The BIM data problem: identifying the best solution


Paul Oakley, Director BIM at BRE says resolving the BIM data problem means recognising barriers exist and working out how to overcome these issues

In our role as the Building Research Establishment and a leading BIM Accreditation agency, we see many examples of projects that claim to be delivering BIM Level 2 which are little more than 3D models with attached documents. A fundamental requirement of BIM Level 2 is the delivery of structured data that satisfies the asset information required by the client and their operational team, and too little attention has been paid to this vitally important aspect of BIM.

My concern is that many of the BIM proposals don’t manage the data element of interoperability effectively because they don’t address the “devil in the detail”.  Too often, there are untested concepts pushed onto an already struggling industry without reference to that detail. Most people rely on applications to export data but few are checking a recipient will get something useable and coherent. When such problems crop up, these become blockers to the adoption of BIM and, unless they are recognised and addressed effectively, it affects the wider mission.

To facilitate change you not only need a driver for change, but you also need to remove the blockers or problems to facilitate that change.  Any solutions taken forward need to address the problems and must be implementable by the whole industry and not simply by a privileged few with the specialist expertise to create workarounds.

The steps to resolving any problem are straightforward and widely known but often carry different labels. In principle these are:

1.            Recognition and definition of the problem;

2.            Find suitable solutions;

3.            Identify the appropriate solution;

4.            Implement that solution.

Recognising BIM data problems

The key to the resolution of any problem, blocker or barrier is to recognise that it exists. The success of the Building Information Management process identified as Level 2 is down to those standards and documents that have been developed to remove the blockers to adoption. But to remove the blocker, they first recognised that a blocker might exist. Unfortunately, hindsight is generally the accepted solution, and even with this, often other excuses are developed to hide the true problem.

The article “£185,000,000: Is this the cost of delivering COBie UK?” highlighted the issues with the delivery of structured data.  The reality is that delivering structured data to meet the Asset Information Requirements identified in the Employers Information Requirements is just one of the problems identified.

Find suitable solutions

There has been a huge expectation placed upon the three letter acronym especially when it finally matures to Level 3. Here the talk is of big data; the internet of things; as well as delivering faster, cheaper buildings. But key to success is the delivery of information that will aid the decision-making process for all those involved. Again the devil is in the detail, and this is where understanding those problems and finding appropriate solutions is paramount. Various research projects have identified similar problems and solutions to these have already been tried and tested.

Identify the best solution

Structured data is key to interoperability, and the issues that presently exist are best resolved by the standardisation of the data formats. The perception that IFC is the only solution has held back the industry for many years, due to the speed of development and lack of supporting funding. While there is a need for IFC to expand, the creation of a standard data dictionary can alleviate the development problems through using product experts and input into IFC; plugging those gaps.

To this end, the Construction Product Association are launching the LEXiCON tool in April. This will be a ‘free to use’ process to allow products to be defined and their data formatted in a unified approach. The CPA appointed BRE in cooperation with Active Plan given their extensive experience in developing the Templater Tool, this being its latest incarnation. At its heart is the provision of a standard data dictionary using Web Service API’s to enable the delivery of the standardised structured data, and remove the construction product data problems that exist.

Implement the best solution

Identifying and implementing the best solution doesn’t just happen. Implementation involves change, and then the people, process and technology blockers come into play. The best solution needs to evaluate the problems and provide implementable solutions. The development of the Templater Tool has followed such a path, and it now provides solutions to problems that many presently do not know exist because they don’t try and read and validate the data they deliver.

To facilitate change, we need to make it easier for people to change than to continue doing what they have previously been doing. This involves standardising process and technology and providing solutions to alleviate those blockers that will be created.

The creation of LEXiCON as a data dictionary holding a data standard does not resolve the problem on its own. However, it does provide a foundation upon which other tools and solutions can be built which can start to resolve the problem. But what problems is it solving and what does change look like?

Finding the data solution

Amongst the LEXiCON launch events, it will feature at the BRE BIM Prospects conference in April, where various companies will be discussing the problems they have identified and how this new system will improve delivery.

We have now reached a point where the data problem has at least been identified, and solutions are being developed. What is key over the coming years is the ability for further tools and technology to be developed that can impact on the people and process to ensure that positive and sustainable change can be implemented.

Paul OakleyPaul Oakley BA(Hons) Dip Arch RIBA

Director BIM