Open Standards for BIM

Open standards for BIM tend to be misunderstood as either exclusively related to IFCs (Industry Foundation Classes), yet another software platform, or that IFC just doesn’t work.

The reality is that the IFC open standard schema is more complete than any other proprietary schema. What remains is to have the latest IFC4 version fully implemented and certified into current proprietary software solutions. Although the IFC schema is still evolving, the barrier to use has typically been vendor implementation within the proprietary product.

Finally we are seeing the tide turn in the perception (by industry) of the usefulness of IFC and open standards in general. It doesn’t matter if IFC is visible, in fact it generally will not be. Typically it is written in “behind the scenes”, as are standards for ATMs or cell phones.  IFC sets the baseline, the playing field, the standard. It’s the format for useable data downstream.

Open standards for BIM are seen as the vehicle to achieve data interoperability and the integration required for improvements in the construction sector’s efficiency and productivity. The hypothetical condition requires that “the electronic data exchange, management, and access are fluid and seamless.  This implies that information needs be entered into electronic systems only once, and then it is available to all stakeholders instantaneously through information technology networks on an as-needed basis.” [NIST]  For this to occur within our landscape of a multitude of proprietary solutions and file formats, a common standard based on open standards is needed.

IFC, one part of the open standards equation, can be viewed like all other standards – evolving and growing until it reaches it’s maturity, upon which time it is then replaced with, or included in, the next method. IFC still has much to offer in future iterations, as has been envisaged in the stages of maturity diagram below.

IFC – Levels of Maturity

Figure 1: IFC Levels of Maturity

The End Goal

BIM in and of itself is not the end goal. What needs to be achieved to be of significant value to industry and public owners alike is a level of interoperability and ubiquity that achieve a decrease in risk, maintenance of security requirements, and provision for a functional level of scalability and usability of data and information for multiple business needs over time.

A key to success will be the continual breaking down of silos and avoiding ‘cul-de-sac’ solutions that don’t achieve long term viability and reliability. Standards are only helpful if they make life easier, giving way to computer automated operations and execution of more complex tasks without added cost or effort. As the workforce demographics shift, we will continue to be challenged with doing more with less while adding value to current practices.

The end goal with standards is to get to the “ubiquitous” state where BIM, technology, and connectivity are just a part of how things are done. All of the technology standards required behind the scenes of using an ATM are of no concern to the end user; they just need the ATM to work. Similarly, sustainability is becoming a part of whatever we now do. When we buy a car, we expect to get a full history report. Standards for BIM are key to getting us the history report we need on a model transaction.

Open Standards for BIM in Canada Quick Poll Results