Category Archives: standards

Our buildings, our data? Maybe not.


This blog is about something I believe is fundamental in every aspect of our lives not just the built environment. It is about who collects, owns, controls, and sells data that we perceive as about us, or our buildings. Data which quite reasonably we think should belong to us. It has taken a long time for the world of massive data collection to reach the construction industry, but with the advent of The Internet of Things we can see it approaching. However, because construction is a little behind other areas of our lives we have the opportunity to look at how the data industry works elsewhere and ask is this going to be good for our buildings. How do we want this to work for us?

Of course, there is great potential in collecting data. Improvements in performance and operation could become easier as building equipment and sensors start to become more connected to the internet. The built environment is joining a growing part of our lives which falls within The Internet of Things. There are some big claims being made about the potential of connected ‘smart buildings’. Learning more about your built assets by automated data collection is something I would recommend to any building owner, but we have had this opportunity for a long time with modern BMS (Building Management Systems), perhaps we just don’t have a good interface with the limited data that is being collected. This is why the potential for connected devices to push data to the internet where is can be better analysed and visualised is great, but we need to ask is there a hidden trade off?

Look at smart devices. Whenever you download an app you’ll see a long list of access types you grant the app. This list often increases when you are offered updates and bug fixes. If you look closer the accesses that you grant often appear completely unconnected to the function of the app, for example access to your photos or text messages. This is because the business model involves collecting as much information as possible and then using or selling it to anyone who will pay for it, and by clicking ‘I agree’ you’ve given whoever makes the app, and probably third party affiliates, permission to do so.

Is it worth thinking about this in the context of buildings and the devices we are being offered? If you don’t this could affect your built environment, ask yourself what do you do when you arrive home one evening to find the terms and conditions of your thermostat have been changed and you can’t control the heating without agreeing to give it access to your Facebook friends or your text messages. If you use a smart device you already agree to these intrusive data gathering policies whenever you download an app.

This leads me to ask, what do we get in return for giving access? Is it good enough to get a better interface with the data, and will we even get that? Do we need the expertise of the big data crunchers in order to benefit from what is being collected? It is information collected over groups of buildings that won’t be available to the individual owner that has real financial value to the gatherer. If you get access to a trickle of data that may reduce your bills by a small amount but the device provider gets access to analyse data from hundreds of buildings and sell this on or use it to speculate in the market place who has the better deal?

I recall a comment by Paul Morrell during an NBS roundtable I participated in; when he was asked who owns the model by one of the other participants his response was categorical, ‘The client owns the model’. Of course he was talking about what we call BIM, but I would argue that collected in use data is part of that model, probably a much more important part than the skeletal geometry that a BIM provides. Consider this, if the terms and conditions that you have to agree to in order to use smart devices and sensors means that you must grant a license to collect data, including data outside the device itself but within the building’s network of other devices, do you really own the model? If you are not in control of your data it seems pretty obvious that you no longer own the model. I’d go further and say that, where data collected is from public buildings it should not pass into the soul ownership of private companies.

Let me be clear, I am not saying we shouldn’t collect data, it has huge potential, but we do need to find the best way of ensuring that free permanent access to our building data is retained in a sufficiently raw and open format that we can change data providers. In my mind the BIM protocols need a new section that covers data gathering to protect owners. After all one of the stated aims of the BIM task group is that no building data should ever be lost again. If it is contractually locked up in a private company’s bespoke system it is lost.

Digital Built Britain and Level 3 BIM


It was with some cynicism that I read Simon Hart’s blog on LinkedIn Pulse today. While it’s always positive to hear about the government’s commitment to construction technology and process, what is the substance behind Vince Cable’s announcement? Remember that only a few months have passed since the government cut funding for the development to the BIM Task Group for Level 3 development. There is no question that there are many good examples of the use of BIM but this could be lost without a continuing incentive to commit to Level 2. I see the next years as a period of real risk where the standards that we are trying to implement across industry could fragment back into myBIM at a corporate level. If this happens the efficiencies and standardised building data that we are all hoping for will evaporate away.

The scaling back of government involvement in shaping policy on BIM is in my opinion a mistake. Almost without exception the large contractors and consultants that I talk to have started to develop their own flavour of Level 2, and there has been a regular stream of articles like this one by Frank McLeod which have an underlying message that Level 2 is overcomplicated, ‘let us simplify it for you’. The industry has proved that it needs the threat of losing contracts to make a commitment to follow a clear consistant method. Failing to implement BIM process itself over the 25 or more years that these ideas and workflows were around before the UK BIM Task Group got its mandate, shows that the strong hand of government is needed to make progress.

Level 3 BIM, whatever it ends up being, requires a much greater standardisation, functional links between software, clear process that all parties use, an industry wide classification system and digital planning tools like RIBA’s DPoW. Level 2 is the foundation for Level 3 and yet the industry seems determined to dilute it. Without the moderate levels of discipline in workflow and management that Level 2 requires it’s not possible to advance to Level 3. If the industry wriggles away from the commitment to Level 2, Level 3 will become little more than a marketing term that gives the impression of progression.

We must deliver BIM Level 2 before moving on

We need to start treating the government’s 2016 deadline with the urgency it requires

A couple of weeks ago I attended a very positive session at the UK chapter of BuildingSmart. At the event a review was presented of the latest round of testing COBie output from IFC files, which was a broadly successful exercise.

One of the presentations was a short piece by Mark Bew, where he made a very pertinent comment about the behaviour of the industry. He observed that if we are to get funding for the next phase of the development of the UK’s BIM strategy after 2016, we must demonstrate that we can deliver maturity Level 2 before that i.e. before we move on to the next phase, Level 3 and beyond.

This comment embodies a great many of the problems that surround the success of BIM in the industry and perhaps with the news that the government may scrap the Task Group last week we should all realise that we need to start treating 2016 with the urgency it requires instead of complaining about the difficulties of implementing it.

In recent months we’ve seen the headline that “The government will miss the key 2016 BIM target”, published after a survey of the industry by Pinsent Mason. As an industry we need to be honest about this. It is industry failing to deliver, not the government. We have a clearly defined process that for their own reasons institutions and corporations feel they need to change but are never able to explain convincingly why.

In the future the value and profit in construction may be generated by companies like Google, Oracle and SAP

Industry must stop playing the culture argument too. How can teams be “culturally” unaware when we have been talking about the need to modernise for at least the last five years and when all the design, construction, management and FM journals have dedicated areas on their websites for BIM articles and information.

I’m still amazed at how few people have read anything of the resources on the BIM Task Group website, but have a detailed, presumably second or third hand opinion of why the 1192 suite can’t work for the industry. We have to break out of the two polarised groups of those either too afraid or sceptical to engage with BIM, or those who are convinced they know better and stubbornly assert that they’ll do it in their own arbitrarily different but incompatible way.

While personally I hope that the future of the construction industry will be shaped by the people I work with now, I can’t help but think that we are currently on a path where the next big players in the design, construction and maintenance of buildings will come from outside the companies that we currently know in the industry. While the board will not be swept clean, the names we know the industry for will become the blue collar end of construction while the value and profit are generated by companies we don’t currently associate with the industry, companies like Google, Oracle and SAP.

If we don’t act now then there will come a point where we have lost the opportunity, where contracts start going abroad

You may have detected frustration in the tone of this article, and you’re right. As a small practitioner I have invested a great deal in BIM over the lifetime of my company, but ultimately the success or failure of BIM in the UK is not in my hands. As a designer of buildings and provider of existing building BIM I’m too low in the decision-making process to affect the set-up of projects, and once they are under way I have no power to enforce protocols, standards or programmes. I may be capable of working in a Level 2 environment, but without clients agents establishing projects on Level 2 principles my preparation goes to waste. Level 2 maturity is fundamentally project based, and cannot be achieved by an individual company.

If we don’t act now then there will come a point where we have lost the opportunity, where contracts start going abroad to the countries that are implementing our own 1192 suite of standards without all the squabbling and excuses. At that point we will have failed to deliver level two BIM, and if we do we will only have ourselves to blame.

First published on 27 May 2014 on

BIM standards are useless if they’re not implemented

Clients are getting disillusioned about BIM because firms are misunderstanding or ignoring the requirements

A small practice like mine has a limited amount of time and resource for development and innovation, and these can quickly get soaked up when getting access to work requires entry through bespoke qualification processes that often appear to differ only arbitrarily from each other.

When I read the current draft of (technical standards) PAS1192 and its associated documents, I was excited. This suite sets out the requirements to qualify for entry into a project seeking to achieve level 2 BIM. For the first time since our practice had begun to use BIM processes and software we would be judged against others on the basis of our real ability to deliver.

The main body of the PAS which will soon become a British standard, and its associated documents from the CIC and CPIC, outline a clear process from briefing, through assessment of ability to deliver, pre-contract and post-contract execution planning and deliverables.

Yet my growing experience is that this clear usable process, which has been developed with a large stakeholder input from all sectors of our industry, is being at best misunderstood and at worst ignored. This isn’t just personal experience, I’ve heard numerous anecdotes that make it clear that clients and their agents are learning the language of the PAS but are ignorant or incapable of implementing the process. ‘The EIR, oh it was a blank page…’, a response from a medium sized architect that I’d been asked to consult for, gives a feel of the problem. For without the foundations of the PAS process, the project falls back to the ubiquitous, ‘Will be delivered in BIM’ which means nothing.

The effect of this is twofold. Firstly it is damaging to parties that have invested in BIM and secondly it creates a barrier to success on projects that implement BIM, because teams are appointed that can’t deliver and means of communication and deliverables are undefined. This leads to disillusionment over the value of the process by the client, when the reverse should be true.

First published on 10 September 2013 on