The adoption and use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility that creates a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility to form a reliable basis for decisions from conception to the end of its lifecycle, has skyrocketed over the past few years. Some of the benefits of BIM include faster delivery time, improved collaboration among stakeholders, reduced costs for construction and facility operations and a reduction in change orders.
While BIM use has seen impressive growth recently, the construction industry is still a long way from having 100% implementation on all projects and 100% participation from the AEC community. Two items that will be vital to universal BIM use is the adoption of a set of national standards and interoperability among all software applications.
BIM is a process and processes need standards and guidelines in order to be properly implemented. In the UK, national BIM standards have been developed due in large part to a government mandate for BIM adoption on their projects by 2016. Other countries like Finland, Norway and Singapore also have national BIM standards with more countries making plans to follow suit.
The problem we currently face is that various government agencies, as well as public and private entities, like the New York City Department of Design and Construction and Pennsylvania State University have developed their own sets of standards for BIM use. This makes adoption difficult for architects and contractors because they are forced to learn and adhere to dozens of unique standards for all of their clients. This would be akin to individual computer manufacturers developing unique keyboard configurations as part of their hardware. Could you imagine having to learn how to type on a dozen different keyboard layouts as opposed to the standard QWERTY layout?
The closest thing we have to a universal BIM standards is the National BIM Standard-United States (NBIMS-US) developed by the National Institute of Building Sciences buildingSMART alliance. These are consensus-based standards developed through “referencing existing standards, documenting information exchanges and delivering best business practices for the entire built environment.” The NBIMS-US boasts a small but impressive list of adopters representing some major players in the AEC community.
The other major issue that will help facilitate universal adoption of BIM is non-proprietary interoperability of the various software applications available. Stakeholders using BIM are going to need to be able to easily transfer and share the data created in order to effectively communicate and collaborate on projects. Users need to be able to export models from one software application to another regardless of developer.
This isn’t currently the case. In fact, some applications aren’t even compatible with earlier versions of the same software. This means that if an architect firm is using a current version of software and their MEP engineer is using a version that is two years old, they might not even be able to share and collaborate on the model.
Software developers need to commit to developing open source data exchange methodologies and adopting standards for object naming, data fields and assemblies. This will facilitate better data exchange through the lifecycle of a project and allow project team members to use the software tools and applications that best suit their company’s needs.
BIM is the future of the construction industry and the sooner the AEC industry as a whole adopts its use the better. Creating and adopting open and vendor-neutral BIM standards and protocols will lead to a consistent and effective method of data sharing and improve collaboration.