Toward a BIM Paradigm
An Awkward Collaboration
Consider, for example, the specific use case of an architect and a structural engineer collaborating on the design of a building. A single software application that included all of the functionality needed for both architectural and structural design would be extremely unwieldy. Only a portion of the available functionality would be of use to either the architect or the engineer, but each would be burdened with a more complex user interface. Neither would be willing to pay for the functionality that neither is likely to use.
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An additional layer of complexity would have to be added to allow each party to maintain responsible control over the information that each party creates. The added complexity of the user interface and the increased IT burden of managing access to the data by multiple parties would likely erode any efficiency gained from the single building model environment. Complexity, cost, and functional inefficiency increase exponentially as other disciplines are added to the mix.
While statistical data about BIM implementation of any type is hard to come by, the case studies of "successful" BIM implementation that have emerged thus far reveal that the data for a typical BIM project is a compilation of distributed models created and analyzed using a suite of specialized BIM tools. The paradigm of "standardizing" on a particular BIM application or platform is becoming less and less important.
Era of Technological Emergence
It is important for business leaders to understand and adapt their BIM implementation strategies with the evolving state of the available technology.
In lieu of developing tools to create and sustain a single building information model, software developers are creating tools that allow each player in the building life cycle — particularly in the design and construction phases — to work within their own modeling environments and periodically combine file-based models for collaborative work or comparative analysis. This growing trend in BIM-related software development is now firmly established and can be expected to continue, for all of the reasons cited above.
It is also important for business leaders to recognize that the building industry is only in the very early years of an era of unprecedented innovation and experimentation that is only partly driven by technology. We are witnessing the emergence of many different ideas and technologies, some of which will work better than others. If this new culture of innovation and knowledge sharing can be sustained long enough, the most useful technologies will have time to mature and the best industry practices will spread rapidly.
Practical Pitfalls Avoided
The failure of the single building information model concept to gain traction, for example, is not necessarily a bad thing. Its full implementation would have required the wholesale disruption of existing business practices, processes, organizational structures, contractual relationships, and even individual work habits. Any technology that requires such a complete break with the status quo has a high probability of failure, regardless of its merits. It's simply unrealistic to expect that a large and highly fragmented industry can adapt to such wholesale change on so many fronts all at once.
In hindsight, it is a good thing that the industry did not lock onto this entirely new business paradigm based on an entirely new technology without having had the opportunity to test and adapt it under real-world conditions. Whether by chance or intention, the industry has managed to sidestep the early ideological goal while still advancing the development and implementation of the underlying core technology.
The emerging distributed building information model paradigm allows for a more flexible and orderly integration of new technology without requiring an immediate and wholesale reordering of our entire business culture. It allows business partners to test different business practices and workflows, gain insight from their experiences, and modify their approach in a continuous cycle of innovation. It allows individual business owners to adapt their internal business practices, workflows, and technology at their own pace.
Across the industry, it allows for a great deal of experimentation to take place and for a variety of business models to emerge to suit particular markets or individual circumstances, enabling both technology and business practices to develop organically.
Finally, the distributed information model paradigm fosters greater market demand for interoperability — the seamless, reliable exchange of digital data — which in turn creates the market conditions for a greater array of specialized software tools.
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Dana K. Smith, FAIA, is executive director of the buildingSMART alliance, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), and is a senior analyst with Cyon Research. He is the founder and former chair of the NIBS Facility Information Council, developer of the U.S. National Computer Aided Design (CAD) Standard and the National Building Information Modeling (BIM) Standard.
Michael Tardif, Assoc. AIA, CSI, Hon. SDA, is director of integrated project delivery systems for Grunley Construction Company in Rockville, Maryland, and is a contributing editor to AIArchitect and Construction Project Controls and BIM Report. He is the former director of the Center for Technology and Practice Management of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the former project manager of the agcXML Project, an initiative funded and executed by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) under the auspices of the buildingSMART alliance.
This article is excerpted from Building Information Modeling by Dana K. Smith and Michael Tardif, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.