25 July 2016

What makes a good Office BIM Manager?

Many professional design firms and construction sub-contractors are being forced to become BIM authors, with the expectation they can manage and provide BIM deliverables.
They have to use BIM software, which is only efficient if it is genuinely managed. If used properly many things can be done quicker and with less error, but if not project teams can find themselves trapped in a nightmare of tedious tasks, repeating work and redundant effort. Leading to missed deadlines, error filled documentation and very unhappy clients.

There is gradual appreciation of the need for the skills of an Office BIM Manager, but not much understanding of what the role entails.

The role of Office BIM Manager is different from an FM or construction BIM Manager, who manage BIM coordination rather than BIM creation. Of course they are vital for BIM success, but their role, tasks and responsibilities are different.

Unfortunately not all AEC firms appreciate the need for an Office BIM manager, nor understand the benefits a good Office BIM manager can bring.

Often a recent graduate who is "good with computers" is given the role, or a young drafter who has recently used BIM software in their course. These people may become good BIM managers, eventually, with experience. But for now they have no understanding of the profession they work within; what core services the office provides (unless it is a drafting company drawings are not a core service), what the purpose of deliverables are (what is being communicated), and that the number of people and the time a task takes is important (to profitability and therefore their firm's future).

As with any role there are those who are better at it than others. But what I see at the moment is a lack of understanding about what an Office BIM manager should be, and could be, doing.

BIM is not CAD

It has been common practice to simply change the title of CAD Manager to BIM Manager, without changing the role or responsibilities.
But CAD has only ever been about drawing production. CAD can make drawing production more efficient but can do little to improve accuracy or consistency of information. Whether a drawing is hand drafted or computer generated, it is still a drawing.

Drawing and CAD - same information, just neater

But you can't issue a hand drawn BIM model (or a CAD file as a BIM model for that matter).

BIM contains more information than drawings
Nor is there enough data in CAD for automated QA processes. CAD doesn't manage cross referencing or revisioning. You can't query a CAD file to check if any doors are lower than the minimum allowed under regulations; nor colour code fire rated and acoustic walls, as well as the doors in those walls. And CAD does little for the efficiency and accuracy of schedules, including ensuring consistency between drawings and schedules.

BIM introduces new processes that CAD never had to deal with, and the traditional CAD manager was not involved in. For example QA. You can't give a BIM model directly to a senior designer for them to mark up with a red pen. QA has to be part of the BIM process itself.

CAD Managers have been around for 30 or so years now, so there is a lot of experience. But not all make the transition to BIM. They can in fact be an impediment to BIM as they bastardise BIM software to implement CAD workflows and practices. Introducing complicated workarounds that achieve pointless results, sometimes making BIM processes impossible to implement.

Initially this is seen as a positive. The office, particularly project leaders, designers (including engineers) and directors can all continue working as they have always done. They can can ignore BIM.
But soon it becomes apparent the expense BIM software and powerful new computers the office paid for are not producing the efficiencies they were promised by the BIM evangelists. It seems to take more time to do things, not less. And the documents produced are no more accurate than they were when CAD software was used.

Then the office gets hit with a BIM deliverable. The client wants Navisworks or IFC deliverables. They expect coordination to use clash detection. They expect the to be able to use the model for costing. The client has been told all this is possible if BIM is used.

The office is using BIM software so made claims in their (successful) submission that they use BIM. But the BIM (CAD) Manager is now telling them it will require additional resources to deliver BIM requirements.

Accusations starting flying. The client is unreasonable, the BIM software is useless, BIM is an unnecessary impediment forced onto the industry by inexperienced academics...

But just maybe, maybe, BIM is not being managed properly.


BIM software was never intended to merely produce drawings or 3D models. It was intended to provide a single resource for documenting - explaining and communicating - a designed solution.
If you are only using it to produce drawings you are using a fraction of its capabilities.

Much is made of external BIM requirements; owners using BIM for facilities management, contractors using it for clash avoidance, estimators using it for costing. But there are a lot of BIM capabilities that can be utilised internally, within the office that authors it.

And here is the secret to BIM - if you use BIM yourself, for your own purposes, it will also satisfy external BIM requirements.

If your schedules come from the BIM model then there is sufficient information for owner's FM, if you model in 3D it is suitable for clash detection,  if you include materials for tagging and scheduling it is suitable for costing.

That is not to say owners and contractors won't still make unreasonable demands.

Although the data for a COBie deliverable for FM may be within your model, creating the COBie output is not part of designer's core work so is extra. Modelling every bolt and nut, every penetration smaller than 25mm, or concrete construction pours is unreasonable. Including the Quantity Surveyor's cost codes in your model is you doing their work for them.

But if all your core deliverables are being produced using BIM processes these extras are easy to identify, and to justify as extra.


Another thing about BIM software is that is was not designed to produce BIM outputs for others. They were designed to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the user.
BIM wasn't on anyone's radar when ArchiCAD was developed in the 1980's, even when Revit was developed in the late 1990's BIM wasn't talked about (Revit is an amalgam of "Revise it" - software to make revising a design easy). BIM became the rigeur de jour only after a critical mass of users existed and the collaborative possibilities began to be explored (and AutoDesk, then buildingSMART, started using it as a marketing tool).

So at its core the BIM software you have is designed to make your work more efficient and with less error (unlike BIM standards - but that's another story).

But software is just a tool (or in the case of BIM software a suite of tools). Tools used incorrectly or inappropriately will not perform as promised on the box, and can be downright dangerous.
And it is not just the tool that needs to be used properly, the environment it is used in must be appropriate. Using a chainsaw while on the top rung of a ladder sitting in a muddy puddle on the side of a hill can be catastrophically inefficient. Like using the wrong tool for the circumstances:

handing a man hanging from a branch a saw.

Just as it is for BIM software used within an environment designed for CAD.

An opportunity often overlooked is to take advantage of what BIM software can do. How the power of BIM software can be leveraged to make your office more efficient. To do more with less, to offer more services, to produce a better product.

A good Office BIM Manager doesn't just have technical knowledge of how the software works, they organise its use to improve office work practices and work flows. They mould the environment the software operates within.

This means a good Office BIM manager must be involved in more than just technical support. They must also be involved in advising management. And not just in things like the office "CAD Manual", training, hardware and software selection. They need to be included in resource allocation, task allocation, deliverables scope, deliverables timetable, consultant appointment, consultant coordination, and most importantly QA (Quality Assurance).

In short an Office BIM manager should be viewed as a CIO or CTO, not head of software support.
And an Office BIM manager's KPI should include measurable efficiency and quality gains within the office.


An Office BIM manager does the usual things, for example;
  • Supervise technical teams and provide project support as necessary.
  • Assist Project Directors on technical delivery.
  • Development/Management of the BIM standards, protocols and templates.
  • Liaison and consulting across IT teams, systems administrators, clients and contractors. 
  • BIM training and compliance for junior members of the team.

but what a does a "good" Office BIM manager do?

A good BIM manager understands BIM.
  • Treats the model as a real world representation rather than a 2D representation.
  • Leverages BIM models as a communication tool both between those working in a model, and the recipients of the output of that model.
  • Recognises BIM models are created by a team of people working together, not individuals performing tasks.

A good BIM manager structures a team to leverage BIM.
  • Ensures no-one works in a silo.
  • Sets team roles based on responsibility, not tasks.
  • Forces people to take ownership; make them responsible for complete, not partial, work.
    (e.g. the person responsible for modelling walls is also responsible for wall tagging, wall details and wall schedules).

A good BIM manager is realistic about the capabilities of their workforce.
  • Doesn't expect people employed for their expertise and skill in building to also be experts at using particular software.
    (The reality is architects, engineers and construction professionals will never be fully proficient at the software they use).
  • Tailors work practices to the abilities of those who do the actual work.
    (Don't put someone in charge of facades if they struggle with simple tasks like wall creation).
  • Doesn't try and get designers to use particular software if it makes their primary task - designing, less efficient.
    (Getting designers to provide hand drawn sketches to those modelling is usually more efficient than getting designers to model properly).
  • Doesn't think "more training" is the only solution.

A good BIM manager recognises one size doesn't fit all.
  • Retains flexible workflows so unusual situations can be accommodated and innovative work practices are not stifled.
  • Doesn't enforce "universal standards".
    (an approach that is fundamentally flawed; it is not possible to predict every possible permutation of what needs to be done on every project).
  • Supports different work practices for individual projects based on complexity of the project and ability of staff working on it.

A good BIM manager involves themselves in real projects.
  • Maintains skills and intimate knowledge of how the office operates by actively engaging in projects. 
  • Is involved in setting up every project in the office.
  • Periodically audits all projects.
  • Steps in when required to assist, and uses it as an opportunity for training others.
  • But NEVER works full time on a single project.

A good BIM manager doesn't merely react to specific requests, they question those requests.
  • Assesses a request against the real world outcome it is trying to achieve.
  • Offers solutions that are workflow and work method based, not just technical solutions.
  • Gauges how long a request takes against the value of the result.
  • If appropriate suggests alternatives that achieve the same outcome.
  • Averts tasks that are done for no reason other than "that's the way it is always done".

A good BIM manager is proactive.
  • Uses the opportunity of introducing new software functionality to improve approaches to problem solving and service delivery.
  • Provides fearless advice, but accepts their view may not always be adopted.
  • Listens to others. (as they might just have better ideas).
  • Involves themselves in industry wide BIM issues.


The position of Office BIM manager is a relatively recent phenomena.  Despite what I said above the position does have similarities to the CAD manager role (and many CAD managers do move in to the role easily). Only now, with BIM, computer technology has much greater importance.

I.T. has become critical to the operation of AEC firms. Just as has happened with many other industries (a bank CEO famously once said he didn't run a bank, he ran an I.T. company).
As there is not a tradition of having a CIO or CTO equivalent in AEC firms (except for the very large) the role of Office BIM manager is well suited to filling this gap.

The Office BIM manager must be a part of all decision making processes. That is not to say they should be THE decision maker, just that their advice be sought and considered for all processes within the office, not just for the creating of drawings. They should be involved in practice management, project teams and job submissions. And be given responsibilities beyond just I.T., things like office QA.

However selecting the right person for the job is not enough.

Directors, designers and project leaders have to stop pretending they don't need to change the way they work, that it is only their underlings that need to learn new ways.
Those responsible for managing how the office, projects and output are done must also change the way they work for their office to benefit from BIM processes. Just checking drawings is no longer a viable QA approach.

After all even the most experienced and proficient Office BIM manager can only do so much if they have no influence over what half the office does.

BIM, and the benefits BIM can bring, don't happen by themselves. Like any process, if not properly managed it can be an impediment rather than an advantage. And a good Office BIM Manager is a vital part of getting BIM to work.

26 May 2016

How Usable are BIM Standards?

This month the UK Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) published an article in their BIM+ blog.
it is a series of interviews with people involved in having to use BIM.

It is a timely and interesting article, and as regular readers of my blog will appreciate, close to my heart. A sample:
“People like me are invited on seminars and conferences and sent papers on BIM, but the information isn't easy to navigate,” he says. “It is made to sound more complicated than it really is and I'm having difficulty understanding what it is I have to do that I am not already doing."
Equally interesting are the comments on a LinkedIn group discussion about the article. Many thought those complaining about BIM standards simply didn't get BIM, and furthermore don't want to. Discussion on whether the contents of current BIM standards are good or bad seems to be not only avoided, but shut down.

Do I think BIM standards are unnecessarily complex? You bet. I also believe they are inadequate.

What makes a good Standard?

It is not enough to just have a standard, to provide something for managers to tick off, they must also serve a purpose for those that use them.

At a basic level standards should:
  • create consistency.
  • reduce industry effort.
But these aims won't be met if no-one, or insufficient people, follow the standards. For standards to work they must:
  • be useful for the creators of information.
  • be useful for the users of information.
To work in the real world standards must be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Each consumer of a standard must find it useful to them. Just as each evolutionary change has to be useful for it to survive in a population and so be passed on.

At the moment in BIM standards only "create consistency" is being considered. A tick box for project initiators and managers. When it comes to individual standards there is little consideration of reducing effort, or assessing cost benefit. When the additional effort required to comply with a standard is questioned it is dismissed as immaterial when considered against the overall savings of using BIM.

The bottom line is that although you can try and force people to adopted standards, they will only actually be used if they are useful to those who have to follow them.

BIM Standard Inadequacies

Talk about BIM standards always revolves around the need to have them. Of course we need them. It is not worth discussing the point. What is more relevant is how adequate are they? Are up to doing what is expected of them?

I'm not an expert on standards, nor do I claim to have an intimate knowledge of all BIM standards. But when I do investigate particular BIM standards I always find inadequacies. I don't do enough of an in-depth investigation to find all deficiencies, but when you find one you start to wonder if there are more. Here are some examples.

PAS 1192-2

The underling principles of PAS1192-2 are probably OK, but it is hard to tell. It is so overly prescriptive with poor explanation of objectives.
The section at the beginning titled "Fundamental Principles" is completely opaque to anyone without pre-knowledge of BIM. The problem is it explains principles in terms of BIM processes, rather than construction and operation processes.
Although the section titled "Scope" is easier to follow, PAS1192-2 gives the impression it is about a totally new discipline rather than a more efficient way of doing things that are already being done.

I have other criticisms, see them in my post Procuring BIM - PAS 1192-2 and acif PTI


I have to say I don't understand COBie.
Why require an email address for a product rather than a URL?
Why insist "N/A" be against all fields where there is no data without distinguishing whether the data is not applicable, not available, or not known yet?
I could go on. Read more in my post to COBie or not to COBie

But I've kind of given up on COBie. I'm not a facilities manager, I don't know how they work or think. If they find COBie inadequate for their purposes they should speak up.

But there is another issue with the use COBie that impacts on standard compliance and implementation.
COBie is from the US. It was developed by Bill East for the US Military. It subsequently became a US standard (NBIMS). The UK government (under advice) decided to base FM data delivery on the COBie standard. The UK developed their own COBie template files and made them publicly available.

The problem is the UK Templates don't exactly follow the US COBie standard. There are some spelling differences (critically important if computers are going to be used for processing), and examples in the template that contradict the US COBie. I've seen questions like this a few times in LinkedIn discussions:
"Would someone be able to confirm whether the COBie UK 2012 standard follows the NBIMS V3 and exclude certain Ifc types, such as Walls and Slabs? BS1192;4 (Fulfilling employers information exchange requirements using COBie) refer to FM Handover MVD and NBIMS V3 so should exclude these items, however the UK COBie example includes them, are they wrong?"
The original US COBie specifically excludes a building's fabric like walls and floors because they are not a "managed asset". The (sensible) basis of this is that is facility management don't have a remit to alter walls and floors so why include them in their data? (surface treatments to walls, which may come under their remit, are treated differently in COBie).

Now it could be a mistake. An overzealous, inexperienced minion added walls to the example template. But whenever this issue comes up it is vigorously defended on the basis that a facility manager "might" want to include walls. Under that logic COBie could include absolutely everything in the construction model. Which kind defeats the purpose of having a standard.
For more on how the UK is misunderstanding COBie see my post COBie is not what you think it is

NBS National BIM Object Standard

Where do I start. Every time I re-read this "award winning" standard I am in awe of how unhelpful it is.
I make a lot of BIM components. My last job was creating components for a pre-fabrication system. Yet there is nothing in the NBS National BIM Object Standard that I find useful, that would help me standardize the components I make.

It contains methods that can not be done in the most popular BIM software.
The standard insists it own parameter names be used, so instead of Revit's built in parameter 'Fire Rating' the name 'FireRating' must be used. The standard suggests mapping 'Fire Rating' to a new custom parameter  'FireRating' .
But you can't.
Firstly you can't create formulas for wall parameters in Revit (because they are not a loadable component), secondly it is not possible to use text parameters in formulas. Now these may be deficiencies of Revit, but the fact remains anyone using Revit can not follow the NBS standard. Why produce a standard most people can not comply with? Is it arrogance or ignorance?

The NBS don't even follow the standard when naming components in their own BIM Object Library  (see how in my post NBS BIM Object Standard - Where is the Impact Statement?).

Of course the reason they are not following their own standard's naming convention is because it hinders efficiency. But they refuse to change the standard because the naming convention comes from another standard - BS 8541:1 Clause 4.3.2.
To see how the NBS try and justify their approach have a look at this LinkedIn discussion.

Which is a fundamental problem with the current approach to standards. Rather than directly addressing the problem at hand (in this case one of naming) the "correct" approach is to always refer to another standard. It is one of the reasons standards are filled with references to other standards, making them incomprehensible to normal reading. Whilst there may be good reasons to refer to another standard rather then re-invent the wheel, it seems to be happening with no assessment of whether the referred standard is appropriate. Find a standard with a similar purpose (e.g. way of naming files) and then use it without question.


Before BIM there existed building classification systems. In the US Omniclass was created by combining a number of related classification systems (Uniform, MasterSpec etc). In the UK Uniclass was developed. These systems were mainly used by specification writers and estimators.
When BIM came along they seemed like a good way to classify objects in a BIM model. Autodesk added the ability to add classification numbers and descriptions to Revit objects. They also created data files of Omniclass values. But what they found is the existing classification system was not deep enough to be able to give every object that may be used in a Revit model a unique number. They had to add an extra 3 levels of numbers.

So what everyone in the industry assumed was a way of uniquely identifying every element in a building project actually couldn't.

This is an example of what I call the 'Delusion of Standards'. The delusion that a standard does what the authors and promoters think it can. And they maintain this delusion by not testing the standard in the real world, and shutting down any criticism. After all, it is less effort to convince people something is true than to produce evidence that it is true.

In the UK they realised the original Uniclass was inadequate for BIM use. Mainly because of the overall structure and lack of consistent structure between tables. To their credit they are revising it, creating a new Uniclass2 (now called Uniclass2015, I think, I haven't checked lately).
The emphasis is on 'revising' - it is not complete. This is another issue we in the industry have to cope with. Being told to comply with standards that are incomplete.

For more background on classification systems read my post Classification - not so Easy


IFC is at the core of BIM standards. Fundamentally it is a way of structuring digital data that describes buildings. Specifically data for computer programming. It was never intended for building professionals to use directly (if you think it is have a look at this example).

However the IFC structure (or 'schema' as it is called) can be used to structure data us mere mortals interact with. COBie is an attempt at this. The usual COBie deliverable is a spreadsheet file. The data is structured to follow the IFC schema and uses IFC names for things. It is touted as "human readable", but is only just. If directed and instructed adequately anyone can fill in the data, but it requires someone with deep knowledge of IFC to do the instructing.

So whereas IFC is fine for structuring computerized BIM processes it is not suitable for humans. Unless you are a computer programmer requests to "comply with IFC" are a nonsense. The most we can due is use software that claims to be IFC compliant.

Where most of us interact with IFC is with IFC files. That is BIM files in an IFC format (there is more than one). This is promoted as an "open format" that "any software can export and import".
Not because IFC can be exported and imported by all softwares successfully, but because that is the aim of IFC, or specifically buildingSMART, the not for profit and mostly volunteer organisation that promotes IFC.

It is a funny situation. A standard is created, and when particular softwares don't interact with that standard particularly well it is always the software's fault. On the one hand we have softwares actively being used by thousands (millions?) of people to do real world things, and on the other we have a standard artificially created to do theoretical things (there are no authoring softwares that natively use the IFC format). I don't understand why IFC is so sacrosanct.
For more on IFC refer to my post IFC, What is it good for?

But there is another issue with IFC that is not widely known. It is incomplete.

Last year I was upgrading my door library and I thought I would make them IFC friendly. That is, ensure they have enough parameters to support a compliant IFC export.
After some searching I found where buildingSMART keep their IFC specifications. First problem there are two versions, IFC 2x3 and IFC 4. The latter is the most current but not widely supported. Yet. Even though it has been out since March 2013. I decided to go with IFC 4.
I found some parameters (called "properties" in IFC) to do with doors. Mostly concerning geometry, which Revit already has native parameters for. But I couldn't find anything to do with door hardware (locks, latches, hinges etc.).

I though this can't be right. Nearly all buildings have doors, and all doors have hardware. So I asked the LinkedIn IFC group.
What surprised me was the attitude, the immediate assumption that IFC was faultless. Irrelevant other standards were suggested, and helpful suggestions that I develop my own IFC door hardware dataset. Someone offered the list of parameters NBS created for their BIM Object Library as a 'standard'.
But how can it be a standard if different groups create their "own IFC fields" as one commenter suggested?

So no, there are no IFC definitions for door hardware (or window hardware for that matter).
Which means it is not possible to use IFC to issue a standardized construction door schedule.

Do we bother with standards?

BIM standards do not make a pretty picture. Certainly not the utopia BIM Evangelists promote.

To be fair most are still being developed, and predominately by unpaid volunteers and inexperienced academics. The standards are young and untested.
The problem is they are being treated like some kind of dogma that can not be questioned. That the basis for assessment is wholly within the world of standard creation and other standards, not the real world of construction and facilities management where real things happen.

But standards are fundamentally a good idea. The computer industry heavily relies on standards, we wouldn't have all our e-devices without robust standards.

The solution is not in how we rid ourselves of these troublesome standards, but in how we make them useful.

For my two cents I see two fundamental problems.

Lack of Clear Objectives

High level standards like PAS 1192-2 seem to assume they must be as prescriptive as a standard for door hardware (for example, if such a thing existed). They don't, different processes can achieve the same results. For example you don't HAVE to use IPD contracts to get digital FM data.

High level standards should follow a similar format as the Building Code of Australia (and many other standards):
  • Objectives 
  • Criteria to meet objectives 
  • Requirements that are deemed to satisfy 
This structure means that if the objectives are demonstratively achievable any process can be used, but still provides prescriptive processes for the unimaginative.

As long as Objectives are be based on real world outcomes, not objectives wholly internal or in reference to other standards, like this from PAS1192-2 Fundamental Principles:
"application of the processes and procedures
outlined in the documents and standards indicated
in Table 1; "

Lack of basic information standardization

The second is that there is not enough work being done on low level standardization. Like IFC properties for door hardware.

Manufacturers data needs to be consistent, so different manufacturers provide the same data for the same products. It would also be helpful if construction data like door schedules were standardized across all projects.

It seems perverse that we have highly prescriptive standards on processes that manage non-standardized data. An elaborate mechanism to ensure the delivery of door data where this is no standard to say how that door data is to be structured.

Admittedly there is work being done in this area, but not nearly enough, and not fast enough. The UK government would have got more bang for their buck (pop for their pound) if they focused on funding and enforcing standardizing manufacturer data rather than untested theoretical BIM processes.

In fact it appears governments have to get involved looking at the failure of standardizing manufacturer data in the US. Bill East made this comment in a LinkedIn discussion:
"The conclusion reached during the SPie project [in the US] are that "If you build it, they will NOT come" (see movie Field of Dreams for quote). The bottom line is that the integration of product and equipment manufacturer data into the construction supply chain is a very, very hard problem. Publishing a list of product templates does not mean that anyone will actually use them. It has been tried over 4 times now in the US with national projects. Two have been attempted with the authoritative product data publisher, once by NIBS, and once by NIBS (under the SPie project). Despite significant development work and and participation by companies such as General Electric, there has been zero effective use by the supply chain."
We should, we need, to bother with standards. But we need to get them right.
In the meantime how do those of us on the ground, those having BIM standards thrust at us, deal with this unsatisfactory situation?

Don't worry about Standards

I'm not saying ignore BIM standards, just don't take them too seriously. Because BIM standards are not the most important thing you need to understand when utilizing BIM.

The most important thing you need to understand is how your BIM software works.
For designers like engineers, architects, sub-contractors your BIM authoring software, for contractors your BIM federating, estimating and scheduling softwares, for facility managers your BIM capable facility management software.

BIM may be a process but it is a process of managing software. If that software is used inefficiently or inaccurately it doesn't matter how good the management process is, the result will still be a disaster. The problem is not that people don't understand the BIM standards, it is that they don't know how to use BIM software properly.

There is no point a prospective taxi driver learning the streets of the city if they don't know how to drive a car. For managers, knowing the best places to distribute your taxi drivers around the city won't bring work in if none of them know how to drive.

Learn the Software, not the Standards

Unlike standards BIM software is made in a competitive market where the customer matters.
Unlike standards if their product is not useful they will do something about it (if only to the degree that it out-competes the competition).

Good quality BIM software (not CAD with a BIM add on) is designed to do the things you do. Unlike CAD which is for generic drawing BIM softwares are designed for specific disciplines. You will be surprised at how many of your processes are already built into the software. For example Revit has methods for doing area plans, sun studies, energy analysis, managing revisions, managing cross referencing, and many others. ArchiCAD has similar functionality.

But you have to use BIM software the way it is designed to be used. You can not simply force it to mimic the way you have always done things.
A lot of smart people have put a lot of thought into BIM software work processes, a lot of other people are using them, and those processes are likely to be BIM standards compliant.

Use the introduction of BIM software to review existing practice, develop new processes and retrain staff. When I teach Revit I do more than just show how to use the software. I introduce new ways of doing things. More efficient, more accurate ways. Like changing door parameters (to keep the door analogy going) instead of working through a door schedule spreadsheet, colour coding different door types, like fire doors; escape doors; disable access doors, so it is easy to check the right doors are in the right places.

BIM is, and should be, useful to everyone. Work out how to make BIM useful to you. How you can use your BIM software to make your processes more efficient, your output higher quality, to reduce your uncertainty and risks.

If you do that you don't need to comply with BIM standards, because you will be doing BIM.

When it comes to standards compare the work processes you have developed for your purposes against BIM standards, and see how they can be interpreted to match your needs. As I've shown above they are so full of holes it shouldn't be that hard. And even if your interpretation is not strictly legit it is unlikely there is anyone who can follow those standards well enough to realise.

So don't worry if BIM standards appear too complex, don't seem that useful. Forget about them. Concentrate on getting the most - for you, out of your BIM software. Once you do that everything else will fall in to place.

31 March 2016

COBie is not what you think it is

When BIM is talked about mention of COBie is never far away. What I don't understand is why COBie has reached such a privileged position. Sure it is (pretty much) mature, sure it has been used in the real world (although far from ubiquitous). But it is only a small part of BIM, a small part of the whole process of establishing, building and operating facilities.

Part of this seems to be coming from the UK and the furore to understand what they call "Level 2 BIM". But we see it here in Australia as well. Clients and owners who place requests for COBie deliverables that on closer inspection are not actually COBie at all.

I suppose COBie is tangible, you can download COBie spreadsheets and so tick the COBie box on your BIM checklist. But I feel COBie is a bit like Quantum Mechanics - most people have heard of it but very few actually understand it.

So it is very likely your understanding of COBie is wrong.

Not that COBie is as complicated as Quantum Mechanics. In fact COBie is probably far simpler than you think it is.

I'm no COBie expert, I'm an architect, not a facilities manager. Bill East is THE expert. He developed COBie while at the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), shepherded it in to the National Building Information Model (NBIMS-US) standard, and is still heavily involved in COBie, including the latest update.

Bill is co-manager of a COBie LinkedIn group, and is active in discussions. It is fascinating reading (for a BIM geek). Rather than provide my own commentary I've used quotes from discussions to clarify what I see as the most common misunderstandings of what COBie is (and is not).

COBie the Acronym

COBie, according to the buildingSMART alliance, is an acronym for 'Construction Operations information exchange'.

Bill East adds an important rider:
"...COBie requirements consistent with it's name the 'Construction (to) Operations Building information exchange' format."
COBie is about exchanging construction information to operations. That is, information that already exists for construction purposes is 'exchanged' for operation purposes.
"COBie is the list of scheduled assets found on drawings and in existing contractor O&M related deliverable. The sole focus of COBie is the capture of assets that need to be managed following construction." 
Therefore COBie is NOT about construction and does not include sufficient information for construction purposes.

And COBie is NOT a method to embed information required for Operations only within construction data or models.

COBie is only for Operations

The meaning of  'Operation' in the context of COBie is limited. Again from Bill East:
"COBie should include 'Managed' assets. Managed assets are those assets which;
- requires management
- requires (considerable) on-going maintenance
- has consumable parts requires regular periodic inspections"
"COBie only defines requirements for information about the spatial containment of managed assets -- these are manufactured products that have tags or serial numbers. These items appear in drawing schedules."

Yet there is a misunderstanding that COBie should contain anything that may even remotely be referenced. Bill East:
"A bit confused about the discussion of Walls since the COBie specification EXPLICTLY excludes walls, beams, columns, foundations, and all other structural members." 
"I hope that this effort will clarify the distinction between requirements for facility and asset management handover (which is COBie) and other needs such as carbon and life-cycle costing (which is not what COBie was designed to do). While other needs may be critically important, delivering them through COBie is likely not to work. Why? because COBie was not designed for that job."

Don't call it COBie

Not that Bill East is saying standards and methods to exchange information outside of COBie can not be done. Just don't call them COBie, call them something else:
"COBie is specifically for the purpose it was designed. If you are trying to make it do something else then it is no longer COBie." 
"Real Estate information is not required to solve the problem of eliminating boxes of paper in the boiler room -- i.e. "information about pump 5 in room 3." As a result, real estate information is not explicitly represented in COBie.
... if you change the purpose or content of COBie you will need to call it something other than COBie according to it's creative commons licencing terms."
And the warning is not just for those attempting to create a different COBie standard. If you use COBie on a project and add things beyond what COBie includes you also should not call it a COBie deliverable:
"If you use COBie in a way which violates the COBie specification you are no longer meeting the COBie requirement. You are doing something else that is not COBie."

COBie is not equal to IFC

There is a fair bit of confusion over the relationship between COBie and IFC. In simple terms COBie is not IFC, but follows IFC standards and protocols.

Ian Hamilton provided a good general description:
"IFC is a data format, well 2 actually: STEP (ISO 10303) and xml (ifcXML).
COBie is a list of things. It can be in a spreadsheet, in IFC or in other appropriate formats.
Bill East was more specific:
"In point of fact, COBie an IFC Model View Definition (http://docs.buildingsmartalliance.org/MVD_COBIE/)."

A Model View Definition (MVD) describes the things in a BIM model that are required for a particular purpose. In IFC those "things that are required" are labelled "information exchanges" (more on that below). From the buildingSMART website:
"An IFC View Definition, or Model View Definition, MVD, defines a subset of the IFC schema, that is needed to satisfy one or many Exchange Requirements of the AEC industry."

Stephen DeVito made it even clearer:
"COBie is a subset of IFC, an IFC Model View Definition, and comparing IFC to COBie is like comparing the whole assortment of fruit in a basket with only the apples. This is a most basic fundamental misunderstanding which occurs constantly in the industry ..."

One of the causes of confusion is that the IFC used by design and construction software is also an MVD. As Bill East explains:
"BIM authoring tools (up to this time) produce IFC files based on the Coordination Model View Definition. The purpose of that MVD is to express the geometry of all physical objects in the project for purpose of collision detection.
The MVD inside COBie has a much more modest goal, simply to deliver information about managed and maintained facility assets. As such, COBie data in any presentation format (IFC, ifcXML, SpreadsheetML, COBieLite) will be smaller than that of the Coordination View."

The idea is that the design and construction team's IFC Coordination MVD can have the COBie MVD extracted from it.
This is fine in theory, the reality is not quite so simple. Different softwares export varying qualities of IFC, and not all items included in the IFC Coordination MVD are always modelled (because they are not needed for the particular project).
So whilst in theory you should be able to extract COBie from an IFC export, currently it rarely works without a lot of unnecessary extra effort, if at all. One day this might be practical, but generally it is easier and less work to extract straight to COBie from design softwares.

Another misunderstanding is that COBie, although not currently containing a 'full' definition of IFC, will be further developed so it includes a greater range of definitions.  As Bill East says:
"COBie-UK is clearly called out as a stepping-stone to 'full' building information modeling in IFC. In my view UK should just stop calling what they are doing COBie and simply get on with requiring IFC with all disciplines, trades, geometries, entities, properties, etc..."

To sum up, COBie is NOT a general delivery method for everything in IFC.

COBie doesn't need to do everything

The 'ie' in COBie stands for 'information exchange'. From the buildingSMART alliance web site:
"The requirements [of information exchange projects] are defined in an 'Information Delivery Manual.' The IDM clearly defines the problem to be solved and makes clear who is involved, what information is needed, and when that information is needed. These requirements are translated into a 'Model View Definition' that provides the technical description of which parts of the Industry Foundation Class Model (IFC) found in ISO 16739 are needed to solve the problem."
COBie is only one of a number of information exchange projects. Other projects listed by the buildingSMART alliance to date are:
  • BIMSie - BIM Service interface exchange
  • BAMie - Building Automation Modeling information exchange
  • BPie - Building Programming information exchange
  • Sparkie - Electrical System information exchange
  • HVAC information exchange (HVACie)
  • LCie - Life Cycle information exchange: BIM for PLM
  • QTie - Quantity Takeoff information exchange
  • SPie - Specifiers' Properties information exchange
  • WALLie - Wall information exchange
  • WSie - Water System information exchange

All of these follow the same structure as COBie - they are subsets of IFC definitions, with their own MVD.

So you can see the intent is that information specific to a purpose has its own 'ie'. There is no need to expand an existing 'ie', instead a more appropriate 'ie' is used, or another project is started.

For example COBie doesn't define the format manufacturers provide their information in, SPie does that. However when manufacturer's information is required by COBie it has to follow the SPie format.

Rather than have one big standard the idea is to break it down into more specific standards that can reference each other. From Bill East:
"The sole focus of COBie is the capture of assets that need to be managed following construction. The system "ie's" include COBie for that discipline (i.e. the Components), but also include the assemblies of those components and the connections between the components. These system ie's provide the full geometry at least as far as fabrication and can be included in construction contracts as a better statement of as-builts than any attempt at having someone do a walk through of the project after the fact..."

So in the example above where Bill East is talking about Real Estate information (in response to some-one asking why that information isn't included in COBie), the way to do it is to create a Real Estate information exchange:- REALie, or if the data is actually about land titles:- TITie.
This information could be delivered in spreadsheet form, even within the same file (in its own worksheet) as a COBie deliverable, just don't call it COBie.

Anyone can start or get involved in an 'ie' project. From the buildingSMART alliance website:
"To participate in an existing project simply contact the point of contact identified on that project page." 
"If the project you need isn't in the list above, you can start your own project by joining the buildingSMART alliance."

There is more than just COBie

There has been enormous focus on COBie but it is not necessarily the only data exchange that will improve productivity.

Specifiers' Properties information exchange (SPie) is an interesting case. Basically it is meant to standardize the way products are specified, leading to standardizing how manufacturers define their products. So they all use the same names for the same things, and include the same information as each other. You would think this would be an easy task. Apparently not. Bill East admitted:
"The conclusion reached during the SPie project [in the US] are that "If you build it, they will NOT come" (see movie Field of Dreams for quote). The bottom line is that the integration of product and equipment manufacturer data into the construction supply chain is a very, very hard problem. Publishing a list of product templates does not mean that anyone will actually use them. It has been tried over 4 times now in the US with national projects. Two have been attempted with the authoritative product data publisher, once by NIBS, and once by NIBS (under the SPie project). Despite significant development work and and participation by companies such as General Electric, there has been zero effective use by the supply chain."

However the UK may have better results:

Carl Collins:
"Is the failure of SPie in the US a function of who created it? Have the suppliers themselves been an integral part of the process? I'm guessing not, as they are often unaware of SPie when I have spoken to them." 
This is the difference that the CIBSE started Product Data Templates (http://bimtalk.co.uk/bim_glossary:pdt) has; we are defining them with the Manufacturers and Suppliers and asking for sign-off from their Trade Associations, so there is buy-in from the outset.
Our starting point for each template is the SPie template, but we have found that they are not detailed enough to adequately describe the product and have too many project specific parameters that don't really belong on the Product side, but should be detailed on the Project side. This allows a Manufacturer to complete a template once for each product line and may be used for any project."

This is really critical. Producing COBie mainly involves manually transferring manufacturer data into COBie format, whether done directly into COBie spreadsheets or into a BIM model. Enormous productivity gains will happen when this data can be pulled in directly.

Rather than just mandating COBie specifications and contractor's supplier contracts should be required to demand suppliers provide standard format product data. I'm sure transferring a little money from manufacturers' marketing budgets would more than cover the cost.


The UK government has a BIM mandate. Does this mean COBie is a required deliverable for all projects?

Rob Jackson:
"COBie will be mandatory for all centrally procured UK Government projects from January 1st 2016 [now 4th April 2016]. The private sector can do what they want but even most of them will align with recognised standards."

And COBie is not necessarily a requirement if UK standards are followed. COBie is merely one method that may satisfy requirements.
Charlotte Brogan (Gray):
"COBie is one way of transferring data from a 3D environment to an facilities management software, however depending on clients in the UK will depend on how the data is handed over. This is why it is not mandatory in the UK, the standards state that a single source of asset information is to be produced and handed over to the client upon project completion. Therefore with the use of document management systems and links this can be achieved without the use of COBie. One day when clients are up to speak COBie may become more prominent in the UK AEC Industry."

Is COBie-UK different from COBie?

The fact the UK have developed their own COBie templates tends to confuse many. Some believe there is a UK COBie and a US COBie, which makes a farce of the idea of COBie as a standard.
COBie allows for regional customization so the fact COBie-UK templates exist is not evidence there are two standards. For example COBie-UK mandates UniClass for classification. But this does not necessarily mean it is non-compliant as the choice of classification system is not defined in COBie. Bill East:
"According to the standard, classification is required but arbitrary. The choice depends on regional, national, local, owner convention. Ultimately, the best choice is the one that serves the recipient of COBie data."

Although COBie-UK does have some language differences which can cause problems for computerized processes. Rob Jackson:
"The U.K. COBie-UK-2012 template have Moveable and Fixed in the standard Picklist for AssetType. The US standard as Bill points out uses Movable. This is one of the minor differences either side of the pond."
But more of concern is Bill East's view that COBie-UK is pushing COBie beyond its intended purpose.
"COBie-UK efforts have resulted in unrealistic expectation that (for example): the Coordinate sheet should be required (it is, in fact, junk and will likely be removed from the next iteration of the COBie standard); the insistence that COBie can successfully model steel structures; and the expectation that every possible permutation of room finishes -should- be included in COBie." 

This may just be due to overzealousness, or perhaps a lack of understanding the concept of MVDs and information exchanges as envisioned by buildingSMART.

But I agree with Bill East. If you don't think COBie is adequate for your purposes then use, or develop, something else. Don't mess with an existing standard. It just confuses everyone.

For example if the UK want a single deliverable for all information exchange data create a container for COBie and any other 'ie' that a client/employer/owner may want. And call it something like "UKie", or "HMGie", after all the mandate is only for government projects.

Use COBie properly

From Bill East:
"Owners need to answer three critical questions if they want COBie data they can use. Why? because COBie is only the format to deliver handover data. COBie can't possible predict the specifics of an individual Owner or project. Here are the questions: 
  1. What assets do we manage? The Owner should look at what they actually maintain over time. The default position of getting "everything" distracts the team from the Owner's real needs. 
  2. What information do we need? If Owners need the fan belt size for fans, say so in writing. Without such specifics Owners can expect to get whatever is given, and like it. 
  3. How will it be organized? Campus/Installation owners with a consistent Classification method for COBie.Space and COBie.Type will be able to mine data."

COBie is only meant to contain information called for in design and construction contracts. As Bill East says:
"This topic keeps cropping up, so I thought I would remind everyone of the following rules about COBie and product data. First, COBie product and equipment properties at design must match what appears on design schedules. Second, COBie equipment properties at construction must match what is in the existing non-COBie contract specs (typically equipment nameplate data). Because of this, there is -no- additional cost of "doing COBie" since the information being required is no different from what is currently in design and construction contracts."
Therefore if your COBie deliverable contains data that is NOT required for design or construction, it is beyond the scope of COBie. And that extra data is extra work for those creating the deliverable. Don't expect it for free.

(Although I disagree with Bill about there being no additional cost for "doing COBie". If that were the case we should be able to deliver our documents in Spanish, or Chinese, - same information, just different format.)

But my favourite comment from Bill East says it all:
"what COBie repeatedly has been about is the 'art-of-the-possible' not the 'art-of-the-aspirational'."

29 January 2016

How to define BIM Use

For those that don't know, a BIM Use is a task, outcome or deliverable that a BIM model is used for. For example when a BIM model is used for structural analysis, or to create a door schedule, or provide data for an FM system.

When talking about BIM Use we mean "Building Information Models" (actual digital models), not as in "Building Information Modelling" (BIM processes). Because of this some call it Model Use, but I shall stick to BIM Use, as there is a world beyond BIM with other types of models.

BIM Use is at the core of  BIM. The basic concept of BIM is that data created is captured in a form and format that can be directly used as a resource for other purposes. 
So doors are created in such a way that a door schedule can be produced directly from those doors. That modelled structural elements behave in a way that allows for structural analysis.

Yet there seems to be massive confusion around BIM Use. What should be simple is made incredibly complicated by BIM standards, BIM contract clauses and BIM theorists.

I've written before about BIM Use and how it is being applied to LOD, in my posts LOD, are we there yet? and What is the use of BIM Use.  But those posts don't offer a solution.

Unfortunately when confronted with something unintelligible and unworkable we tend to avoid the whole thing. But BIM Use can not be ignored. If we are going to really do BIM we have to have a workable way of managing BIM Use.

The purpose of a BIM Use

Let us start with the basics. Why have a BIM Use?

A particular BIM Use must have a useful real world outcome. It should only be listed as a BIM Use for a project if there is a specific reason to do it; a specific party who will do it; a specific party who will receive the results; a specific outcome that aids the design, building or operation of the project facility.

This sounds so obvious yet is missing from most definitions of BIM Use. Discussion always seems to be around what is possible, rather than what is required, let alone practical.

Who employs BIM Uses

BIM Use is invariable talked about as the uses of external parties. Typically uses by the BIM model author are ignored.
Apparently if a structural engineer uses the architect's BIM model for structural analysis that is a BIM Use, if they use their own it is not.
I suspect this is because no cross-organisation agreement (or demand) is required it is not considered part of "BIM Process".

The problem is these in-house BIM processes are then not considered when agreeing on other BIM Uses. This can create problems when externally required BIM Uses compromise, or completely prevent, an author's own BIM Uses.

To capture who is doing what it is useful to define BIM Uses against who they are between:
  1. Within a discipline
    - e.g. schedules from model
  2. Between disciplines within a team (e.g. architect, engineer, QS etc.)
    - e.g. energy analysis
  3. Between teams (e.g. design, construction, operation, etc)
    - e.g. asset management
  4. Across disciplines
    - e.g. estimates
  5. Across teams
    - e.g. clash detection
Doing this not only ensures all BIM Uses are considered but also reveals what contractual requirements might be or not be needed for the project.

LOD is not BIM Use

For a particular BIM Use to be achievable the BIM model must have certain requirements. Currently these requirements are described via LOD descriptions. Typically an LOD has certain BIM Uses associated with it. This is the AIA [US] approach. From their E203 guide:
"The E202's Model Element Table provides a vehicle for defining Authorized Uses, Model element by Model element and milestone by milestone."
But in practice how do you define "Authorized Uses, Model element by Model element and milestone by milestone."?
Considering there are literally hundreds of different possible "Authorized Uses" are we really expected to list them not only against each Model Element, but against each Model Element at each Milestone?

The most practical LOD guide created thus far, BIM Forum's LOD specification, has tried to deal with this stipulation by kind of white-washing it. From their 2015 edition:
"Because BIM is being put to an ever increasing number of uses, the group decided that it was beyond the initial scope to address all of them.  Instead, the definitions were developed to address model element geometry, with three of the most common uses in mind – quantity take-off, 3D coordination and 3D control and planning.  The group felt that in taking this approach the interpretations would be complete enough to support other uses."  

But the AIA[US] approach is fundamentally flawed, it is the wrong way round.
BIM Uses should be listed with the required LOD against them, not LOD with allowed BIM Uses.

What LOD tables actually do is to define the level of development each element is to have as the project progresses, at each milestone.
This is a reflection of reality - project information progresses at the rate it is gathered, decided and created. You can't make information and decisions magically appear because you need it for a BIM Use, and have put it against an LOD table in a contract.

LOD specifications, matrices, tables, whatever you want to call them, need to remove references to BIM Use. It just confuses and complicates them.

A proper LOD table is an indication of model progression, when which parts will have what information available, based on what is realistically achievable.

BIM Use should be a completely separate list, referencing LOD's to describe what is required for them to be done. By comparing BIM Use requirements with LOD inclusions and progression a realistic assessment of what BIM Uses are feasible, and when they can be undertaken, is possible.

The current process of  using LOD definitions to determine what "Authorized Uses" are possible is delusional, it will never work in practice.

Who decides BIM Uses?

Another problem with the AIA [US] approach is that it defines what BIM Uses are "permitted", not what uses are necessary or even desired. Again from E203:
"The term “Authorized Uses” refers to the permitted uses of Digital Data"
Wouldn't a better approach be to define BIM Uses on a project by what uses participants want to perform? Not what a BIM author says they are permitted to perform?

In the E203 guide it states that the "usual approach" is to take the position "because some of the information is not reliable don't rely on any of it". And that their intent in E203 is to change that to "because some of the information is not reliable you can only rely on the information that I explicitly say you can."

Now that seems a sensible approach. If an architect tells you the walls in their model are LOD 200 then ignore any materials in those walls.
The problem is when LOD 200 also means the architect is saying these walls are suitable for a particular BIM Use by some other discipline. Because then we have gone from the traditional "we provide our information to you at your own risk" to "we will provide you sufficient information for you to perform your professional responsibilities."

The result of this can be the BIM author allows no Authorized BIM Uses at all, which is no better than providing it at receiver's risk.
Or the author claims information is adequate for an Authorized Use but it is not (and they refuse to rectify it), because they have no idea of what is actually required.
Or a third scenario where the BIM author is penalized (or sued) because the model they provided was demonstrably not suitable for an Authorized Use they permitted (or were forced to permit under their contract).

Either way those attempting to use the BIM model for a legitimate BIM Use are left in the lurch, and BIM authors are left at risk.

As bad as letting BIM authors decided who can do what is, there is another, worse, (and very common) approach to deciding BIM Uses. That is the assumption the owner should do it. Not only that, but the owner should do it at the very beginning of the project before the various experts required are engaged.

Of course it is legitimate that the owner make decisions on their own BIM Uses - facilities management, building control etc., and BIM Uses that may effect their decision making and built quality - crowd flow simulation, 3D visualization etc.
But asking owners to list all BIM Uses for their project is absurd. The reality is the majority of BIM Uses are by the design and construction teams, to assist them perform their work, the work the owner has engaged them to be responsible for.

Normally you would expect the owner to select design and construction professionals that have the skills to do the things they would like done. I don't understand why when it comes to BIM the expectation is that by simply listing a BIM Use in a document is will magically be done by whoever gets engaged, no matter what their skills.

I know owners are the ones that pay everyone, and so can tell everyone what to do, but that doesn't by definition make them the best qualified to make decisions about all BIM Uses on a project. Expecting them to do so is delusional.

What about Standards

For something so fundamental there is a surprising dearth of standards that directly address BIM Use. Maybe it is too much like hard work to be so specific about particular BIM Uses.

BIM Excellence.org has started a list of BIM Use definitions, 125 listed so far, although not all have actual definitions. A good start, to avoid duplication and standardize terminology.

At first sight COBie could be considered a kind of BIM Use standard. Although it sets out the required output it doesn't directly describe required model progression, and it takes no account of the LOD concept. For example it makes no distinction between data never applicable or just not available yet - any empty fields must contain "n/a" in a COBie deliverable.

A real BIM Use standard would set out what LOD requirements are for model elements to achieve the use.

The BIMforum LOD Specification is probably the only real BIM Use standard. It clearly sets out LOD requirements for quantity take-off, 3D coordination and 3D control and planning. But it should be renamed the BIMforum BIM Use Specification for: Quantity take-off; 3D coordination; 3D control and planning.

(with apologies to BIM Forum)
As BIM Use is invariably performed by software you would think software vendors would have an interest in establishing standards that optimise their software performance. Although competing software specific standards are not necessarily the best approach.
IFC is kind of in this space. MVD (Model View Definitions) define elements required for specific views of a model, which could them be used for a BIM Use. But IFC is really about software standards, not software use or BIM processes performed by humans.

I believe some standard definitions around BIM Use would be really useful. Currently beyond asking specific people on my projects I have no way of knowing what is required for a BIM Use I don't participate in.

Although standards can be part of the solution they can never be the only solution. The expectation that every BIM use for every discipline or team for every project will be covered by a standard is delusional. And what do we do while waiting for standards to be authored, discussed and agreed?
What we need are processes that establish BIM Use protocols.

Current BIM Use process

The process doesn't have to be complicated. Let's think about it from first principles:
  1. Someone wants to use something for a specific purpose.
  2. They say what that is and what they require for them to do it.
  3. Whoever is best placed to provide that is identified.
  4. Negotiations occur between the provider and user.
  5. Agreement is reached on what processes will be followed.

But in the world of BIM planning the procedure is:
  1. An authority figure decides what BIM Use everyone wants.
  2. They guess what is required to achieve these BIM Uses
    (or use a "BIM expert" to guess).
  3. They impose these requirements on everyone.
  4. BIM authors, not the owner, decide what specific information they will provide for a BIM Use.

When confronted with the obvious impracticality the usual snake oil response from BIM evangelists is that "the BIM Execution Plan is a living document that can be changed."  That might be a method to fix impractical outcomes but it doesn't justify why there is an impractical process in the first place.

A better BIM Use Process

That said negotiation is still the best method. It not only ensures everyone is doing things they are happy(ish) about, it provides an opportunity for everyone to have their say.

But negotiations have to occur in a framework that is realistic. Pretending they can occur before everyone is appointed (or that everyone be appointed at the very beginning of a project - as in IPD), or that parties will agree when there is no incentive to do so (when only authors decide what "Authorized Uses" are permissible), is delusional.

The owner should be the one to set up the framework, project participants the negotiating.

Therefore the process for owner is:
  1. The owner lists the BIM Uses they intend to do.
    - e.g. FM, budget management, etc.
  2. The owner lists possible BIM Uses that others may do, and are desirable for the project.
    - BIM Uses that may or may not be used on the project that participants may be called upon to provide BIM models capable of being utilized for. 
  3. The owner acts as arbitrator in participant negotiations.
Then as each project participant is engaged they must have shown the ability to satisfy the relevant owner's BIM Uses, and the capability to satisfy the the relevant possible BIM Uses. As the exact requirements of the possible BIM Uses are unknown, and may not even occur, fees do not need to specifically allow for them, ensuring owners are not paying for something they may never need, or that someone else (the BIM Use recipient) may pay for.

As each project participant becomes involved in the project they are required be involved in a BIM Use identification and negotiation process:
  1. BIM Use request.
    - A participant nominates what they intend to use BIM models for (including uses that the owner may have engaged them specifically to do).
  2. Define and communicate data required.
    - For each of their BIM Uses clearly describe what data they require and at what stages.
  3. Identify source/author of data.
    - Based on data required,  and through negotiation, identify who will be generating the data, or who is best placed to create the data.
  4. Agree on extent/format/form of data that will be provided.
    - Negotiate with that party on what data they can provide, and/or are willing to provide.
  5. Agree on process to supply data.
    - Negotiate timing, degree of reliance (LOD) and checking & rectification procedures.
The owner may become involved at point 3 if there is dispute over who the appropriate author is, and at point 4 if agreement on extent of data can not be reached.

If it is determined extra data is required the provider and recipient can exchange services (you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours); the recipient pays (because it saves them money); or the owner pays (it adds value to the owner and/or project). Or it is not done as there is no measurable benefit.

There you have it.
There is obviously a lot of nuance around the detail but the above process is, to me, a more realistic way of approaching BIM Use management.
It is not a radical proposal, nothing unfamiliar is introduced to BIM Execution Planning. Indeed most current BIM Planning guides would only require slight adjustment to formalize this approach.

Let's take BIM from the theorists and make it genuinely practical.

30 October 2015

Should Owners ask for BIM?

There is this idea in the BIM evangelist community that owners, the ones who commission a facility, should specify what BIM is to be used on a project. Not just what BIM will be delivered to them, but how BIM will be used by everyone involved in the project.

To me it makes no sense. Do you tell your dentist what instruments to use, your accountant which software (or calculator) to use, your lawyer which case law to take heed of?

And I suspect owners are just as perplexed. Why are they being asked whether the structural engineer should use the BIM model for structural analysis, whether the contractor should use 4D, 5D, field BIM? Aren't they paying these experts to make those decisions?

Actually I know they are just as perplexed. I've sat in meetings and workshops where the owner's representatives are bombarded with these types of questions, and not surprisingly they don't want to answer them. They're smart people, it not that they don't understand BIM, it is that they don't see themselves as the ones responsible for it.

Yet that is how BIM evangelist see it. In their eyes the problem is owners don't understand BIM. After all the owner, as the one with the money, is the only party who has control over the whole team. Therefore, the evangelists surmise, they are the ONLY ones who can enforce BIM on a project. The fact they are unqualified, uninterested and don't see why they should take on that risk are wilfully ignored.

Besides the absurd impractically of it, what also bothers me with this approach is the idea that BIM must be enforced. That BIM is only possible if all participants are coerced to engage in it. If that is the case it suggests BIM is only beneficial to a few, that others have to be forced as they gain nothing. This is so far from the truth. BIM processes improve efficiency and effectiveness of all participants. Sure it takes money up front to invest, time to learn new ways. But after that investment you can do more with less effort. As they say, work smarter, not harder.

So if you are an owner, should you ask for BIM?


There are a number of ways an owner can approach BIM on a project. The approach used will inform what processes need to be put in place for the project to be successful (in a BIM sense).

Ignore BIM
Totally ignore BIM, assume it doesn't exist and make no concessions for it to occur.

Allow BIM
Accept BIM can occur and not stand in its way. Make concessions for it to happen.

Encourage BIM
Appreciate BIM is worthwhile and actively encourage its use, but not directly engage in BIM processes.

Participate in BIM
Integrate your own BIM processes into the BIM processes of others.

Demand BIM
Enforce BIM of your own design on all project participants.

All are valid approaches and depend on the particular circumstances of the project and the available people.  But what is critical is that there is honesty in the approach taken. Don't pretend you are encouraging BIM when in fact you are ignoring it, don't demand BIM when all you need is to participate in it.

Before deciding which approach seems right let's debunk some myths about BIM for owners.


One of the misunderstanding going around (sometimes I think wilfully) is that BIM is equivalent to facilities management. That the only thing BIM means is the use of a 3D model connected to a database to manage the maintenance of a facility.

At the extreme end of this view you have people who think that if you get the design and construction teams to use BIM you will have a fully functional BIM FM system at the end of the project.
I don't understand how anyone could think this was true. Why would a BIM model created to design, analyse, and coordinate a building, or one to cost and program it be suitable for facilities management? Yet I have had clients say they want our Revit model provided to them, complete with paint modelled, so they can use it directly for facilities management.

A lessor, but none the less just as mistaken view, is that the BIM done during design and construction is just there to provide the data for the FM system. And further, that if BIM is not used during design and construction it is not possible to have a BIM based FM system.

Lets think about this a bit. To use BIM for facilities management you need a graphical 3D model and a database of information. You could pay someone to create the model and populate the database when you set up the FM system. Or you could get the whole design and construction team to change they way they do their work just so they produce a 3D model and populated database at the completion of their work.
Does that second method really sound sensible? Why would you compromise a much bigger process (the design and construction of a facility) to reduce the effort of a smaller process (populate an FM database)? BIM evangelists go on about how much larger the cost of running a facility is compared to building it. But design and construction BIM can only ever contribute to the initial set up of the FM database, it has nothing to do with the ongoing operation.

But BIM is not just FM. It is used for much more than that. And once that is realised the benefits can be captured.
If design professionals use BIM for their processes, they will have a lot of data, including 3D graphical data. The contractor can utilize this data for their purposes and add data they use. This data won't be structured to suit FM, after all it has been created for other purposes. But there is a fair bit that can be used for FM. The cost of restructuring this data to suit FM is theoretically less than completely recreating it. That is the benefit of BIM.

So don't ask for BIM if the only reason is to provide completed data for your FM system. There may be cheaper ways of doing it.

And don't ask for BIM, or BIM deliverables, if you have a paper based rather than BIM based FM system (I know, kind of obvious, but surprisingly common).

Do ask for it if you want to access to BIM data created for other purposes for your FM system.


Of course you may not have a BIM based FM system, nor intend to implement one. That's a commercial decision for the owner.
If you don't need BIM for FM, why have BIM on the project at all?

BIM is a tool, a tool to do real world things more efficiently and effectively. It is useful for anyone who uses it properly and for the right reasons.

If your design and construction teams use BIM on your project there is an opportunity for the project to be done more efficiently and effectively. You, as the owner, benefits from a project that is less likely to suffer delays, is less likely to spring surprise additional costs, and will result in a building with a higher quality of design and workmanship.

So if you want a well run project you will want BIM to be used.

But the owner is not responsible for timing, cost overruns and building quality. The design and construction team, via their contracts, have these responsibilities. And if the owner instructs them on how to do their job, how to undertake their responsibilities, the owner takes on some of those responsibilities.


The best way an owner can ensure BIM is used is to not dictate, not enforce, but to encourage BIM. How might this be done?


The first step in encouraging BIM is to engage BIM capable professionals, to include BIM capabilities in bid requirements.
By that I don't mean a description of what BIM processes a bidder must undertake, but a request the bidders provide a description of the BIM processes they already do. In this early period of BIM take up you may extend this to include BIM processes bidders intend or are prepared to implement.
The aim is to get them to make an offer, for the use of BIM to be their responsibility.

But keep in mind BIM is but one aspect of why you select a particular bidder. Professionals are primarily engaged for their capabilities in their area of expertise, and service performance. BIM is only a tool, it won't compensate for lack of expertise or poor service.


The second step is to ensure agreements and contractual arrangements allow BIM processes to work freely. As mentioned above all BIM processes (except facilities management) are between the design and construction teams.  This is a challenge for those drawing up and approving agreements. Traditionally contracts have been designed to be between the person paying and the one doing the work. BIM capable agreements require additional clauses that set out how those being paid will interact with third parties - other project participants.

Obviously there are a whole raft of issues to consider, and the type of BIM processes undertaken will influence what specific requirements will be. Which is another complication. The owner is not a participant in these BIM processes (with the exception of facilities management), nor are the exact BIM processes known at the beginning of a project before everyone is signed up.
The BIM evangelist's answer is to ignore reality and assume the owner HAS to be a BIM participant, and that everyone HAS to be signed up at the very beginning of a project (as evidenced by the push for Integrated Project Delivery type contracts).

But it doesn't have to be this way. Contracts need do no more than ensure the free flow of information in BIM type format. That is, BIM information created by project participants must be freely available to all other project participants. Sounds simple but there is a paranoia about theft of intellectual property throughout the industry. The default position is to withhold information. Contracts need to specifically override this position.

Tied in with this is that all information in deliverables must match. That information on drawings and schedules match information in BIM models. And that recipients of BIM models can rely on the information in those models. It must also be specified this only applies to information a participant would ordinarily provide. If an architect includes some ducts in their model for context, that doesn't make them responsible for the completeness and accuracy of those ducts.

Contracts could be further extended to be BIM friendly. For example allowing for project participants to do modelling for others participants, whilst responsibility is retained by the requesting party. So the architects might model ductwork for the mechanical engineers (or sub-contractor) but the engineers or sub-contractor must check and approve that modelling work.

BIM capable agreements and contracts are in their infancy and no one can predict what their eventual form will be. But I believe if we approach them with a view to encouraging, or allowing BIM, rather than enforcing BIM, we will end up with much more useful agreements and therefore BIM workflows.


Rather than demanding direct BIM deliverables they will never use owners should look at requesting evidence of BIM. Requesting evidence also means that even if specific BIM is not defined by owners they can still influence the use of it on their project.

There is nothing wrong with requesting evidence of BIM processes as deliverables. The owner may not participate in the creation of a BIM Management Plan, but they can include it as a deliverable. They may not attend clash coordination meetings but minutes of outcomes can be requested.

However evidence of BIM should never be provided for 'approval'. Not only does this pass some responsibility back on to the approver (the owner) but has the potential to hold up the project.
The purpose is purely to ensure what has been promised (see SELECTION section above) is being done. An owner may reject a BIM Management Plan as being incomplete or inadequate, but should never 'approve' it.


BIM is often touted as 'costing more'. But research has shown overall a project using BIM processes is more cost efficient. It may be directly cheaper and/or quicker to build, or a more complex result is achievable for the same time and money.

The problem is that not all participants share these cost savings equally. Which is easy to see when you look at how BIM works. BIM models are created early in a project and passed on to participants through the term of the project. The architect models the building, the mechanical engineer uses that model to do energy calculations, the mechanical engineer's model is passed on to the mechanical sub-contractor who uses it as a basis for shop drawing and CAM, this model is passed to the facilities manager to populate their energy management system. The further up the chain the more complete the model is and greater the savings in time and effort. And of course the owner is at the top of this chain.

Another issue is some participants are required to do more than they have previously done. Engineers traditionally produce diagrammatic drawings and performance requirements for equipment. With BIM they have to model their work accurately and select specific components (otherwise you can't model them). Of course paying them extra to do this work is not the only solution. But someone has to do it, and no one is going to do it for free.

BIM also requires more work up front. The mechanical engineer can't do an energy analysis on a half modelled building. If the point of BIM is to create a complete virtual building to test its buildability then it has to be completely designed and modelled before construction starts.

BIM may 'cost more' for some, but overall it does not. So it is not necessarily about spending more (although that will certainly bolster use of BIM!). To encourage BIM there needs to be a re-think of where and when money is spent. More money is required at the pre-construction BIM model creation stage.
This may be in the form of extra for design professionals, the appointment of additional professionals, or bringing forward engagements (e.g. services sub-contractors).
And within those engagements payment schedules need to be revised. Fees are normally broken up into stages. With BIM more work is done - more hours expended - in early stages than traditional work methods.

I don't believe a similar concession is required at construction as BIM processes bring enormous cost benefits to contractors. In fact I believe owners need to be careful they are not paying for BIM efficiencies that the contractor will pocket. Any BIM from the design team should be treated as an asset that benefits the contractor.


And of course owners can directly encourage use of BIM. Not by demanding it, but by having a strong expectation that the team will use BIM processes. Owners don't need to have intimate knowledge of those processes, but they can expect their design and construction professionals do.


So what is the answer, should owners ask for BIM?
As is the case with most questions, that depends. But here are some recommendations.

Ignore BIM

Not recommended. If you don't understand BIM or don't want it don't stand in the way of those that do. The fact others use it will not cost you more, nor will it increase your workload.

Allow BIM

If you are unsure and don't really understand much about BIM this is a valid approach. It provides an opportunity to learn from others.

Encourage BIM

Encouraging BIM is the best approach if the owner does not have a BIM based FM system. It allows the design and construction team to make best use of BIM for their purposes. It also creates a wealth of BIM data. It is not structured for FM use, but can still be mined for useful FM data.

Participate in BIM

A truly BIM project has everyone participating in BIM, including the owner. Owners can participate by having their own properly set up FM system that uses BIM.
Having skin in the game, so to speak, means BIM deliverables can be properly valued as to their worth. And if everyone is a participant BIM planning can be undertaken with confidence, and result in even greater benefits than individual use of BIM brings.

Demand BIM

Not recommended. Unless you are a conglomerate with architects, engineers and contractors all under the same roof you should not be dictating what BIM is done. Even then care must be taken to ensure some participants are not working inefficiently for questionable benefits elsewhere.