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Blog / Industry Trends

The Future of Building and Project Information Management

December 17, 2021
By Peg Landry

Co-authored by Victoria Salvador, Director of Marketing, BIM Track

Parlez-vous Français? Maybe? Maybe not?

Imagine if you were working on a new project and were told that everyone has to speak French. You don’t know French. You don’t mind learning a new language. But will you have time given the tight construction deadline? And can your team be as productive and creative when you are required to work outside your native language?

The “Parlez-vous français” example is not unlike what is happening today with construction industry information systems. Project teams are often required to use another party's software platform. And learning a new software platform is like learning a new language. It’s not necessarily that difficult, but it takes time. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if everyone could use the tools that work best for them? Can’t we find a common way to share information? This is the dilemma that most teams face today – how can we effectively share information if we “figuratively” speak different languages?

Translating information through interoperability.

On November 24, 2021 Christian Proulx, VP of Sales and Marketing, BIM Track, and Rob Stephen, UK Sales and Operations, Newforma, took to the main stage during London's Digital Construction Week to deliver the presentation “Paving the Way for true interoperability - The behavioral side of digitalization: Open standards and Openness to change” to share their vision of the future.

Requiring everyone on the team to use the same vendor's software platform might make collaboration easier but at the expense of productivity and creativity. This is why open standards and interoperability are essential. To create a viable ecosystem, technology developers like Newforma and BIM Track are paving the way for true interoperability. As firm believers in open formats, both companies value the enablement of a networked ecosystem. This allows teams to continue to use their best-in-class software applications without compromising the ability to share information.

Sharing information shouldn't be that difficult.

We’ve already figured out how to share information in a slightly different context. Before we had Adobe PDF, we used different word processing tools that didn’t talk to each other. It was a pain to receive a document in a format that you could not open or read. Adobe transformed the business world with the PDF format and PDF Reader software. We can now use whatever application we like and as long as we save the file as a PDF, we know that others will be able to open and read.

But in a recent study conducted by Newforma and Dodge Data and Analytics, over half of architect and engineering survey respondents indicated that collaborating with people outside their organization is a major challenge. Many AEC firms continue to struggle with finding the right balance between using best-in-class software applications that enable more creativity and having an efficient and reliable way to share information across the project life cycle.

Today, sharing information is a bit easier in the BIM world.

Interoperability has been a buzzword in the AEC industry for quite some time, but what does data interoperability mean? It’s actually pretty simple. It’s the ability for different systems and software applications to exchange or share data consistently and reliably. But interoperability requires a common approach to exchanging information. That’s where standards come in. Yes, more buzzwords!

In the BIM world, standards already exist that are the equivalent of Adobe PDF. International organization buildingSMART has been working on standards for sharing BIM data called OpenBIM. It’s about sharing and collaborating in a vendor-neutral space. According to buildingSMART, “At its core, openBIM is a collaborative process that is vendor-neutral. OpenBIM processes support seamless collaboration for all project participants. OpenBIM facilitates interoperability to benefit projects and assets throughout their lifecycle.”

The Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) standard is under OpenBim. This standard enables architects to work in their design modeling software and then export a reference model to share with engineering disciplines on the project team. Engineers can then import the reference model into their software for analysis. If the engineer requires a change to the model, they need to go back to the architect who makes the change and issues a new IFC reference. This enables each discipline to remain the author and owner of their content. In addition to IFC, buildingSMART also has a standard to share the associated communication called Building Collaboration Format or BCF.

But once the project moves out of the design phase, it gets a bit more complicated.

Interoperability does exist in the Project Information Management (PIM) world.

The project's construction phase involves more parties, which inherently makes sharing information more difficult. Contractors need information and systems to begin the construction process. However, contractors need software solutions that speak their language. The type of information exchanged in the construction phase is also different. Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of documents are created and managed including submittals, RFIs, change orders, field reports, and punch list items.

However, information tends to be shared in a linear fashion. This makes it more difficult for everyone to gain access to the information they need. For example, punch list items created downstream in the process, and stored in the contractor's system, may not be easily accessible to the architect.

Standards are playing a role in helping to resolve this problem. Standards for sharing information, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), enable project teams to use the software they prefer while allowing teams to share.

Taking the next step - blurring the linear data lines.

Design workflows have been traditionally siloed from the built environment. Taking digital transformation to the next level requires that the lines between the design and build environment blur. It’s about linking information in a meaningful way – defining relationships between digital assets regardless of who, when, or where the data originated. This allows us to look at information in a more holistic way.

Changing the way we think about information by looking at the digital asset – as a piece of the build – will help us establish these information relationships. What do I need to know about that building asset? What information is relevant to making decisions about that building asset?

Getting there from here – making better use of data.

The AECO industry is looking for ways to make better use of construction data. The concept of a Digital Twin is popular and is certainly intriguing. But a Digital Twin, a digital representative of the build, requires lots and lots of data – past and present. It requires extracting data from siloed applications, archives, and work processes and creating information relationships.

A McKinsey study from the Global Infrastructure Initiative “Digital twins: Taking modular construction to the next level” explains that construction has traditionally been a linear process where “each step of the process must be communicated between the architect, engineer, and construction chains.” McKinsey relates this to modular construction and Digital Twins. However, the concept of breaking down the linear chain or flow of information across the project life cycle will open up a host of new possibilities including the reality of digital twins. McKinsey explains that making volumes of data easily accessible “beyond the core design can be digitally stored and shared among all stakeholders and at all stages. Designers—who have traditionally been isolated from the construction and downstream manufacturing processes—are provided a collaborative approach and understanding of the project, with technical parameters firmly embedded into the design algorithm.”

We have all the pieces, but it’s how we put them together that matters.

In February of 2021, Newforma announced the acquisition of Canadian-based firm BIM One, to join forces to create a new, viable ecosystem for the AECO industry.

Newforma and BIM Track share a common belief that interoperability and open standards are non-negotiable musts for the evolution of the AECO industry and taking the built world beyond BIM – to genuine “open” collaboration. As firm believers in open formats and the value of enabling a truly integrated ecosystem, the brainpower for putting all of the pieces together is now in one place.

It would be a pretty boring world if we were all forced to speak the same language. It would certainly impact our productivity and our creativity. The same can be said for a world where everyone has to use the same software solution. Having the flexibility to choose what software works best, while fostering an environment of collaboration and sharing will be driven by open standards. This is what digital transformation of the built asset is all about.

The Newforma and BIM Track presentations from the Digital Construction Week conference can be accessed here.