The Changing Data Market

– a UK Perspective

As the construction industry increases its knowledge of Building Information Modeling (BIM), there is a growing realization that it will drive a fundamental change in the way that data is deployed across the entire lifecycle of building projects. This article explores why and how the change is happening, what this means to traditional thinking and why open BIM is an essential part of that process.

 A process, not a technology

When speaking at the launch of the ‘Model T’, Henry Ford famously stated that “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. Henry understood that the motor car would completely revolutionize transport globally, but that his vision was beyond the comprehension of the masses. He had a different mind-set and when we conceptualize new processes such as BIM, we need to approach it in the same way. In very basic terms, BIM is a business process that enables all involved in a project to have access to the information they need, when they need it. Sounds simple, but to achieve this necessitates a completely different thought process to that traditionally used. Fundamental essentials are:
  •  Trust between all parties
  •  Willingness to share knowledge
  •  Realization that work undertaken will be much more visible to others than before
Without these it is almost impossible to deploy BIM effectively. Until recently the story of BIM has been largely viewed as technology led. Traditional 2D processes focused on the production of line drawings to represent buildings and the advent of 2D CAD simply replaced the drawing board with a terminal. The arrival of 3D systems aided project visualization, but still had drawing production at its core. In Henry’s parlance, all the technology developments did was to develop a faster horse. Today’s data rich building information models are unlike anything the construction industry has seen before. They promise numerous benefits over traditional processes, but these will not be realized unless the processes themselves change.  (The BIM CAD tools we see today are still being used primarily to produce drawings). 2013_The_changing_data_market_02

Data now and tomorrow

Currently, the vast majority of construction projects produce data in isolation – for example, in design, the structural, architectural and MEP drawings are created by separate disciplines. Design of course, is only one element of a much wider process that includes cost, program, health & safety, facilities management, sustainability, regulatory compliance and COBie, to name just some of the key requirements of a modern day project. Each trade provides a data set, which is interrogated in order to extract the information required to co-ordinate with other data sets to develop a wider project specification that will enable the facility to be built and managed. It is therefore not surprising that the development and application of supporting technologies has focused on better and faster ways of producing these data sets. The BIM process requires that data is brought together, (federated), to enable interrogation to take place in a more controlled and visible environment. This in fact is the high level driver behind the UK Government BIM strategy defined as Level 2 BIM (a series of discipline specific models with the provision of a single environment, COBie, to store shared data and information) and Level 3 BIM (the multi-domain or federated model).

Moving forward

Today, most businesses are striving to achieve Level 2, but some are already seeing the advantages of moving beyond this and are federating models to utilize the inherent benefits. Obvious examples include collision detection, co-ordination, constructability and time lining. For industry to realize the vast potential of open BIM, a change is needed.  The current priority for data creation will become one of data application/exploitation. Knowing that tomorrow’s business necessitates a move beyond the need to create data more efficiently (already done well by technology providers), to an environment where data is fully exploited, is easier said than done. Technology providers face a challenge that will be instrumental in the success of this transition.

What needs to happen?

Data exploitation is not new and many other industries, including finance, media and manufacturing, access and exploit data to great effect. These industries have found ways of federating and quality assuring that data. The technology to access and exploit data already exists and is very effective. The problem in the construction industry is that federating and quality assuring data has not yet been fully developed. Consequently, existing technology available to access and exploit data is not wholly effective. Consider a construction project as a jigsaw puzzle, with the individual pieces being the discipline specific data sets described above. The total project information is represented by the picture emerging from the completed puzzle. For the picture to be visible, the individual pieces of the puzzle have to be created in such a way to allow them to fit together; it is not sufficient to collect all the data in one place and cut out a random shape. Furthermore, the data in the ‘piece’ has to follow the same conventions as the other pieces for example, same scale, same color codes and if text is used, same language. In other words, the individual pieces (data sets), have to abide by three basic rules and be created so that: 1) content is in the same format 2) model components follow the same naming conventions 3) they can interlock seamlessly with the other pieces Consequently, standards are needed to provide guidance that ensures pieces are created in a usable format. The nominated standard in the UK is BS1192 and the documentation produced from this standard to control the process is commonly called a [BIM] Execution Plan. BS 1192 is the British Standard that establishes the methodology for managing the production, distribution and quality of construction information, including that generated by CAD systems, using a disciplined process for collaboration and a specified naming policy. Note the key words highlighted in this definition – they represent the challenges that have to be overcome. Production of data requires that it is created to a set of rules (e.g. CAD standards) and uses a specified naming policy for content. (An example of this would be the UNICLASS specification). Distribution of data requires collaboration between stakeholders to ensure it can be transferred between the numerous software technologies typically used in a construction project. This in turn requires an open and neutral file format to enable data transfer and interoperability between those technologies. This is the role played by IFCs and the process of interoperability is known as open BIM. Quality is a key step that is missing from most projects. This is because quality control/assurance normally takes place at the specific data set level. To be effective it has to take place at the federated data level when the pieces of the jigsaw produce a finished picture. It is the picture that needs to be quality assured.  

Where does Solibri fit in this story?

Solibri Model Checker is in a unique position to contribute to the solution. Firstly, it can federate models and importantly, quickly respond to any changes in the developing standards for production, distribution and classifications. Secondly, the core functionality of Solibri Model Checker is quality assurance. The ability to validate models for constructability/compliance and adapt or create new rulesets for developing applications, makes it the ideal solution that provides high quality data. Thirdly, the Information Take Off capabilities of Solibri Model Checker facilitate efficient and effective data interrogation of the model – the first step in the growing demand for data exploitation. In order to realize the enormous benefits of BIM, industry has to embrace data exploitation – a major challenge. By providing the link between data creation and data exploitation, Solibri Model Checker delivers the solution.