Open standards for open BIM


Dr Anne Kemp, Chair, BIM4IUK and Vice Chair of BuildingSMART reflects on recent discussions surrounding BIM in terms of the route to a Digital Built Britain and open standards

I’ve recently become Vice Chair of BuildingSMART UK and Ireland, and over the past 2 weeks I have been getting familiar with the organisation, both at the UK Chapter level and at the International level – since the last week of March was set aside for the BuildingSMART International Summit which was hosted at Watford followed by BIM Prospects, the BuildingSMART’s first outward facing conference, in London.

I became very aware during this time of the vocabulary that the “BIM” community adopts, and how there is then a further vocabulary within BuildingSMART across the international organisation, but also within each Chapter. Why else would we still be having a debate about whether BIM is “just a technology”?!

I also became aware that we were exploring two parallel journeys, which were interdependent and converging.

The first was that of BuildingSMART itself – where it has come from, its heritage, the cornerstones of its success, and how it is evolving to adapt to the disruptive changes across the industry which serves the built environment.

Secondly, and particularly because the conference was hosted in the UK, we were overtly exploring the BIM journey here and how that appears to the rest of the world – its relevance, its current status and intentions, and the prospects for its contributions globally to deal with the disruptive changes we all face. We determined that we are well on the road now to providing the building blocks required to deliver projects in Level 2, and that these were important to implement before venturing to Level 3.

But we also determined that the vision of what Level 2 then provides for us – the route to progression to a Digital Built Britain – has to be underpinned by the development and maintenance of international open standards. This is why BuildingSMART International is cited as one of the four organisations partnering to facilitate Digital Built Britain.

Looking back into February, I took part in an international thought leadership forum, followed by keynote speeches on Geo-BIM at the Geospatial World Forums in India and the Middle East. This provides a clue to another parallel journey which I also believe is converging with BIM in a way in which I have been hoping for some time. And that is the continued strengthening of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) in developing open geospatial standards to serve overall management of information. Neither is it any accident that OGC has realised the strength in collaborating with other open standards bodies, such as the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).

BuildingSMART and OGC are working on a number of initiatives to develop greater collaboration between the organisations. It’s useful to observe that IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) is to BuildingSMART what GML (Geographic Mark-up Language) is to OGC. And there needs to be a compromise, to achieve the kind of integration across differing platforms, spatial scales, and life stages that I believe the infrastructure industry needs to deliver on the promise of what BIM can achieve.

All these organisations have an over-arching, common problem statement which the industry as a whole needs them to address – that of how to stop data becoming part of the problem, whether it’s open and structured data, or whether it’s unstructured and generated by numerous devices, including ourselves.

I’m writing this on a return journey from a GreenBIM event, where I gave a talk on collaborative working – and how BIM can help to realise this. What was really insightful for me, was that this led on to two roundtable discussions around what is really required to realise BIM for Infrastructure – and the role of open standards.

The feedback was very clear. People don’t really want to know what is happening under the bonnet and what format the data may or may not be in. They simply want to know that the data is open, and it is shareable – if that is appropriate, which it may not be to the wrong people if it is the detailed design of a prison. They also want to know that the services that the data supports serves their purpose – from the grassroots, of how a building can serve the needs of the individuals and organisations using the facility, or to a responsive BIM4Potholes where the individual can feel that there will actually be a follow-up to their report. That link of data to purpose also needs to go up to the strategic level, where organisations can prioritise investment projects to ensure that their business delivers the right outcomes to the customers they serve – whether that is a fast and efficient journey from Edinburgh to Birmingham, or supply of quality school places, to the demands of a changing demographic profile across the country.

What is clear is that the open standards organisations need the right people to come forward to help. For a start, there is a challenge around succession planning – we need younger people coming in with a passion to get stuck in. And we also need relevant Use Cases – examples of various problems and challenges which need to be solved and which can test current and evolving thinking. I am really heartened to see some of our major clients coming forward to collaborate – and the BIM4Infrastructure group can certainly help others who are interested to get a clearer picture of what is happening. Do please let me know if you want to be involved.

But my final point – what could be the unintended consequences of this immersion in digital data, within a virtual as against real world? And how can we design the way we deliver the data to avoid or work with these unintended consequences? How do we ensure that we not only enable intelligent computers and intelligent infrastructure – but that we also enable intelligent human beings who aren’t merely consuming data – but are also able to engage, reflect and make humane, socially responsible decisions?


Dr Anne Kemp

Director (BIM Strategy and Development) at Atkins, Chair for BIM4Infrastructure UK and ICE BIM Action Group and Vice Chair for BuildingSMART UK

Twitter: @ICE_engineers

Twitter: @BIM4IUK


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