29 April 2017

BIM Model Safety

Over the last decade or so the construction industry has become more concerned with safety. With good reason, building sites can be dangerous places. 
A building site can be made safer by keeping it clean and orderly. Store rubbish where it is out of the way, remove rubbish in a timely manner; store materials in an orderly fashion; sign post and label so the workforce knows what is going on.   

BIM models are virtual computer simulations of real buildings, so to an extent the process of creating a BIM model mimics that of constructing a real building.

So just like real buildings keeping models clean and ensuring clear labelling leads to models less likely to suffer from accidents.
Mind you the accidents that happen in a model won't kill you (although the BIM Manager may threaten to), they nevertheless cause unnecessary extra work and stress.

In the good old CAD days it wasn't as critical, although still pretty frustrating. All we had to worry about was layers and filenames. 

Now in BIM models everything has a name. From Fill Patterns to Views to Groups to Parameters. Revit thankfully doesn't have that amorphous thing called Layers which can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. But never the less there are many, many more things that have names. (ArchiCAD has the misfortune of many things to name as well as Layers). 

Another difference is that BIM models, just like real building sites, have multiple people working in the same space on the same elements. 
This wasn't a problem in CAD. One person would draw a wall in plan in their own CAD file, another person would draw the same wall in elevation in their own CAD file, another person draw it in section, another person schedule it, etc.
Now in a BIM model that wall is shared by everyone, including people who didn't create the wall in the first place.

So the need for model cleanliness and clarity is just as critical as it is on a real building site.

I would go as far as saying it is impossible to create an accurate, error free model (and by extension documentation) with an unclean model. And that is because it is extremely difficult to check such a model with any degree of certainty. When I come across a messy model I know no-one has checked it properly, and by extension that the drawings and schedules produced by that model will be full of errors and missing information.

The Principals of  Cleanliness

A clean model is a model that:

Doesn't contain things that are not used or will never be used.
e.g.  Asbestos Insulation

Has only one type of element for the same thing.
e.g.  CONC 200  and  Core Wall  and  S_CO_IN_3  which are all 200mm concrete walls 

Has names for things that clearly identifies what they are or what they are for.
e.g. doesn't have names like  Section 59  or  Generic 100

Look familiar?

Now these are not hard and fast rules, they are more principles that need to be intelligently applied.

Often you will want to keep things not currently used in the model in case they will be needed in the future. For example title blocks of different sizes. And at the beginning of a project there will be a lot of thing is that haven't been used yet but might be used - that is the reasoning behind Project Templates. 
But as things are locked down it is important to get rid of things that aren't going to be used. If this is not done there is the risk that people will pick out unused things and place them in the project. This extends from non-standard section reference heads to non-compliant doors and walls.

It may seem an oxymoron to state that it is important the same thing be used for elements that are the same, but it is surprising how often this doesn't happen. To be fair sometimes it is necessary due to software limitations. For example in Revit the way a wall wraps its materials at wall ends is driven by a type parameter so you end up with two wall types for the same wall; one that wraps and one that doesn't.
But otherwise if duplicates are not eradicated error free tagging and scheduling is nigh impossible.

Both of these issues hinge on the third principal of cleanliness - name things clearly. If you can't identify what something is it is difficult to know if it is likely be used or not on the project, nor whether it is a duplicate or not. It is also difficult for modellers to select the correct thing if they can't tell what things are from their name. Indeed they are more likely to create a new thing rather than trawl through an ever increasing list of things to select from, leading to multiple definitions for the same type of element.

Naming is the Key

Modellers interact with the model through the names of things. When creating something or looking for something they are looking through lists of names. Lists of views, lists of Wall types, lists of Line Styles, lists of Beam types, etc. While it is true there are other parameters (names are just one of many parameters an object has) that could better identify things they are not immediately visible to the modeller - they have to interrogate each object to see its parameters. 

This is not the case for other users of a model. They are not interested in what something is called within the BIM model, they just care about the data that is contained in it. A contractor may use the object's type code it has been tagged with, FM the manufacturer and model number, QS the material code. Indeed for the reasons outlined above it would be dangerous for them to rely on the names of things in a BIM model.

Therefore the names of things in a model are purely for the purposes of modelling. They don't have to suit anyone else but the team working at creating the model. I treat this as sacrosanct and refuse to follow naming conventions that contractors or clients try and impose. Happy to add extra parameters, but sorry, names belong to us.

Naming Strategy

I'm not a fan of hard and fast rules (probably because I also believe rules are made for breaking). 
My preferred approach is to define naming structures rather than codes to use for naming. Divide a name into fields with particular purposes, but give people the freedom to decide what to put in those fields.
The most basic structure is to follow a major-medius-minor form.
e.g. Door Swing Glazed  instead of  Glazed swing door
       Detail Section Wall
  instead of  Wall section detail

I'm not a fan of over-abbreviation, or being too rhetorical.  CO  is too ambiguous,  Concrete  is overkill,  CONC  is about right.

But the most important thing is to be literal. Name things so that someone who knows nothing about the project will understand what it is. This overrides all other rules.
I'd rather have a wall named  92 stud wall with 13 plasterboard both sides and 75mm insulation  than named  PSI03.

If you have these three features, a clear structure, minimal abbreviation, and literal descriptions, your naming system will be understandable just through examples. 
See if you can understand how this wall naming scheme works:


Now it could be:


and still be fine. Or even:


and still be understandable.

An alternative strategy is to name things after what they are for, rather than what they are. In the above example you might call the wall Standard Internal Partition Wall.
This works on very simple projects or at the beginning during early design, but I find it becomes difficult to manage once a project gets more complex. It becomes hard for all modellers to consistently name things.  For similar wall types you could end up with names like Standard Internal Partition Wall 1,   Standard Internal Partition Wall Level 4,   or    Standard Internal Partition Wall  Dean's office.

That said some elements are best named after what they represent. If Line Styles are named that way you can safely make global changes as well as select all being used for the same purpose. Use model lines named Control Joints for all representations of Control Joints and you can globally change their appearance, turn them off in specific views, and select them all in one go.

For a more detailed discussion on naming see my post The Nature of Naming

Management Strategies

This is all fine in theory but how can cleanliness be managed?

Office BIM Manual

Obviously a comprehensive BIM manual easily accessible to all users is critical.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, that can be named must have a defined strategy on how to name it.
A BIM manual HAS to be on-line, and searchable. A dump of separate PDFs doesn't work. A paper manual you might as well hang in the toilet because it will get more use there.

Office Standard Templates

Good, up to date template files for your BIM software of choice are very valuable. It is impractical to think it is possible to pre-load them with every element that might be used, or that it is possible to restrict modellers to using only pre-approved elements.
What is practical is to provide a few examples of every kind of element named to conform with your office standard. If that standard follows the principles above them just seeing the names should provide modellers with enough information to understand and mimic them when naming new elements.

Don't forget Designers

When people think of office manuals they invariably assume it is a documentation manual. Yet it is at the design stage when models get really messy. And it is usually designers, (or clueless graduates), who originally set projects up.

It is important to include strategies that modellers can use during design, and VERY clear instructions on how to set projects up.

It is best to assume designers will be messy and attempt to minimise rather than prevent. A rule of being literal gives them freedom to do things on the fly while still providing meaningful names. Getting them to name things after what they are for will have more success than forcing them to comply with specific rules. Remember the aim is to have an understandable model, not a model that strictly follows particular rules.


BIM newbies and wannabes will by now be saying "don't you just follow the standards". Well, you might if any of them were actually usable.

Don't get me wrong, l don't have a problem with following standards, it is just that I have yet to come across anything adequate. Some are just silly like the naming standard in the NBS National BIM Object Standard. Some are archaic and are nothing more than regurgitated CAD standards.

The best I've found are invariably software specific. For example the AEC UK BIM standards (https://aecuk.wordpress.com) which has Revit, ArchiCAD and other specific software standards. The ANZ Revit Standard (http://www.anzrs.org) is also pretty good, although doesn't seem to be very active lately.

So by all means have a look at public standards to see if they are useful. But keep in mind it is unlikely you will find a standard that will adequately address every naming requirement you have, so I recommend integrating the bits that are useful. Following a standard for the sake of following a standard is always a bad idea.


Geometric design and data extraction are the headline uses for Dynamo and Grasshopper. But they can also be used for model management including automated cleanup tasks.

For example I've written a Dynamo routine that can extract the username of the person who created an element. One of the uses is to rename views to include the user name of who created it.
Another I've created renames layered elements like walls with what materials they are made from.

There are also model checking softwares and add-ins. The open source Revit Model Checker (http://www.biminteroperabilitytools.com/modelchecker) is quite good, if a bit clunky.

Solbri is a dedicated model checker but the overhead of setting up checks and having to export to a different format for checking tends to kills its ROI.


Of course regular auditing is vital. The trick to make auditing work is to not make it too onerous. It is better to do a manageable audit that might miss some things than a comprehensive one that rarely gets done.

Audits should be treated as an active management tool done while work is being undertaken rather than an after the fact tick the box exercise that is too late to be helpful.
A regular quick look over view and type names in a model with some quiet words of advice will be more beneficial than creating a 20 page audit report at the beginning and end of a project.

I'm a fan of getting those doing the work to do the checking and report the results. This makes them more responsible for mistakes and gives them an incentive to avoid them. One way to do this is to ask for regular schedules that demonstrate the model is clean.

The Stature of Cleanliness

Just like a real worksite one of the biggest issues is getting everyone to take cleanliness seriously; that it is not a low priority, that "I didn't have time" is not a valid excuse.

It is important that it is appreciated that a messy model is an indicator of incompetence that leads to mistakes and inefficiencies and ultimately loss of profitability.

That means those at the top have to take it seriously as well and make cleaning up models, keeping them clean, and checking they are clean a part of everyone's job description, even if they do not directly use models.

Directors responsible for a project need to ask whether models are clean;
Project leads need to be confident their project models are clean;
BIM managers must regularly audit or oversee auditing all models;
Model manager must actively clean their model;
Those working in models must follow standards and protocols.

Assuming the BIM Manager is solely responsible for cleanliness will never be enough.
Although appointing a dedicated BIM Safety Officer is perhaps a step too far.

28 February 2017

The Axioms of BIM

BIM can seem complicated at times, but is it really?
Certainly BIM processes and procedures can end up being complicated, just try and and understand some of the standards that are being pushed.

If only there was a way to cut through the guff, to have a simple set of principles that could be applied in any situation where BIM is at issue.

Like in Mathematics. Mathematics is all about logic, but that logic has to be based on something, has to start somewhere. This is where Axioms come in. An Axiom is "a self-evident truth that requires no proof". Maybe that is a step too far for BIM. But what about a "universally accepted principle or rule".

Axioms have to be basic otherwise they are hard to apply. Euclid's first for geometry is "A straight line segment can be drawn joining any two points.", the second "Any straight line segment can be extended indefinitely in a straight line."

Could we do the same for BIM? Have some "universally accepted principles."


First we need to be clear about what we are talking about, what we mean by BIM.

I wrote a post about this back in 2012 - What Does BIM Mean to You?
Hopefully by now we are beyond arguing about personal interpretations. Also back then discussion was more centered on buildings and the particular form of model used. BIM has moved on since then so I think a more universal definition is warranted.
BIM is a generic term for anything that involves software that directly associates data with geometric information.
The term BIM is used to describe the thing - the Building Information Model, the process - Building Information Modelling and management - Building Information Management.
Usually BIM applies to buildings, or facilities, but may be applied to other things like infrastructure and GIS (Geographical Information System). Really anything in the built environment that has a physical form and meaningful data.


So now we are on the same page what are the essential axioms we can use to apply to BIM topics and issues.

1.    BIM can be used by anyone for anything.

BIM is not limited to certain purposes or particular groups.
BIM is not just for design, construction or operation. It is not just for design analysis, clash detection, facilities management. Nor is is just for buildings, infrastructure or GIS. The data in BIM models is agnostic, it doesn't care who uses it or for what purpose.
It can be used to educate, to inform, in contracts, to create VR, for disaster planning, even preparing terrorist attacks (hence the need for PAS1192-5).

Allied with this is there is no theoretical limit to the type of data. If there is data that you would find useful you can add it (or pay someone to add it). Just don't expect someone else to do it for free - see Axiom 2.

2.    The BIM you do directly benefits what you do.

If not, you are doing someone else’s work for them.
The reason you use BIM software and processes is to improve the efficiency and quality of the work you do and are responsible for.

If you don't think you are, apply Axiom 1 - BIM can be used for anything, and work out how it could benefit what you do.

This Axiom is not just about personal gain. This is an important aspect of BIM. Processes where each participant is benefiting will always be more robust, have greater take up, and longevity.

But more importantly it is critical participants only work within their area of expertise and responsibility. Architect's should not use BIM to do structural analysis. Design professionals and contractors should not be responsible for providing data that is specifically structured for FM purposes.
Providing data to others is fine, but providing data that is fit for someone else's purpose is a step too far.
And unnecessary. Structured data is accessible no matter how it is structured. Standards may help if those standards are adequate, but lack of standards does not make it an impossible task.

Contractors should be responsible for extracting the data they need for construction from design consultants data, FM consultants should be responsible for extracting the data they need for operations from contractor's data, realtors responsible for extracting the data they need for sales from FM data, etc...

So if you find yourself in a situation where what you are doing is of no benefit to what you do, you are within your rights to say no, - we don't do that, or demand to be paid to do it.

Conversely, if you are doing it for your own purposes and someone else is benefiting from it, you give them free access to it, after all it is not costing you anything.

3.    BIM replaces or enhances something you already do.

BIM is something you do instead of other less efficient and less accurate methods.
If you are following Axiom 2 - you are using BIM for your own benefit, you will be using it to do things you were already responsible for.

You don't draw in Autocad AND model in ArchiCAD, you don't manually create a schedule in Excel AND create the schedule in Revit.
You don't do a structural design by linking an analysis package to your model AND calculate it all out with pen, paper and calculator.
You don't use a BIM model and a total station to set out ceiling hangers AND measure them out with a measuring tape.
You don't have a room full of drawings & folders AND have an integrated FM database.

This also applies to management. There may be a new position called BIM Manager, but it isn't a new profession. It's a manager who uses BIM to do the things managers do already.

BIM is a tool to get things done. It is not a thing in itself. If you are doing BIM for no measurable purpose you are wasting your time.

4.    BIM is not possible without BIM capable software.

BIM is fundamentally a technology of a particular type of computer software.
BIM capable software is software that, as a minimum, can store and manipulate geometric information and associate data to that geometry. Software that only does geometry (CAD, SketchUp, Rhino, etc) or just manages data (databases, spreadsheets, etc) are not BIM capable.

BIM is often described as a process, but it is a process of managing BIM capable software. It may involve only managing the output and exchange of that software, but to do that effectively you need an understanding of the abilities and limitations of the software involved. BIM Management ignorant of software issues is nothing more than management by wishful thinking.

There are some who think mandating "OpenBIM" means software becomes irrelevant.
OpenBIM may be developed by committees with high ideals, but it is still software (or software format), it still has a fixed form that people have to try and use to get things done. BIM softwares that are used in the real world have to be able to interact with "OpenBIM" formats or BIM processes will not be possible.

When it comes to BIM you always have to consider the impact of the softwares being used.

5.    BIM works best with Collaboration.

Sharing your data means others share their data with you.
BIM works best if your combine it with collaboration with others, but you can still use BIM without any collaboration.

An architect can use Revit to just create drawings and schedules but never give the model to anyone. The architect is still doing BIM, benefiting from it by being more efficient and accurate, even though there is no collaboration.

If you think about it BIM can't just be collaboration. If none of the collaborators produce or can offer BIM, how can there be any collaboration? There is nothing to collaborate with.

Collaboration is a secondary consideration. Establishing what BIM will be done (Axiom 1), that there is a benefit (Axiom 2), and that it is doing something that it is required because it is already being done (Axiom 3), has to be done first.

But once that happens collaboration is definitely low hanging fruit.

Consider the example above. If the architect share their model with, say, a quantity surveyor who uses the model to measure quantities, the architect will get costing advice much quicker and more often (as will the client), leading to the architect wasting less time on abortive work.


Of course there are other considerations than just the Axioms when looking at BIM.
Some examples I've seen are:
  • Whether the effort or expense is worth the outcome.
  • Whether it is possible with current technology and skill sets.
  • Whether there enough time in the program for implementation.

But these are not principles about BIM, they are problems to overcome.
  • If it is not worth the effort, how could the effort be reduced, or the outcome enhanced to make it more valuable? 
  • If it is not currently possible when will it be possible, or what is possible now, what is practical now?
  • Compare how much extra time is required against the benefits. Can the program be adjusted to allow more time upfront?


So next time you are in a discussion about BIM keep in mind the BIM Axioms, they may provide a quick answer to a silly proposition.

To recap the BIM Axioms are:

  1. BIM can be used by anyone for anything.
  2. The BIM you do directly benefits what you do.
  3. BIM replaces or enhances something you already do.
  4. BIM is not possible without BIM capable software.
  5. BIM works best with collaboration.

Have a go at this quiz to see how easy it is (answers below).

Which axiom applies to each of the following:

A.   You wouldn't use BIM for that.
B.   It's your job to give me the data I need.
C.   BIM is a whole lot of extra work.
D.   It doesn't matter which software you use for BIM.
E.   We can't use BIM because the contract doesn't have collaboration clauses (is not IPD).

(A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, E=5)

Supplementary quiz for the dedicated:

A.   You can do BIM with CAD software.
B.   It is extra work to get our schedules out of Revit.
C.   The primary purpose of BIM is for facility operations.
D.   We can't use BIM because there is no BIM Execution Plan.
E.   COBie doesn't cost anything.

(A=4, B=3, C=1, D=5, E=2)

06 December 2016

Where is BIM in Education

Recently I went on-line and had a look at the subject offerings of the four university level design schools in my home town. I wanted to see what they were offering in terms of BIM education, and by extension what could I expect from new graduates.

I could not find any mention of BIM at all - not a thing.

Mind you there was little or no detail information on individual subjects, so there may be BIM buried somewhere. Still, I wonder how a prospective student who wants to get a good grounding in BIM chooses where to go.

But I get the distinct feeling there is no, or only cursory BIM. You can tell from the subject offerings.

The "Computing" major at one school is described as for:
"... students who want to develop strong professional capabilities in programming and development of digital artifacts. You will develop strong technical skills in the areas of media computation, data manipulation and visualisation, interaction design, and usability."
Subjects include Calculus, Algebra, WEB technology and Graphics and Computation. Nothing about virtual construction or building data management.

Another major, "Digital Technologies" has:
"a special focus on digital media artefacts such as web-based media, mobile media, and interactive media."
Again, nothing remotely like BIM. Although this major is no doubt useful for presenting "artist's impressions" digitally. Which is, apparently, quite useful for marketing. I'm surprised they don't have social media in there. Perhaps they haven't caught up with that yet, after all its only been around for 12 years.

Another subject at another school, "Design Communications (Digital)" equates CAD, BIM and graphic softwares as achieving equal outcomes:
"... students will be asked to work through 3 software packages: AutoCAD, Revit Architecture and Photoshop."
which is not surprising because the expected outcome are drawings and geometric models:
"Computation and representation; 2 and 3 dimensional computer models of forms – solids, surfaces; number – dimensions, text; geometry – point, line, plane; scale – proportion, composition, reproduction; and material – hatching, texture, shade. Navigation and scale, perspective and point of view; ordering and referencing drawings, simple rendering and lighting." 
There is no appreciation that Revit can do so much more than merely create drawings. The depressing thing is this subject is flagged as a BIM subject, presumably because it includes Revit.

Some schools even have subjects like "Drawing Studio" and "Architectural Drawing". I can't help feeling that there is this belief in academia that the core skill required for architects is to understand drawing conventions. Drawing may be useful, but surely it is just one of the many tools now available to communicate a design to others.
Of more concern is their belief that the sole use for digital technology is to do drawings, whether archaic technical drawings from CAD, or 3D rendered "artists impressions".
The idea that computers could be used to mimic reality, to create virtual architecture, seems to have bypassed the practice of teaching in academia.


The lack of BIM could just be the conservatism of universities, a lack of awareness of anything new. Or the belief that anything new, while worthy of research, doesn't apply to them.

But it seems deeper than that. BIM software is actively resisted.

I came across a blog post at revitpure.com, Should Architecture Students use Revit? It spoke of the US but resonates with what I see in my home town. Some quotes from architecture students:
"The professor who runs the second year is pretty anti-Revit for her students"
"Some professors strictly forbid it. [...] They did mark down projects that would use the base Revit doors, windows and railings."
I didn't realise architecture involved the designing of custom doors, windows and railings. I though it involved the arrangement of spaces, form composition and satisfaction of user requirements (among other things).

The difference between a building drawn with SketchUP, Rhino or 3D Max and one modelled with Revit or Archicad is that the latter is a closer representation of an actual buildable building, while the former is just a representation of an idea.
Now sometimes a representation of an idea is all that is required. It depends on what is being taught, and what is being assessed. And I can understand the argument that BIM software can sometimes get in the way.
Students obviously have limited skill sets, they can't learn everything at once. So a choice has to be made. Either let them explore concepts and ideas and then teach them how to turn them into buildings, or teach them the skills they will require (the craft) first, and then let them explore concepts and ideas that they can apply their craft to.
In the first case you would initially ban BIM software, in the second you would initially accept boring designs with "base Revit doors, windows and railings".
Most schools use the first method, because concepts and ideas are fun, and they don't want to put new students off. Which is fine. The problem is they don't seem to get around to properly teach the craft of architecture, how to turn an idea into a buildable building.

It might be argued BIM is only suitable for advanced students, those in upper years or doing a masters. But the offerings in postgraduate courses are limited to parametric design, including at one school "designing sonic spaces".
The problem is parametric design is not necessarily, and rarely, BIM. Although it is kind of BIM, it uses associated data just like BIM, it is not necessarily BIM - a representation of a buildable building. It maybe of just planes, it may not be supported, how it integrates with the rest of building may be unresolved. A whole lot of other stuff has to be done to turn an algorithmic design into a piece of architecture or a real structure that is buildable.


Let's face the elephant in the room - BIM is boring.

After all, BIM is just another way of doing things that have always been done.

Sure BIM does things a little better - once you know how to use it. Like being quicker, reducing errors and leaving fewer things unresolved. But surely these things can be done just by being more competent, being more careful, spending a bit more time, by "talking to each other more". Why learn (or teach) a whole new way of doing things for such an unexciting outcome?

Yes, BIM, in itself, is boring. The softwares are complex and take time to master. Dealing with rows and rows of data is boring. Having to think about how high things are, what level they are on, what a wall is constructed of when all you want to do is a plan is tedious. Not being able to use a window or a piece of joinery as a door is annoying.

But there is a pay off.

When you use BIM software to model you are creating a building. Not a real building mind you, a virtual building, but still a building. When you use CAD or 3D modelling software you are only creating drawings or geometric models, a representation of what a building might look like. With BIM it is what it will actually look like. Much more exciting. Something I would have thought valuable in an educational context.

I don't understand why educationists haven't jumped on BIM as way of teaching. Take architecture; using it as a tool to show students how buildings fit together, as a way of assessing what a student's design will actually look like as a building (rather than what they imagine it would look like). Likewise structural design; BIM can link analysis with a model of structural elements directly. Change either and the effects are immediately obvious. Similarly for MEP. Surely that is a fantastic teaching tool.

I appreciate the BIM software we have doesn't always make this that easy or that smooth a process, particularly for the engineering disciplines. But where are the people in academia that are excited about the possibilities? Excited enough to actually use it, rather than just write research papers?


The four schools in my town is not a big sample so I did a bit of research looking at papers on BIM Education. It is quite depressing.

Many are just surveys. Australia based NatSpec have an annually updated report, The International BIM Education report which is a compilation of  responses from "a global group of parties". It is a compilation of expert opinions rather than a comprehensive survey, but provides a good over-view.

A recent paper (May 2016), BIM Curriculum Design in Architecture, Engineering and Construction Education: a Systematic Review published by the US based Journal of Information Technology in Construction provides a review of published papers on BIM Education. One of its findings is that:
"the number of AEC programs that offer elective BIM courses is significantly higher than programs that require BIM courses for a degree."
It seems academia is treating BIM as an "extra", not a core skill required by future construction professionals.

Here in Australia there has been a serious attempt to progress BIM Education. Their web site codeBIM.com has a range of resources and the start of a systematic approach. Unfortunately it seems to be in abeyance. References are quite old, and the last active initiative was in 2010 when they had a one off grant from the federal government Office of Learning and Teaching.  They have their own survey of BIM education in Australian schools, but it is from 2011.
The main focus of this group is (was) in the collaborative aspect of BIM, where students of different disciplines do a group project together. While a valid part of BIM education it is not the only aspect, and probably one of the most difficult to introduce due to the required coordination across departments.

The feeling I got from the limited papers I read is that BIM education in academia is going backwards. Initiatives started years ago didn't develop into anything permanent, one-off pilots never seem to go anywhere.

Is it just all too hard?


BIM is a broad term and means different things to different parties. To some it is the process that makes BIM, to some a container of information about a building, to others the data that can be extracted. To an architect BIM is a model, to a facilities manager it is data about equipment.
Not all aspects have to be taught to the same level to everyone, although everyone should be aware of what others require.

In general BIM can be divided into three broad categories:


Virtual Design & Construct is what is sounds like. BIM software is used to create a virtual building, then that virtual building is used to inform and manage construction.
A Revit or ArchiCAD model is a VDC model. A CAD file is not, a 3D SketchUP or Rhino model is not. VDC models not only have data embedded in them; a door knows what its fire rating is, they also have intelligence; a door knows which wall it is in and what floor it is on.
VDC models can be used for analysis. The virtual building can be tested before it is built, from thermal performance to crowd behaviour. And all this testing means designs can be optimised. Instead of just "doing a design", many alternatives can be tried and assessed to get the best outcome.


Collaboration is an ideal rather than a thing. The idea is that if VDC models are shared, or constructed together cooperatively, there will be greater integration of the various skill sets brought to the building by the different parties involved.
Each participant incorporates their work into a VDC model so that others can use the combined information in the VDC model to inform their work.
If the architect can see the mechanical engineer's ductwork in their model it is easier to ensure their ceilings accommodate them, conversely if the mechanical engineer can see the architect's ceiling and structure above they can work towards their ducts fitting within the space between them.

BIM Management

BIM Management covers the management of BIM processes, and the management of BIM data. There is overall BIM Management, the process of coordinating all the participants "collaborating". This extends from BIM Management Plans to novel contractual arrangements like Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).
BIM data management is the managing of data structures, extraction and formatting. The skills needed for estimating and facilities management, to name a few.


BIM Management

BIM Management is probably the most advanced area of BIM education. Students are not going to be going straight into BIM Management roles on graduation so it is a 'need to know' rather than a 'need to do' subject. Economical lectures and reading assignments are generally adequate to cover it. Guest lectures by unpaid industry lobbyists even cheaper.

Because it is so easy to provide there is a danger BIM Management education goes too far. Understanding esoteric standards that no-one actually uses in practice is pretty much a waste of time.
As are the ravings of BIM evangelists on the Utopian future that their brand of BIM will bring.

As this is the only BIM most students are exposed to it is not surprising the majority of BIM research done by postgraduates has little relationship to actual BIM use in the industry, not withstanding the unending LinkedIn requests by students and researchers to fill out BIM use surveys.


Typically Collaboration subjects create multi-disciplinary teams, for example students of architecture, structure and/or construction, and get them to work on a single project or task. For educators Collaboration is the least boring part of BIM, it is just like the real world the students will soon be working in.

Except it is not really about BIM. Collaboration subjects can be run without BIM. There is no reason they can't use CAD, or hand drawings for that matter, and still collaborate.
I suspect this is why Collaboration subjects have gained some initial traction. People ignorant of BIM can see the benefits without having to understand the BIM part of it.

When BIM processes are used - sharing VDC models and data, there are BIM education aspects to it. Learning to create models others can use, and how to deal with the models of others is a necessary BIM skill. But not as fundamental as VDC.

I suspect the failure of  Collaboration subjects to catch on is not entirely due to logistics of coordinating the timetables of several disparate courses (the usual excuse). The lack of competently created VDC models by participants, who would have had very little education in VDC model creation, have a large part to play. Then add in the novelty of working for the first time with other disciples (these subjects are only ever run once). I'm not saying these programs were a failure, just that by themselves they seem to not have inspired enough confidence to progress BIM education.


VDC is the core of BIM. Without VDC models BIM is not possible. And no-one can fully comprehend BIM without an understanding of how VDC models work.
So even if you ignore the fact that future design professionals will need VDC skills to get a job, to teach BIM you have to teach students how VDC models work, and the best way to do that is to get them involved in making VDC models.

It is not about learning a particular software, any proper BIM authoring software (and there are many which claim to be but are not) will be adequate to teach the fundamentals of BIM.

The problem is many in academia treat BIM authoring software as if it is another version of CAD. It is not. It is fundamentally different. CAD is so dumb BIM software can print CAD files just like it can print PDFs or paper drawings.

When you teach BIM using software like Revit or ArchiCAD you are not merely instructing students on the commands required to produce lines or 3D solids, you are teaching them fundamental concepts like what a door is, that a wall is not the same as a roof, that stairs have limits on their dimensions, that if you remove a column the building will fall down.

Academia has to get away from the current practice of teaching BIM authoring software to merely create drawings or geometric models. To stop churning out graphic artists and mathematicians and start producing building design professionals. Professionals with a good understanding of their craft.


Because VDC is so fundamental it can not be treated as an extra subject. It has to be integrated, it has to replace existing programs.

Within subjects where BIM can be used in the real world the teaching of BIM processes should replace traditional processes, not merely added as an optional extra. I find it strange that academia, who should be looking to the future, use the fact that BIM is not yet currently universally used in industry as an excuse not to teach it.

Anywhere that drawing or graphics is taught should be replaced with VDC subjects. "Communication", graphic and drawing subjects need to be replaced with VDC modelling where the emphasis is on creating virtual buildings rather than representations of buildings.
Computer and "Digital" subjects must include skills beyond mere design generation, and the new kid on the block, Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented reality (AR). Data management skills, using simulation and analysis, are far more useful than just being able to generate parts of an overall design, or represent your design "interactively".

Frank's sketch of Bilbao

Will that mean the end of drawing? No. Drawing is still, and will always be, the quickest way for a person to communicate an idea. But to turn that idea into a building, into Architecture, the quickest way is to model it as a building. Not do more drawings.

Bilbao as a model
VDC software doesn't mean the death of drawing. These softwares easily create drawings. They may be too information rich for some, but they are still drawings.
I'm old enough to have used log tables and slide rulers in exams. By necessity exams questions had to be kept simple because of the time calculations took. Now calculators are allowed and questions can be much more sophisticated, and by extension more complex concepts can be taught. VDC software does a similar thing. By removing the need to draw everything more time can be spent on design issues and analysis. Letting software create the output also standardises results across students, making it easier to assess design ability rather than graphic skills.


As I touched on above, I don't understand why educators are not considering using BIM processes to extend and improve what they do.
The same model checking and BIM processes we in the industry use can be used to assess student's work.

If students submit a VDC model then:
  • it can be viewed from any angle, it can be cut and sliced to easily check for completeness and analyse how it works. 
  • schedules can be created to check the brief has been met: area schedules, room schedules, efficiencies, etc. Also code requirements: ventilation, daylight, minimum door widths, fire rating etc. 
  • model checking can be used to assess code compliance, realistic spatial allowances (e.g. stair widths, wall thickness, structural and duct sizes), etc.
  • analysis used to check energy use, daylight and sunlight penetration, fire performance, crowd behaviour, etc. 

Just like in the real world use of BIM can improve the quality of student's work by making deficiencies more obvious, and as a bonus a lot of checking tedium can be dispensed with.

This is what I don't get. Academia, for example, will do research papers on Singapore's use of BIM for automating building code compliance, or even BIM Based Architectural Design Quality Checking, but it doesn't occur to them to do it for themselves - to use BIM to automate their own processes.

The secret of BIM is you use it for your own purposes, you don't specifically do it to benefit others, because just the act of creating BIM means you create something that others can use.
For BIM to work it has to be evolutionary - each step has to produce immediate benefit for it to progress. That starts with education. Use BIM for educational purposes and the students of that education will be BIM proficient. There would be no need for separate "BIM education".

For BIM to take hold in academia what we need now are some trailblazers to show how BIM can benefit the needs of education.

And for pity's sake stop bugging us with industry BIM surveys, spend some time looking in your own backyard.

30 September 2016

Making BIM Work: Quality Models

BIM processes only work if there is something those processes can act upon.
No BIM models, no process.
And quality matters: without good quality models no matter how good BIM processes or standards are it will be extremely difficult for anyone to do anything useful.

Pretty basic stuff, but all too often ignored.

Ignored because to ensure these thing happen action has to occur at the very, very, beginning of a project. When each design consultant is signed up, because they are the BIM authors, the ones who will be creating the BIM models.
Ignored because owners assume BIM authors will produce adequate BIM models as part of their normal service, even when the contract deliverables are only drawings, schedules and specifications.

Now, one day this will hopefully change. Consultant agreements will by default contain common, widely understood BIM requirements. Consultants themselves will be familiar and comfortable with BIM software and what is necessary for quality BIM models.

But at present, pretty much everywhere, this is not the case. And it is not going to change if we don't start addressing this issue directly.

Why is there a Problem with Models?

The reason it is so difficult to get quality BIM models from design consultants is that they think their job is, for architects, to produce drawings, for engineers, to produce diagrams. So they use their software, whether BIM or not, to only produce drawings. Also they generally don't use their BIM software to produce schedules. As they see it their deliverable is a paper schedule, maybe an Excel spreadsheet. So why use your drawing software?

All this is because drawings have traditionally been their tangible deliverable, and is still the main contractual deliverable even in notionally "BIM" projects. Due in part because the reality is that drawings are still the legal documents that contractors use to construct from.
Mind you there are good reasons why drawings are used for legal evidence. All information on drawings is visible and unchangeable. Explanatory text can be included, status, revision sequence and issued date are all clearly displayed. It is very hard for someone to say "I didn't see it".
One day BIM models may be able to do these things, or things that achieve the same outcomes. There are examples around that do some of these things, or something similar, like Bentley's 'Hypermodel' functionality, or the open source BIM Collaboration Format (BCF).

But presently there are no common, robust, methods that match the certainty of drawings.
So are architects and engineers justified in using their BIM software to just produce drawings?

BIM Software is Designed to produce Drawings

The softwares we use today to do BIM were not originally designed to do BIM. They were designed to produce drawings.
When ArchiCAD came out in 1987 the way it worked was that the building was modelled in 3D up to a point. Once it was decided to move to drawings, plans, elevations and sections were created as separate files from the model and worked over to turn them into drawings.
This is a common approach. SketchUp does the same with its separate LayOut program.
Revit came out in 2000 with a similar functionality, except that plans, elevations and sections remained live. Everything was in the one file, so changes in the 3D model instantly appeared in all views created for drawings. But the purpose of Revit was still to create drawings.
Other software now used for BIM started life as CAD programs, with gradual 3D functionality added to assist drawing production (e.g. Bentley, and the now defunct AutoDesk Architecture).

BIM as we know it today came from the realisation that the integrated 3D model that these softwares produced could be used for other purposes. In practical terms BIM is what these softwares are capable of doing, despite the efforts to extend BIM into the realm of fantasy by the standards wonks and BIM evangelists (see my previous post on standards).

So if you use BIM software as it is intended to be used it will produce drawings for you. There is no need to "take shortcuts" to produce convincing looking drawings. And if you use the software properly it will be BIM ready, it will not "take more time" to do BIM.

The Benefits of BIM to Authors

Much is made of using BIM models for 4D (construction sequencing), 5D (quantity measuring), 6D (life-cycle management), and other 'D's. They can also be used for analysis and simulations, particularly in engineering - structural analysis, power circuits, mechanical systems etc.

What is often not appreciated is that a BIM model can also be used for quality assurance (QA) purposes. Checks can be utilised that minimise design errors, that ensure the model is in fact a quality BIM model and an accurate representation of what is to be built.
If all you produce are drawings and separate schedules, you can only check drawings and schedules.
If your BIM models are created properly you can use the model to do the checking.

If your walls contain their fire rating as data in a parameter you can colour code those walls, the same for fire rated doors, fire rated dampers etc. Which makes checking that the correct walls and doors are in the right place much quicker than trawling through multiple drawings and cross referencing schedules.

If your doors contain size data you can run a model check for doors with heights or widths below minimum required values. Check concrete walls required to be fire rated to ensure their thickness achieves their rating. You get the idea, the list is endless.

Revit Warnings

These checks can be manual (e.g. use Filters in Revit or the free add-in Color Splasher to color-code  views by object parameter), or automated (e.g. Revit's inbuilt Warnings,  Autodesk Model Checker for Revit, Solibri IFC model checker).

And because drawings and schedules come directly from the model they will be correct if the model is correct.

When I say correct, I mean correct information. Letting software create your drawings and schedules means forgoing some control over graphic representation. But then BIM authors are architects and engineers, not graphic artists. The question they need to ask is not does this drawing look "neat", but can it be misinterpreted? Will the contractor build the wall using the wrong material or in the wrong place because the lineweight is not exactly right, the hatch pattern doesn't align perfectly? Will they mistake a grid for something else because its head doesn't perfectly align with other grids?

The bottom line is that it is possible to be much more thorough when checking a model as compared to checking drawings and schedules. It can also be done much quicker, especially if standardised automated model checking processes are implemented alongside manual checking. All this leads to less errors in documents, meaning less time wasted dealing with mistakes, both internally and on site.

Looks OK in 2D plans and elevations, but an on-site mistake waiting to happen
There is no real excuse for design consultants to NOT produce good quality BIM models. They should be doing as part of their normal duty of care.

Why won't People Share?

Producing good quality BIM Models is one thing, but if these models are not shared BIM processes will fail.

The comments above about checking the model instead of drawings and schedules extends to other people's work. It is much easier and quicker to see if structure is aligning with architecture if both models are linked together and viewed in 3D. And there are softwares that can automate this checking. Revit has a built-in clash detection ability, Naviworks and Solibiri are specialised software for doing this type of checking.

Design consultants, particularly architects, generally don't like giving their native models to anyone (a topic I covered in my post IP - it is not all yours, get used to it). They see them as their property. The justification is that their contractual deliverables are completed drawings, schedules and specifications. BIM models are their "internal working documents".
Design professionals are also generally paranoid about having their ideas stolen, which they extend to the documents they produce.
And some have this view that as initial author of BIM models they have the right to total control of that model including getting paid whenever anyone makes use of it.

None of these justifications are valid. They just need to get over the fact that in the 21st Century drawings are no longer their only deliverable, and that current legal protections easily extend to cover other deliverables.

However there is a mistaken belief (and not just by design consultants) that handing over models means providing an untouched copy of the model, still containing all its housekeeping and drawing creation setup. None of this is required for BIM Uses. It should be removed - as a requirement. No-one wants to trawl through someone else's rubbish, and allowing people to recreate the drawings of others is a legal minefield.

What is a Quality Model?

In simple terms by quality model I mean a model that is:
  • Fully modelled in 3D.
  • Is modelled as it will be constructed.
  • Uses correct categories and types.
  • All objects contain data about themselves.
  • Data is consistent and coherent.
and taking into consideration the fact that drawings and schedules are contractual deliverables:
  • The model must match issued drawings.
  • Data in the model must match issued schedules.

It is not so much about WHAT information is in the model (which most standards seem to concentrate on, including LOD descriptions like the BIMforum LOD Specification), but that the information that is there is complete and can be relied upon.

This is where discussion of BIM becomes confused. Many believe BIM is about extra work and extra data. It is not. It is about data that is produced for normal purposes being in a consistent format.
The final format doesn't even matter. If data is consistent it can be converted from one format to another. If data required for COBie exists in a model it can be converted to COBie format on export. It doesn't have to exist in the model in COBie format.

If someone wants data that is not usually created as part of your normal service then it is an extra cost. An architect may put minimum warrantee requirements in their specification, but if the owner wants the manufacturer's actual warrantee information in the architect's model that is work they would not normally do and so is an extra.

In short a quality BIM Model is one that has been created by people doing what they normally do and using their BIM software the way it was designed to be used.

Not such a big ask.

How to Obtain Quality Models

As explained above it can't be left solely to design consultants to initiate quality models. To be fair that is not all design consultants, there are some who are very good. And not yet, one day it will become standard practice, but for now owners have to be proactive.

There are two places requirements can be spelt out: - consultant engagement agreements and a project's BIM Brief.

Consultant engagement agreements are better because they are contractually binding, whereas a BIM Brief may or may not be, depending on what is in consultant engagement agreements. Also the BIM Brief may not be completed before consultants are engaged (particularly if those consultants are expected to participate in creating the BIM Brief).

Generally best practice is to include generic BIM model requirements in consultant engagement agreements, with specific requirements, and perhaps specific examples of good modelling practice, in the BIM Brief.

It is also best practice to embed BIM requirements within consultant engagement agreements and not simply have a separate "BIM Addendum" or "Exhibit", which can lead to contradictions and perpetuates the belief that using BIM is a separate service.

A good approach is to include BIM requirements in a consultant's project scope. This has the advantage of being easier to understand as a lawyer is less likely to have authored it, and can be tailored to a specific project. Consultant scope is also more likely to be available to those actually working on the project, whereas consultant engagement agreements tend to be withheld as they contain sensitive commercial information.

Current BIM Engagement Documents

A number of organisations have produced contract addendums for BIM.
In the US there is the AIA Document E203-2013, BIM and Digital Data Exhibit by the American Institute of Architects, and in the UK the CIC/BIM Protocol by the Construction Industry Council.
There are also commercial documents available like the US Consensus Docs BIM Addendum.

None of these documents adequately address the issue of model quality. Some are better at addressing model sharing than others, but then introduce unnecessary complications. And some are simply impenetrable for normal humans, those who have to implement them.

The AIA E203-2013 is more like a BIM Brief, or BIM Execution Plan, it describes BIM processes rather than modelling requirements.

The CIC/BIM Protocol is mainly about sharing of models and delivery. That is if you can understand it. You would think by the 21st Century lawyers would have learnt to write understandable English. There is one sentence of 130 words with the only commas dividing up lists of items.
It also has other issues that conflict with standard head consultant engagement agreements; like diluting duty of care, and adding things that may not be in it; like assuming the owner has taken ownership of everyone's IP. Read more on the limitations of the CIC/BIM Protocol in the research paper by Kings college London, Enabling BIM through Procurement and Contracts.

I'm not saying these documents are useless or dangerous (although I'd be careful of using the CIC/BIM Protocol), but they are not enough to ensure quality BIM models.

What to put in Model Author Agreements

By Model Authors I mean anyone who is going to create BIM models. This may include design consultants, sub-contractors, construction consultants, and possibly FM consultants.

I've only discussed model sharing and model quality above, but there are other issues that should be covered within contractual agreements. The minimum that an agreement should cover includes:
  • participation in BIM planning
  • provision of adequate resources to achieve BIM
  • model sharing
  • model quality
  • model use

Some examples:

BIM Planning

The Project BIM Briefing Plan forms part of the building brief and must be complied with.
When requested the Consultant will participate in the process to develop and update all project BIM Management Plans and will comply with these plans.
When requested the Consultant will attend BIM Planning meetings, Coordination and Clash resolution meetings.


The consultant will provide, at their own cost, all software, hardware and training required to comply with their project BIM requirements and responsibilities.
A person experienced in use of the Consultant’s main documentation software will be appointed Discipline Model Manager and be available to attend BIM meetings and address BIM and software related issues raised by other project participants.

Model Sharing

All models the Consultant creates for the project, and all exports from those models, shall be made available without restriction to all other project participants.
The consultant may, and is expected to, remove all elements, options, views, imports etc. that do not contribute to issued drawings and schedules from models before issuing them. They may also remove all titleblocks, sheets and layouts used to create issued drawings.
It is acknowledged that the Consultant retains Copyright of their authored models.
The Consultant will respect the rights of authors of models issued to them and will not use those models, or parts of those models, for purposes not directly required by the project.
The Consultant will not provide to third parties models issued to them by others without the consent of the model author.
The Consultant will not print or export contract drawings or schedules from models provided to them by others. If drawings or schedules are required they must be requested from the original model author.

Model Quality

The Consultant will ensure the information in issued BIM Models exactly matches information issued as drawings, schedules and other related documents. This requirement only extends to information that has been modelled or placed as parameters in model objects. (i.e. excludes 2D details and data linked to the model then used in schedules).

Model Use

The Consultant accepts that models issued by them will be used by others as a source of information for work the Consultant is responsible for.
The Consultant will make reasonable endeavours to ensure their models are adequate for purposes others may want to use their model for. However the Consultant can reserve the right to seek compensation from others if it involves work additional to their normal service.

Example Model Quality Requirements

To be really clear specific modelling requirements can be spelt out. They don't necessarily have to be contractual requirements, they can be presented as expectations, or examples of acceptable modelling practice. After all, we are talking about good modelling practice, things that should be done by competent professionals anyway.

This list is generic enough to apply to all those who author models and the different BIM authoring software they use. It is by no means exhaustive, and can be augmented by specific requirements.

  • All project participants shall use compatible software to facilitate model exchanges. If a particular software is used by multiple participants all shall use the same version and all shall keep it updated.
  • A control model shall be created for levels, grids and shared coordinates. This shall be used by all model authors to establish common baseline information.
  • Grids shall be to nearest 5mm increment apart to 10 decimal places, and shall be absolutely orthogonal to 10 decimal places, or if not orthogonal at an angle with no more than 2 decimal places (exactly 2000, not 1999.099899, nor 2000.00006789, and 90° not 89.99967°, or 32.45° not 32.453678943°).
  • Correct categories shall be used, or layers / types etc. will be named to identify the type of object. For example, beams must be modelled as beams, or identified as beams, and not as floors.
  • All model elements in authoring models shall be in the authoring BIM software format. Imported geometry of a format different from authoring software shall not be used for parts of the building the consultant is responsible for.
  • Modelling shall, where possible, match construction methods. For example walls go between floor slabs, not through them.
  • All 3D models shall be consistent with issued 2D drawings.
  • All parameter data shall match issued schedules. This includes, but is not limited to, Area schedules, Revisions, FFE, Wall types, Equipment schedules.
  • All tags and identifying marks on drawings shall match parameter data within the objects being tagged or identified.
  • Text notes shall only be used for general noting or where applicable to multiple objects. Where notes refer to individual objects tags shall be used.
  • Deliver 3D models as separate files per discipline with the same base point.
  • All 2D/3D drawings/models used as references in issued drawings shall be provided with the host file. Pathing of linked files shall be relative and not absolute.
  • When requested provide any associated databases with the models that are linked to the unique component identifiers (i.e. such as external databases for door schedules or steel part / assembly numbers). Provide information on how to access these databases.
  • When requested editable 3D geometry and data shall be issued in native authoring formats (e.g. RVT, 12da, .DWG, .DGN, Moss Genio, ASCII etc) as well as published formats (ie. .PDF, .NWC, DWF etc).
  • Regular exports shall use pre-configured settings to ensure consistency of output. For example “Export for Coordination” view / settings to show only the elements that are to be shared for coordination purposes.
  • Ensure that the exported models retain unique element identifiers (i.e. that there is a globally unique identifier associated to each element that will not be duplicated by another element in the model).
  • Ensure that all elements are modelled as individual selectable elements rather than multiple elements modelled as one element (e.g. don't model a row of columns as a single column element). Nesting or grouping where individual elements are still selectable is acceptable.
  • Where appropriate typical groups of elements can be grouped and copied around the model. There should be no groups with only one occurrence. 
  • Elements, including groups and nested components, are not to be mirrored where doing so creates a different product. (e.g. a dishwasher with an outlet on the left is a different product to a dishwasher with an outlet on the right). Mirrored versions are to be a completely separate element, group or nested component than the original.
  • Main construction elements (walls, columns, slab edges etc) and setouts are to be perfectly orthogonal or at angles no greater than 2 decimal points (e.g. 31.65°).
  • All dimension entities must be rounded to the nearest 1 millimetre, no higher (or rounding errors may occur in strings of dimensions). Dimension values shall not be overridden.

For those of you who know how to use your BIM software the things listed above will be seem pretty basic and obvious. Hopefully there is nothing that you are not already doing. But sometimes the simplest thing can prevent models from being used.


  • BIM requires quality BIM models.
  • BIM requires BIM models to be shared.
  • BIM software, if used as intended, will produce quality BIM models.

If you are a consultant or sub-contractor who authors BIM models review how you are using your BIM software. If those using it in your office are treating it as a drawing tool rather than a modelling tool then retrain them and introduce processes that ensure quality models are produced.
Accept others require access to your BIM models, and when providing those models make sure they only contain information you would normally be providing anyway.

If you are an owner, or contractor who engages design consultants and/or sub-contractors, review your engagement agreements and include minimum BIM and modelling requirement, and the obligation to share models. Don't rely on those you engage to do it for you unless you are certain that they will. And if they complain it will cost more find another consultant or sub-contractor that knows how to do their job properly.

25 July 2016

What makes a good Office BIM Manager?

Many professional design firms and construction sub-contractors are being forced to become BIM authors, with the expectation they can manage and provide BIM deliverables.
They have to use BIM software, which is only efficient if it is genuinely managed. If used properly many things can be done quicker and with less error, but if not project teams can find themselves trapped in a nightmare of tedious tasks, repeating work and redundant effort. Leading to missed deadlines, error filled documentation and very unhappy clients.

There is gradual appreciation of the need for the skills of an Office BIM Manager, but not much understanding of what the role entails.

The role of Office BIM Manager is different from an FM or construction BIM Manager, who manage BIM coordination rather than BIM creation. Of course they are vital for BIM success, but their role, tasks and responsibilities are different.

Unfortunately not all AEC firms appreciate the need for an Office BIM manager, nor understand the benefits a good Office BIM manager can bring.

Often a recent graduate who is "good with computers" is given the role, or a young drafter who has recently used BIM software in their course. These people may become good BIM managers, eventually, with experience. But for now they have no understanding of the profession they work within; what core services the office provides (unless it is a drafting company drawings are not a core service), what the purpose of deliverables are (what is being communicated), and that the number of people and the time a task takes is important (to profitability and therefore their firm's future).

As with any role there are those who are better at it than others. But what I see at the moment is a lack of understanding about what an Office BIM manager should be, and could be, doing.

BIM is not CAD

It has been common practice to simply change the title of CAD Manager to BIM Manager, without changing the role or responsibilities.
But CAD has only ever been about drawing production. CAD can make drawing production more efficient but can do little to improve accuracy or consistency of information. Whether a drawing is hand drafted or computer generated, it is still a drawing.

Drawing and CAD - same information, just neater

But you can't issue a hand drawn BIM model (or a CAD file as a BIM model for that matter).

BIM contains more information than drawings
Nor is there enough data in CAD for automated QA processes. CAD doesn't manage cross referencing or revisioning. You can't query a CAD file to check if any doors are lower than the minimum allowed under regulations; nor colour code fire rated and acoustic walls, as well as the doors in those walls. And CAD does little for the efficiency and accuracy of schedules, including ensuring consistency between drawings and schedules.

BIM introduces new processes that CAD never had to deal with, and the traditional CAD manager was not involved in. For example QA. You can't give a BIM model directly to a senior designer for them to mark up with a red pen. QA has to be part of the BIM process itself.

CAD Managers have been around for 30 or so years now, so there is a lot of experience. But not all make the transition to BIM. They can in fact be an impediment to BIM as they bastardise BIM software to implement CAD workflows and practices. Introducing complicated workarounds that achieve pointless results, sometimes making BIM processes impossible to implement.

Initially this is seen as a positive. The office, particularly project leaders, designers (including engineers) and directors can all continue working as they have always done. They can can ignore BIM.
But soon it becomes apparent the expense BIM software and powerful new computers the office paid for are not producing the efficiencies they were promised by the BIM evangelists. It seems to take more time to do things, not less. And the documents produced are no more accurate than they were when CAD software was used.

Then the office gets hit with a BIM deliverable. The client wants Navisworks or IFC deliverables. They expect coordination to use clash detection. They expect the to be able to use the model for costing. The client has been told all this is possible if BIM is used.

The office is using BIM software so made claims in their (successful) submission that they use BIM. But the BIM (CAD) Manager is now telling them it will require additional resources to deliver BIM requirements.

Accusations starting flying. The client is unreasonable, the BIM software is useless, BIM is an unnecessary impediment forced onto the industry by inexperienced academics...

But just maybe, maybe, BIM is not being managed properly.


BIM software was never intended to merely produce drawings or 3D models. It was intended to provide a single resource for documenting - explaining and communicating - a designed solution.
If you are only using it to produce drawings you are using a fraction of its capabilities.

Much is made of external BIM requirements; owners using BIM for facilities management, contractors using it for clash avoidance, estimators using it for costing. But there are a lot of BIM capabilities that can be utilised internally, within the office that authors it.

And here is the secret to BIM - if you use BIM yourself, for your own purposes, it will also satisfy external BIM requirements.

If your schedules come from the BIM model then there is sufficient information for owner's FM, if you model in 3D it is suitable for clash detection,  if you include materials for tagging and scheduling it is suitable for costing.

That is not to say owners and contractors won't still make unreasonable demands.

Although the data for a COBie deliverable for FM may be within your model, creating the COBie output is not part of designer's core work so is extra. Modelling every bolt and nut, every penetration smaller than 25mm, or concrete construction pours is unreasonable. Including the Quantity Surveyor's cost codes in your model is you doing their work for them.

But if all your core deliverables are being produced using BIM processes these extras are easy to identify, and to justify as extra.


Another thing about BIM software is that is was not designed to produce BIM outputs for others. They were designed to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the user.
BIM wasn't on anyone's radar when ArchiCAD was developed in the 1980's, even when Revit was developed in the late 1990's BIM wasn't talked about (Revit is an amalgam of "Revise it" - software to make revising a design easy). BIM became the rigeur de jour only after a critical mass of users existed and the collaborative possibilities began to be explored (and AutoDesk, then buildingSMART, started using it as a marketing tool).

So at its core the BIM software you have is designed to make your work more efficient and with less error (unlike BIM standards - but that's another story).

But software is just a tool (or in the case of BIM software a suite of tools). Tools used incorrectly or inappropriately will not perform as promised on the box, and can be downright dangerous.
And it is not just the tool that needs to be used properly, the environment it is used in must be appropriate. Using a chainsaw while on the top rung of a ladder sitting in a muddy puddle on the side of a hill can be catastrophically inefficient. Like using the wrong tool for the circumstances:

handing a man hanging from a branch a saw.

Just as it is for BIM software used within an environment designed for CAD.

An opportunity often overlooked is to take advantage of what BIM software can do. How the power of BIM software can be leveraged to make your office more efficient. To do more with less, to offer more services, to produce a better product.

A good Office BIM Manager doesn't just have technical knowledge of how the software works, they organise its use to improve office work practices and work flows. They mould the environment the software operates within.

This means a good Office BIM manager must be involved in more than just technical support. They must also be involved in advising management. And not just in things like the office "CAD Manual", training, hardware and software selection. They need to be included in resource allocation, task allocation, deliverables scope, deliverables timetable, consultant appointment, consultant coordination, and most importantly QA (Quality Assurance).

In short an Office BIM manager should be viewed as a CIO or CTO, not head of software support.
And an Office BIM manager's KPI should include measurable efficiency and quality gains within the office.


An Office BIM manager does the usual things, for example;
  • Supervise technical teams and provide project support as necessary.
  • Assist Project Directors on technical delivery.
  • Development/Management of the BIM standards, protocols and templates.
  • Liaison and consulting across IT teams, systems administrators, clients and contractors. 
  • BIM training and compliance for junior members of the team.

but what a does a "good" Office BIM manager do?

A good BIM manager understands BIM.
  • Treats the model as a real world representation rather than a 2D representation.
  • Leverages BIM models as a communication tool both between those working in a model, and the recipients of the output of that model.
  • Recognises BIM models are created by a team of people working together, not individuals performing tasks.

A good BIM manager structures a team to leverage BIM.
  • Ensures no-one works in a silo.
  • Sets team roles based on responsibility, not tasks.
  • Forces people to take ownership; make them responsible for complete, not partial, work.
    (e.g. the person responsible for modelling walls is also responsible for wall tagging, wall details and wall schedules).

A good BIM manager is realistic about the capabilities of their workforce.
  • Doesn't expect people employed for their expertise and skill in building to also be experts at using particular software.
    (The reality is architects, engineers and construction professionals will never be fully proficient at the software they use).
  • Tailors work practices to the abilities of those who do the actual work.
    (Don't put someone in charge of facades if they struggle with simple tasks like wall creation).
  • Doesn't try and get designers to use particular software if it makes their primary task - designing, less efficient.
    (Getting designers to provide hand drawn sketches to those modelling is usually more efficient than getting designers to model properly).
  • Doesn't think "more training" is the only solution.

A good BIM manager recognises one size doesn't fit all.
  • Retains flexible workflows so unusual situations can be accommodated and innovative work practices are not stifled.
  • Doesn't enforce "universal standards".
    (an approach that is fundamentally flawed; it is not possible to predict every possible permutation of what needs to be done on every project).
  • Supports different work practices for individual projects based on complexity of the project and ability of staff working on it.

A good BIM manager involves themselves in real projects.
  • Maintains skills and intimate knowledge of how the office operates by actively engaging in projects. 
  • Is involved in setting up every project in the office.
  • Periodically audits all projects.
  • Steps in when required to assist, and uses it as an opportunity for training others.
  • But NEVER works full time on a single project.

A good BIM manager doesn't merely react to specific requests, they question those requests.
  • Assesses a request against the real world outcome it is trying to achieve.
  • Offers solutions that are workflow and work method based, not just technical solutions.
  • Gauges how long a request takes against the value of the result.
  • If appropriate suggests alternatives that achieve the same outcome.
  • Averts tasks that are done for no reason other than "that's the way it is always done".

A good BIM manager is proactive.
  • Uses the opportunity of introducing new software functionality to improve approaches to problem solving and service delivery.
  • Provides fearless advice, but accepts their view may not always be adopted.
  • Listens to others. (as they might just have better ideas).
  • Involves themselves in industry wide BIM issues.


The position of Office BIM manager is a relatively recent phenomena.  Despite what I said above the position does have similarities to the CAD manager role (and many CAD managers do move in to the role easily). Only now, with BIM, computer technology has much greater importance.

I.T. has become critical to the operation of AEC firms. Just as has happened with many other industries (a bank CEO famously once said he didn't run a bank, he ran an I.T. company).
As there is not a tradition of having a CIO or CTO equivalent in AEC firms (except for the very large) the role of Office BIM manager is well suited to filling this gap.

The Office BIM manager must be a part of all decision making processes. That is not to say they should be THE decision maker, just that their advice be sought and considered for all processes within the office, not just for the creating of drawings. They should be involved in practice management, project teams and job submissions. And be given responsibilities beyond just I.T., things like office QA.

However selecting the right person for the job is not enough.

Directors, designers and project leaders have to stop pretending they don't need to change the way they work, that it is only their underlings that need to learn new ways.
Those responsible for managing how the office, projects and output are done must also change the way they work for their office to benefit from BIM processes. Just checking drawings is no longer a viable QA approach.

After all even the most experienced and proficient Office BIM manager can only do so much if they have no influence over what half the office does.

BIM, and the benefits BIM can bring, don't happen by themselves. Like any process, if not properly managed it can be an impediment rather than an advantage. And a good Office BIM Manager is a vital part of getting BIM to work.