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November 24, 2014

One Acronym to Rule Them All

tolkien's ring

“One Acronym to rule them all/ One Acronym to find them/ One Acronym to bring them all and in the computer bind them” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s nephew in our CAD department…

Shortly after I found myself working in GPS as a full time job, I discovered GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and thought, “Finally, a single place to manage all of this stuff!” I actually believed that—for a few years I spent a lot of my time creating control and converting various datasets in multiple, outdated coordinate systems so that my clients would be able to use GIS to manage all of their data. Then I found 3D laser scanners and the whole thing blew up. 

It’s ten years later and GIS software still struggles to handle point cloud data at the density I need. GIS is still the main tool in land and property management, and everything engineering grade is somewhere else.

Over the years we have seen the launch of some systems for total asset management, but most have been very narrowly focused on one market, or were adaptations of a system custom designed for a well-heeled client. BIM (Building Information Modeling) seemed to be one of these, at least from my vantage. As I understood it, BIM was to allow for a single repository of all data relating to the construction and operation of a building. 

However, I am now seeing the term used for the management of all sorts of assets and construction projects. In fact, I would argue that the acronym is becoming so ubiquitous that it may soon mean much more than it originally did. 

Just this month I’ve seen reports on how London’s Crossrail is spreading the benefits of BIM. The interesting part of that article to me was the quote from Steve Cockerell of Bentley Systems, who said, “I think the ability of BIM to prescribe a set of standard processes means that anything that’s captured is captured in a consistent manner, which can then be handed over to operations and maintenance.” Here, we’re not talking about BIM in the sense of an application, but a standardized set of methods and practices.

Another article reported on a Professor from the University of Nebraska who has designed a “BIM-style” program for tracking the health of bridges. I have not seen this application, but it certainly seems like a plug-in for Revit that adds bridge details would put civil engineering under the BIM umbrella, too.

Still another post reported that Skansa Balfour Beatty completed work on a 116km section of the M25 36 weeks ahead of schedule. In the story, Balfour Beatty stated that the use of “BIM enabled early detection of design issues” and “sped up the traditional decision making process [for stakeholders]”. This is another example arguing that the “building” in BIM is a verb as opposed to a noun.

I saw articles about issues that extend beyond BIM, but are certainly predicated on BIM being the standard moving forward. The Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building is quite concerned about the security of BIM data

Lastly, I’ve read about a very interesting idea, Property Data Banks. These are digital models (which can be models of any kind of built environment) that use BIM as their standard for data storage. This idea would enable you to grant access to others (banks, mortgage lenders, insurance agents, etc.), who could view your BIM account just like you do your own bank account. The article goes into more detail but essentially, it is a system that manages the systems we build to manage each building! How much do you want to bet that the term Property Data Banks soon becomes PDBs?!

So, maybe BIM will be the acronym to rule them all. Or perhaps, it’s the vessel that will make an idea mainstream, the idea of a single entry point for viewing all data in a system that organizes by asset location. Either way, I can’t help but think how much easier my job will be when the end user knows the acronym of the deliverable when we start talking instead of when we finish the project.

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