NBIMS-US: The first decade

 Bill East
 Lean Handover Production and Consulting

Last summer, I had the opportunity to reconnect with the Chairpersons of each of the three versions of the United States National Building Information Model Standard (NBIMS-US) version. Based on those discussion, my co-author (Deke Smith) and I complied a set of lessons learned in a paper presented at the 2016 CIBW078 Conference. It is our hope that this information may be helpful for those working to create innovations platforms four our industry.

Readers may download the paper here.

To start, I think many readers will be surprised to find out that efforts to standardize building information exchange are not new. An entire previous generation of design and construction professionals worked on and retired from the problems many of use have also been working on for years. If we are honest with ourselves, those previous efforts, those hundreds of thousands of hours of committee work, seem to have had little practical impact on the day-to-day working of a design office or construction trailer. The problems recognized a US National Academy of Sciences panel in 1983 of "data loss during the life of a building" are as true then, as they are now.

That does beg the question as why anyone should pay attention to yet another set of standards. What was new about NBIMS-US?

To me the answer is in the fundamental question asked by each NBIMS-US versions and how the answer to that question has evolved. The important answer is, in fact a question...

Readers of the paper will discover, the fundamental question was and is, "What is a standard?" NBIMS-US has been to date an open-standard. Anyone at any skill level, background, and affiliation has been able to participate. Given that diversity, that there were many, many answers to this question. Differences of opinion about this question were the primary basis for conflict within NBIMS-US. More than once, conflicts surrounding the answer to this question almost caused the entire effort to collapse.

In the latest version, version 3, for technical specifications was well established. An "information exchange standard" is a "contractable," performance-based set of information, that solves a specific business problem, whose specification defines how that information can be objectively tested. If we require 3,000 PSI concrete, we can specify what it contains, how it is made, how it is tested, and how to put that requirement in contracts. NBIMS-US V3 technical standards provide just as concrete a requirement.

Beyond the standard engineering requirements analysis (called by the funny name "Information Delivery Manual") and the data model (called due to historical circumstances by the funny name "Model View Definition") technical standards that rising to the level of "National BIM Standard" must be developed in a context that support their success. Readers of the NBIMS-US V3 will see that the IDM/MVD comprises but one part of the overall documentation needed. National standards must not be developed by a small cabal in a dark room, so there is a need to describe who developed the standard. The implementation of national standards must be actually implemented and bench marked using commercial software. There must be training, examples, outreach, and a structure in place to update the standard over time.

The fact that NBIMS-U V3, Chapter 4.2 COBie is internationally recognized in only a decade, is proof-positive that the NBIMS-US technical standards process and requirements are beginning to meet industry needs.

Given the open-nature of the NBIMS-US process, not all parts of the document is as well defined as the technical standards. Given the pressure brought on NBIMS-US Chairs to keep membership high, almost anyone submitting a "best practices" had their ideas published. In a professional practice organization, such documents are published as reports or commentaries separate from the technical standards themselves. In addition, the process for sun setting obsolete specifications created a decade earlier, was never clarified.

As future NBIMS efforts evolve in the US and elsewhere, with a third generation of professionals and academics taking their turn to try to move the industry forward, the three former chairs of the NBIMS-US have offered their insights with the hope that you will be able to begin without having to recover the ground that is already paved.

Published October 2016