Why are BIM standards are like Swiss cheese?

 Bill East
 Lean Handover Production and Consulting

What picture does BIM bring to mind? Most of you probably thought about the great visualizations that we use for physical collision detection.

Now, let’s think about a completely different type of thing entirely. Let’s think about cheese. In particular, think about Swiss Cheese. Take a moment with the picture below...


Now, the question I want to ask you is this, “When you eat that cheese, do you eat the cheese or the holes?”

Of course, we each the cheese - not the holes. If there were no holes, perhaps we would like that cheese a little better, but those of us that eat Swiss cheese are very satisfied just the way it is. We do not focus on the holes. We want the cheese!

An Industry Foundation Class (IFC) Model View Definition (MVD), such as the Construction-Operations Building information exchange (COBie) or the Coordination View, can only define a least common denominator for information exchange. In other words, every MVD has both cheese and holes.

COBie, for example, is focused on the delivery of manufactured building products and equipment that require maintenance. That is the "cheese." We can't use COBie for every possible type of building or information because there are “holes” designed into the COBie standard. Objects excluded from COBie are actually defined within standard itself! For example, COBie excludes information about linear assets and facilities other than “buildings.” The name of the standard tells you what is provided, doesn’t it?

Do the holes mean that you will not like COBie? As always, it depends. If you are building a bridge, it is highly unlikely that COBie will be helpful. If you are building the vast majority of buildings anywhere in the world, however, COBie will be -very- helpful to you. Even then, will a standard defining the least common denominator be relevant to your entire building? Maybe not. That does not mean, however, the information about "Pump-05 in Room-03" in every building is not needed? Certainly we need such information! We need this cheese!

My guess is that by the time our industry is done, about thirty different Model Views would be developed to cover the majority of building construction. Why do we need all of these different kinds of standards (oops, I mean cheese)? Because different constituents need to share different types of information.

Beside COBie and the Coordination View there are other MVD's that have been shown to be able to create adaptive, learning buildings. These MVD's, available in the NBIMS-US, are the HVAC, electrical systems, domestic plumbing systems, and building automation systems MVD's. Other specifications starting to be implemented pertain to structural systems: BIMSteel and precast concrete.

Given the set the information standards we have today, and the knowledge that more will be needed in the future, let us now turn to the question of: "What is the reasonable Cheese-To-Hole Ratio needed to satisfy you, the cheese lover?"

In my, view the minimum set of information for any information exchange is the set of information that matches some agreed upon portion of the information currently provided in design drawings, construction fabrication drawings, submittal documents, handover information, etc. Such information is available right now, because someone has to actually put marks on a drawing (or type in software) to capture that information. We can capture that information, simply by developing common output formats for that information. However, we know that not everything is on the drawings or in these documents. Today, there are often lots of missing elements already. You see, we are already used to working around those holes, aren't we?

By focusing on the current standard of care as expressed on drawings and documents (i.e. "data=drawings") we avoid, many questions that no one has a good answer for, while still moving forward!

Do we want more and better information? Of course! Will some teams be able to make local and/or proprietary exchanges that contain more? Of course! Do we get there by making cheese without holes? No! It will take forever to precisely define every possible set of information for every possible type of facility. It is simply not possible!

Unless we start with data comparable to the current standard of care/practice of our industry –our existing contract documents - we will forever be trying eat the holes, and forgetting about the cheese!


Published October 2016