May 22, 2007

There are some who call me…BIM

Arthur: What manner of man are you that you can summon up fire without flint or tinder?
Tim: I... am an enchanter.
Arthur: By what name are you known?

Tim: There are some who call me... 'Tim'
Arthur: ... greeting, Tim the Enchanter.
-Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I attended the National BIM conference in Anaheim last week. The conference was attended primarily by Architects and Builders looking for ways to both earn continuing education credits and for a means to gain advantage in the marketplace. Or, perhaps attendees, like me, wanted to make sure they were not missing the BIM boat. Every session started with a definition of BIM, and for good reason. I am as sure as ever that there are competing movements all riding the buzz-word status of the BIM label. In the current state of BIM all definitions are valid since no one definition has gained “ownership” of the term. There does seem to be some consensus that Autodesk marketing coined the term, but it has long since outgrown the bounds of any one software vendor’s brochure.

It is my perception that there are three major movements still vying for the mindshare of BIM. First are the architectural CAD software vendors who are attempting to differentiate their tools one from another. The message is, “… our software is more than just a drafting package, but rather an information system for the planning, design, performance and operation of a building.” To this end BIM exists today and depending on the various vendor claims has existed for as many as 15 years. To these software vendors and cutting edge design firms the key is the adoption of the smart 3D building models in their design and construction business practices, and workflows.

The second angle comes from the big owner-operators (government) who see BIM as the answer to a long standing facilities management problem. This is a problem that is accentuated by the perceived need to improve emergency response capabilities, and to improve environmental and fiscal responsibility. They see BIM as a repository for all the useful information assembled at the time of planning, design and construction that is lost to the owner of the building once they take possession of it. The idea is that such design and construction information can reduce operating costs and prolong the life of a building through intellegent management and a better understanding of its history. They would then like to add information collected during occupancy that both leverages and adds to the information model. The fact that a BIM is 3D makes the inferred uses and value potential that much the more compelling. For them the key is the magic model that when defined properly will codify digitally the useful reality of a building and facilitate the answers to useful questions.

The third movement involves a combination of the two (based on one and enabeling the second), and has as its foundation the notion of interoperability and information access. In this camp are government agencies, trade assocciations, standards committees and research groups. Their aim is to make the information of a digital representation of a building usable for query, display and analysis independent of any specific application, business process, discipline, or software vendor. Their goal is the qualification and access of information pertaining to and about buildings. In the interoperability and standards view of BIM the information transfer means is the key. Neutral access to information is more important than the tools to construct, store or manage the data. For them a neutral file format and a list of minimum content requirements is the key to meaningful BIM. Their hope is that when successfully implemented their work will be used as the gateway to other information systems like GIS.
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