I have always believed in the philosophies of openBIM practices and have used a number of analogies over the years to try and explain it in plain English to people across industry. It was only a few months ago that I found an analogy that I think captures the real purpose of openBIM more clearly than my previous ones. I feel it captures the essence of, ‘The Why’ better than others I have heard before, so I want to share it with everyone.

I was invited by the BILT Academy to deliver a keynote presentation on openBIM at their BILT Academy Summit in Ljubljana, Slovenia in October this year. In preparation for this presentation I took the approach I always take when preparing, I visualise a story and message I want to tell. This is where I struck what I see as analogy gold. And here it is…

The BILT Academy Summit was held in Slovenia, and the event presented in English. Although many people in Slovenia can speak English, as they were taught it in school from a young age, their native language is Slovenian. As a conference, we were essentially forcing another proprietary language upon the attendees. One that wasn’t their native tongue. One that would require mind power to not only try and absorb the teachings from the presentations but also translation from English into their native language. 

In international conferences or meetings of world leaders, they have instantaneous translators working in booths, translating all of the languages. All of the people in the room speak in their native language, the translators go to work and translate the words into each native language and it is communicated via earpiece to each attendee. Each person doesn’t need to learn another language or translate.

This applies to the planning, design, assembly and operation of built assets also. Each supplier has their specialist technologies, processes and software. Everyone in the supply chain have tools that are optimised for their purpose and delivery requirements. If suppliers are forced to deliver in a proprietary vendor-specific file format (only one language), then there is a significant chance that across the supply chain that there will be suppliers having to work in a format (language) that is not best suited for their deliverable. This is where IFC comes in. The IFC schema (acts as a translator between native languages) and forms the basis of openBIM collaboration. It does require software and technology to support it. Now people complain that IFC is not fit for purpose, or that its schema is not diverse enough for their application. 

This is where I view IFC as a language and for comparison sake let’s look at the English Language. It is a language that is 1,500 years old. In 2018 Webster added 800 new words to its dictionary. IFC as a language is around 24 years old and will need time to grow and develop. The only way it will develop is if it is used and users in industry provide feedback for continual improvement similar to how businesses apply ISO9001.

Without openBIM processes, the industry will not grow, and projects will miss the opportunity to benefit from suppliers using their tools of choice. For this to thrive though there are a number of actions required.

  • Industry providing feedback on needs to buildingSMART so IFC can be further developed.
  • buildingSMART need to speed up their development of the IFC schema.
  • Software vendors actively improving their software to handle the IFC schema in import, export and editing.

Extra reading - openBIM as explained by buildingSMART: here