Bright future or dark clouds ahead?

For the market to embrace BIM there needs to be standards. Either open standards that the community embraces or de-facto standards that the market accepts. In this article we will cover the term openBIM and see how it is used in an AEC interoperability context.

What is openBIM

To explain what openBIM is, lets break it up into its two parts - open and BIM. Let us do BIM first.

A Building Information Model is a digital representation of a building that combines geometric data with structured data about the building components and their relationship. Building Information Modelling is the combined process of both designing this virtual model together and utilising the model for decision making along the life-cycle of the building. Your actual definition may vary, but BIM usually gets down to the two parts - you model together and you share a model (or relevant pieces of it).
As we saw in the BIM levels article you can use modeling tools to generate your deliverables “in isolation” but you really are not doing proper BIM unless you share the intelligence of your model with other disciplines and later phases can reuse your work at least as federated models

Then let's move on to open and talk about open formats - to be able to share, federate and reuse information software applications need to exchange data. Sample use cases for this are clash detection (sharing data between disciplines) and construction handover (sharing data across phases). To be able to communicate or export/import there will either be a proprietary solution (file format or integration interface) or there will be a solution where you agree on an open format. See our article on interoperability.
Open BIM is an example of open format collaboration as opposed to standardizing on tools from big vendors for closed BIM. As we will see openBIM is also a suite of specifications, a set of standards, a marketing term and a “philosophy”.

What openBIM means in practice today

As both processes, tools and skills evolve openBIM could be the key enabler for true interoperability in the AEC and FM industries. We are already seeing this happen as the projects and countries are climbing up the BIM levels

So today openBIM are being used for design coordination and clash detection using federated models during design. The same models are being used for production planning, quantity takeoffs, procurement and issue management during construction. Models and data are then handed over using openBIM formats to owners to support asset management, space management, maintenance management etc.

Who are using the Term “openBIM” and how does it relate to them

Lets have a look at who are using the openBIM term and how it relates to them

buildingSMART - “international home of openBIM”

buildingSMART is an organisation founded by and for the industry with the primary goal to provide the industry with an openBIM solution and promote its use (Or rather an interoperability solution as is was called back then - the organization was in fact founded before the BIM term was being used but that is another story). BuildingSMART publishes three specifications that together forms their vision for openBIM

  • Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) - the data model that is standardized as ISO 16739 (Or the buildingSMART data model as it is also called).
  • Information Delivery Manual (IDM) - The process definition standard that is standardized as ISO 29481.
  • buidingSMART Data Dictionary (bsDD) - the ontology framework that is standardized as ISO 120006-3 (bsDD used to be named “International Framework for Dictionaries” - IFD).

Of these three the IFC data exchange format is by far the most common and for now what most people in the industry mean when they talk about openBIM. They say that they want the project to coordinate using IFC format and they want an IFC model at completion. We have already covered the details of IFC in a previous article. In later articles we will cover the two other standards and see how they relate.

openBIM unlock your data

openBIM marketing alliance

A software consortium are using the openBIM term and logo to promote their interoperability philosophy as an alternative to “being locked down by proprietary tools and formats”. After some rounds of acquisitions most of the members of this alliance are portfolio companies of “BIM conglomerates” Nemetschek and Trimble. As both are challengers to the Autodesk Revit+Autocad and Bentley Microstation market leaders it makes sense for them to promote a “best of breed” solution and try to one-up their support of open standards. In the past they have been mostly right in these claims. We will explore in later articles the current state of openBIM support in the market and what movements we see.

buildingSMART members and supporters

By supporting the IFC format (and the other parts on the openBIM vision) smaller vendors can also join the party. By either reading or writing IFC (or both) they are able to share information up- or downstream or even participate in more integrated BIM workflows. It is also a signal to the client that migrations and data-capture will be “free” - at least in theory. We will get back later to how suitable the openBIM standards are as integration interfaces for different scenarios. Also when a vendor support IFC export you know you can get most of your data out somehow.
As an open free standard there are no requirements to be member of buildSMART to use the standards but most serious players are members to network, learn and be able to influence future directions and drive adoption in the community.

Proprietary vendors

When someone is advocating openBIM one key theme is always “save us from proprietary lock in from big vendors taking advantage of their market dominance”. So how are these vendors approaching openBIM?
Given a chance the big vendors would probably be happy to lock in and control the market. Who would not like to be the de-facto standard in a multi billion dollar global industry? However, the pressure is so big in the industry, at least in Europe and parts of Asia, that the big vendors need proper openBIM support to be able to play, at least for the big government projects. Therefore you will see statements from both Autodesk and Bentley describing how well they support IFC import/export. At the same time they also will tell you (correctly) that by exporting to this “common denominator” format you will loose some data and some intelligence (parametric geometry is the one most often mentioned).

Autodesk in this case is a very interesting case study. They were in fact the prime mover when the alliance and IFC was formed. At the same time they are the number one player people think about when they talk about lock in. Last week (april 6th 2016) the circle came full with the press release where Autodesk again is the one talking about preventing lock in.

Asset owners

Big professional building owners have been the most active in pushing openBIM forward. Especially in the government sector. They have many reason to do so. They see the cost and the value of the project both as CAPEX (initial investment) and OPEX (operating cost) and as lifetime value.
In the design/ build phase they want professionals to be effective and they want competition (as many as possible as potential suppliers).
In the operate/ use phase they want a model with data that can be used for Facility Management and as an accessible as built model for when the asset needs modification and renovation. They see openBIM as the solution for all this.

So who wins

Almost everyone can be winners if the standard continues to evolve to fit the needs of the industry and the market. With some help from the community the buildingSMART version of openBIM can be the basis of interoperability today and in the future

The future of openBIM

We believe we will see the processes described in the beginning of the article evolve to utilize more data and more intelligence from the models. We also believe there will be an explosion of future tools that are able to get value from open building data and provide value back to open building repositories. New disciplines and specialists will be involved during the lifecycle of the asset. But not just the specialists. Also the generalist systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Resource (HR) and knowledge management (KM) will want to integrate data flows with this intelligent repository. openBIM formats and interfaces need to evolve with the market to still be relevant in this future.

Key ways openBIM need to evolve

  • Improvement in geometric capabilities - parametric intelligence :
    Designers can federate models and see clashes and mix for visualisation processes. But they cannot really integrate parametric design processes across different designers using openBIM today. Currently the “design technologists” of the modern architecture industry have progressed ahead of what openBIM can currently offer.

  • Improvement in data capabilities - property and relationship intelligence :
    BIM for FM tools like Areo can take openBIM models (IFC) and O&M data (COBie or similar) and automatically generate registers of components and spaces that is logically structured in systems and located in 3d models and on 2d floorplans. We can also harvest the vast amount of data that is stored in the models and referenced to it. However models and standards are lacking in “intelligence”. There are still some manual work or custom data transformation needed to automatically generate maintenance plans, inspection checklists, cleaning plans, emergency plans etc etc. Getting data out of pdfs and into properties have little value if the structure of the data cannot be understood by the systems. Then you may as well full-text index the pdfs.

  • Improvement in integration capabilities - network intelligence :
    The way the industry is sending large models to each other for local federation is a bit outdated when compared to interoperability best practices in other industries. Especially when taking the models into the operations phase the federation approach will not work. You need to query the model, modify granular attributes, add, remove or move bim objects etc etc. To do this there need to be improvements in the technological foundations of openBIM.

The good news is there are progress on all these areas. The question is not if it is happening but if it is happening quickly enough in a correct enough way.

Our advice to building owners today

Currently we advise our clients to let the designers use whatever tools they like (as long as they support proper IFC export). Then decide what formats make sense for each information exchange requirements. Then make sure the individual designers and the team understand exchange requirements and how to add data to the model and how to set up the exporters to get the desired results.
IFC should be the norm and baseline but for some exchanges native files still make sense after the project members have been chosen. Then at handover keep both native and openBIM formats (remember to ask for them in the contract up front).

If you have a different view than us or want to ask us questions, please join the discussion below!