires more than just software. Specialized knowledge and skills are also needed, which most people don't have and can't reasonably attain on their own. In contrast, the Visionair Builder business owners complete extensive training and work hard at developing their skills using professional tools. Lack of experience combined with low-end software simply doesn't work.

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Don't architects and builders have similar software?

Architects and other building designers produce design and fabrication (non-visual) drawings that are used to construct a building. A visual rendering is sometimes included, but the rendering is typically an artistic piece used for marketing purposes. Standard off-the-shelf software tools are used effectively to accomplish all of the necessary design tasks.

The Visionair Builder service, on the other hand, picks up where the design leaves off to provide an interactive decision making tool that helps homeowners choose colors, materials, landscape plants and other options. This type of visualization is outside the scope of normal architectural services as it is another comprehensive service in itself. As mentioned frequently throughout this paper, the tools required to support interactive decision making are also sharply different than those used by building designers to perform the technical design tasks. Thus, the service is normally contracted out to a company that has the resources and knowledge to provide the capability on a professional, dedicated basis. Cooperative arrangements are common between the Visionair Builder businesses and building designers because they result in a win-win situation for everyone involved.

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How does the imaging process work?

A visualization begins using output from the completed design process. An elevation drawing is used for new construction, which is part of the standard set of plans for any building. A reduced copy is normally provided to you, but drawing reproduction services are available to reduce the full-sized blueprint if necessary. For remodeling projects, a photograph of the existing building is typically used instead. Digital cameras come in handy for taking the picture when your customer does not provide it to you directly. The drawing or photo is then scanned (or downloaded from the digital camera) into the imaging system. Note that existing design drawings or a photo are used. This approach allows us to bypass the tedious design phase, making the process quick and affordable.

Next, a model of the building is created using the scanned (or downloaded) image as a guide. Major features such as walls, roofs, windows and doors are defined during the modeling phase. The modeling process is greatly simplified by selecting the primary view of interest (often the front view) as the focus of the visualization. The resulting visualization provides beautiful 3-D realism by incorporating perspective, scaling, lighting and other effects into the model itself. This approach eliminates the need to build a complicated three-dimensional model of the entire building from floor plans and technical design information. A 3-D model is an expensive and time consuming task that adds little benefit for the type of decision making most people are interested in.

Once the model is completed, materials and colors for each of the major features in the model are applied. Landscaping plants, decorations and other items that aren't required in the model are also added. The material and color options are stored in a comprehensive image library, which allows you to add your own custom items from photos, CD's, magazines, books, the Internet and other sources. Attributes such as scale, color, perspective and alignment are handled automatically by the imaging system so that you can focus on evaluating the visual result with your customer. Features are easily changed at any time (different materials, colors, etc.) to provide customers with interactive scenarios for aiding their decision process.

The resulting visualization has photographic realism, as if you were looking at the building with your own eyes. Direct participation and viewing by customers is one of the best approaches due to the interactive nature of the process. However, "snapshots" of the visualization are easily created for printed output and storage on various media. Thus, customers are able to view the results in their own home or office as well. The Internet is also an excellent tool for providing visualization results to customers.

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What skills are needed to operate the imaging system?

The imaging system is designed for business people. Reasonable familiarity with operating a personal computer is necessary, but computer aided drafting, design and other specialized computer skills aren't required. Technical building design knowledge isn't necessary either. Imaging deals with the visual aspects only, not the technical details. Any technical information needed to enhance the visualization is provided to you. Some computer graphics knowledge is helpful, although the necessary information can be learned through the formal training and support programs provided by IdeaVision.

The imaging system is not difficult to operate. However, it should be stressed that imaging is a skill. Knowledge and practice are required to become proficient at imaging, just like with any other skill. The business owners learn many computer graphics techniques that a typical computer user will never be exposed to. All new owners participate in a two-day training session with IdeaVision to begin the process of learning about imaging and using the imaging system. Imaging knowledge at the professional level is not something that you simply pick up on your own. The skill is mastered over time with practice and experience, but there is always something new to learn and a new challenge to take on.

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What software do you compete with?

The answer is none. IdeaVision is a business developer, not a software vendor. We developed the Visionair Builder imaging system, along with other tools, solely for use by our business owners. IdeaVision doesn't sell any products on a retail basis and thus doesn't compete against any software vendor.

This question is sometimes asked to determine if certain software packages pose a competitive challenge for the business. However, this paper has highlighted why standard software tools don't provide a practical solution for the business. The do-it-yourself approach is limited not only by the crude output of consumer software, but also by the user's lack of knowledge and skill to do imaging in the first place. Professional packages are geared towards common technical tasks such as drafting, design and illustration.  These tasks are done in a traditional service, not the interactive decision making service which we offer.

IdeaVision does continually evaluate products in the marketplace to determine if they provide new capabilities that can be added to our core imaging process. Software vendors are always invited to submit their products for evaluation if they address the visualization goals of the business. IdeaVision seeks to leverage off the latest technologies and products to provide a capability for our business owners that is always state-of-the-art.

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Final Comments

The Visionair Builder imaging system is just one aspect of the overall business. In fact, the role of software tools in the business is downplayed relative to business fundamentals such as the business model and marketing strategy. However, it is crucial that software and other tools are designed to provide a solution that meets the exact needs of the business. Adjusting the business model to fit a tool doesn't make sense because customers are attracted to the service and its benefits, not to the tools that are used. The Visionair Builder imaging system is simply the right tool for a unique visualization service that improves the quality of decision making on a wide variety of construction projects.

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Last update: 4/2/14