Building information modelling, BIM, construction

Building information modelling (BIM) is one area where 2020 promised a lot that didn’t materialise as expected, Frank Weiss, senior director of new products at Oracle Construction and Engineering explores how BIM will shift in 2021

The disruption experienced last year by many industries has been unprecedented. In construction, the impact has ranged from ongoing projects being paused, to project starts being delayed, to stalled progress around the evolution of some construction practices.

I’ve teamed up with two peers at buildingSMART International – Leon van Berlo, technical director, and Aidan Mercer, marketing director – to explore how BIM will shift in 2021 and how this will help the industry to move forward.

By bringing the industry together, buildingSMART plays a critical role in making the challenges, opportunities, and considerations around BIM more visible by facilitating discussion to help drive standardisation across the industry. As such, it is ideally positioned to identify some of the areas of BIM that we should see advance in 2021.

Data relevance

Van Berlo agrees that advancements in areas such as BIM have slowed due to Covid-19, but data relevance will still be an important topic and a growing focus for the use of BIM. There’ll be an increased effort in 2021 to really think about data and information exchange requirements.

Organisations will focus on what information they most need and why, instead of asking project teams to share everything about the project. This relevance-based approach will be key when they want to use digital information to, say, speed up an automated cost estimation or for benchmarking.

Van Berlo believes the industry is too often focusing on digitalisation for digitalisation’s sake. Instead, it needs to start thinking about what it can actually do with the information it collects and how to focus on what data is actually relevant.

Digitisation including the promise of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) is exciting, but it’s time to identify the actual benefits to the organisation and/or project. This will entail a long transition phase, where some organisations progress this over the next year while others take more time because the industry is so fragmented.

Either way a focus on the relevance of data will be key, and that’s why the employers (or exchange) information requirements (EIR) will take on even more importance in 2021.

BIM, data quality and digital twins

This focus on digitisation will expand how we’re currently working with BIM, common data environments (CDEs), and digital twins. In essence, it will bring a greater appreciation of the value of digitising the physical world. In construction, this means creating digital representations of physical assets to continually improve how we’re developing those assets.

Mercer agrees and believes digital twins will become more pervasive in 2021. BIM alone is not sufficient to develop a digital twin. But if assets could be captured in their context alongside 4D simulation, while time elements are added to information in BIM, this would provide the needed context and chronology.

A key ingredient of this approach will be data quality, and 2021 should bring strides to improve the quality of data we capture, store, share, and analyse. The success of digital twins depends on this, which will require two categories of solutions/platforms:

Those focused on operations, maintenance, asset management and/or facilities management.

Those focused on architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) solutions.

This drive for quality will see modern platforms enhance the quality of data through the use of filters while uploading data, for example. Such technology will also apply rules for data that has already been captured, add criteria to the schedule and zoning of the data, as well as engage in more consistency checks. We’ll even see model clashes being resolved in a cloud environment.

Standardisation and openness

Within buildingSMART there have been a number of developments over the past year to progress standardisation efforts across the industry. Mercer highlights that in 2020 the digital twin working group produced a positioning paper entitled “Enabling an ecosystem of digital twins”. The next steps will be to move to what buildingSMART refers to as the “activity stage,” where the group will define activities or prototypes of digital twins in 2021.

We’ll also see the next iterations of the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) and Industry Foundation Class (IFC) in 2021, as the industry looks to standardise across exchanging information.

These will move to BCF 3.0 – allowing different BIM applications to communicate model-based issues with each other; and IFC 4.3 – to extend the IFC schema to cover the description of infrastructure constructions within the domains of Railways, Roads, Ports and Waterways.

Mercer goes on to emphasise that there will be continued focus on the areas of deployment, transparency, and predictability of the standardisation processes initiated by buildingSMART.

Further, with project budgets likely to be tighter, the benefits of BIM such as cost reduction and optimisation of processes and resources will drive more of a focus on BIM for things like better designs as well as operations and maintenance. There will also be more enablement of open-source software so BIM would become more open around movement and accessibility of data.

Finally, non-proprietary data standards will become more of a focus, given a growing push from asset owners and regulatory bodies that see open data as a much better way forward.

Overall, BIM in 2021 could see a growing push for a more open and accessible environment based on industry-agreed standards, with a greater focus on data relevance and quality. Such changes should lead to broader adoption of BIM across project teams and paving the way for greater use of digital twins.



Frank Weiss

Senior director of new products

BIM and innovation

Oracle Construction and Engineering

Léon van Berlo

Technical director

buildingSMART International

Aidan Mercer

Marketing director

buildingSMART International


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