Article Date: 07/19/2013

Are Substantial Financial Benefits via Open Standards for BIM in Jeopardy?

By Steve Rizer


The world’s building industry stands to reap substantial financial benefits through open standards for building information modeling (BIM), but the lone global standards body believed to be in a position to support “open BIM” is facing some very significant challenges.


“We are now at a true turning point, for the world has awakened to the promise of open BIM to deliver higher-quality, greater certainty, and cost reductions of around 20 percent,” the organization, buildingSMART International (bSI), stated in a paper it recently released. However, in that same paper, called “The Way Forward,” bSI acknowledged that the plan it has had in effect for transforming the global building industry is “unclear and without a timetable,” a dilemma that is hampering fundraising and membership levels.


Open BIM is a universal approach to the collaborative design, realization, and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows. Open BIM is considered important for the following reasons: it supports a transparent, open workflow, allowing project members to participate regardless of the software tools they use; it creates a common language for widely referenced processes, allowing industry and government to procure projects with transparent commercial engagement, comparable service evaluation, and assured data quality; and it provides enduring project data for use throughout the asset lifecycle, avoiding multiple input of the same data and consequential errors.


Such an approach is being counted upon for significant financial benefits. One example of this was reported in a recent Vectorworks article about the United Kingdom’s efforts to trim construction costs for government buildings. According to the article, “[T]he aim is to drive 20 percent cost savings throughout the whole design/build/operate lifecycle. This will be achieved through greater and earlier collaboration on projects by enabling both models and information to be shared through the use of open standards, or open BIM.”


But in promoting open BIM, bSI has encountered many obstacles, as the organization quite candidly outlined in the following “Weaknesses” section of its Way Forward report:

  • “Our current organizational structure is based on chapters.” The organization’s International Council, whose governance is based on representation from each chapter, “is not leading bSI forward. Too many chapters are poorly supported in their host countries or do not have a broad base of members. Most chapters have difficulty meeting a modest $25,000 annual payment. Some chapters are suffering from declining membership, partly due to global economic conditions but mostly due to a lack of clear vision.”
  • “Our volunteers are wonderful, dedicated people, but we are at the growth limit for a volunteer-based organization.”
  • “[The organization’s] leadership has become concentrated in the ExCom, the elected executive body of the [bSI] International Council. However, new ExCom members have not emerged from the IC, and two current ExCom members have announced plans to step down in 2013.”
  • “Lack of adequate funding has been a continuing issue for bSI since the beginning. Potential donors, such as The Pankow Foundation, have withheld funding due to our lack of a clear plan to transform the industry.”
  • “The bSI website, while improved, does not impress visitors and donors. Lack of funding prevents professional management of this critical portal to inform visitors about who we are. In addition, we will need web infrastructure to support robust Process and Product Rooms.”
  • “People outside of bSI do not understand our role in transforming the building industry.”

The ConstructionPro Network member version of this article outlines bSI's strategy for improvement, provides information about some key projects the organization has undertaken, and includes a link to the report. To sign up for a membership, click here.



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