We need to make a deliberate decision to store BIM information in open, free formats – not lock it away in corporate vaults
The government’s objectives for level 2 BIM on all contracts by 2016 is a great target – but how will we ensure the information flowing from these projects remains as accessible and re-usable as the authors of the 1192 suite intended? With the release of the first draft of the PAS1192:3, which concerns the operating phase of a project, this has never been more relevant.
Throughout this year I have seen several presentations by larger contractors demonstrating new information systems designed for managing the BIM and beyond into facilities management. To some extent these large construction and facilities management companies can’t be blamed for creating these new vaults to lock away publicly procured information. The information must be stored somewhere after all, and as such it could reasonably be argued that such systems are what the market requires.
Does the client own the model if it is locked in a proprietary vault? Quite simply the answer is no
The problem is that without leadership from the government departments who’s assets these are the result will not be data stored in an open format, it will disappear and with it the potential for services as yet unthought of that could perhaps improve efficiency, reduce waste or aid monitoring. One of the foundations of the BIM Taskgroup’s work that Paul Morrell put in black and white terms was that ‘The client owns the model’ – but do they, if it is locked in a proprietary vault? Quite simply the answer is no.
The consequences remind me of a observation my late father made about his experience as a district counsellor. He expressed some sympathy for the opposition, explaining that civil servants had a tendency to ignore or de-prioritise requests from the party who were not in power, and that this deficit of access made sound policy making much more difficult and in turn easier for the party in power to rubbish proposed policy ideas.
Someone out there will be imagining just what would be possible if the whole of a government estate could be interrogated and analysed
If publicly procured information is stored in open, documented, free formats such as IFC2x3 then the scope for new innovative services, ideas to make public buildings better, is also open. If the same information is stored in multiple proprietary corporate vaults this opportunity ceases to exist. Inevitably the reason that people will argue this is unnecessary is because they can’t imagine what one might do with the data, but that is exactly my point, someone out there will be imagining just what would be possible if the whole of a government estate could be interrogated and analysed. The analogies with data mining, the internet of things, big data and beyond which trip off the tongue so easily in slick BIM presentations should be evidence enough that we’ve not worked out everything we can do with building data yet.
There are obvious exceptions, such as secure facilities, but these must remain the exceptions rather than the inevitable cover all that will give the new equivalent to the various attempts at vendor lock in from BIM software platforms. Commercial confidentiality can’t be justified in a process conceived with open data in mind, where to get through the first gateway in PAS1192 sharing information is a requirement. I wonder how long will it be before I have to make my first freedom of information request for public building data?
First published on 29 November 2013 on Building.co.uk