The vision for BIM is clear but its implementation in a geospatial context is not. A closer look, raised the BIG5 challenges to geo-enabling BIM
BIM is a part of the digital revolution taking hold on the built environment. The Digital Built Britain vision aligns with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and a desire for smart cities. All of these are underpinned by spatial context and geo-location. The geo-enabling of the Internet (e.g. Google Maps, Bing Maps etc.) and smart devices (i.e. smartphones, tablets, satnavs) has taken hold over the last five years. Its impact has been incredible. Entrepreneurs and commercial ventures such as Uber are leveraging the maturity of the digital revolution in communications and commerce (mobile devices, user reviews/ratings, payment systems) by simply adding geo-enabling (a live map), they have created something transformative and disruptive — necessary ingredients for change. Five years ago it was worth nothing; today it is valued at £50 billion ($67 billion).
Geo-enabling BIM may not have the same potential for an individual company, but it does have an impact on society and the taxpayer. British Chancellor George Osborne’s recently-announced National Infrastructure Commission is looking at a future pipeline of £450 billion ($603 billion) of infrastructure investment in the UK alone. The efficiency target to be delivered by BIM in capital/construction cost reduction of 20% equates to £90 billion ($120 billion) efficiency. The additional lifecycle and sustainability savings required are even greater. Geo-Enabling BIM is a key part of turning these goals into reality.
What is geo-enabling BIM?
As a newly formed partner of the UK BIM Task Group we have spent the last six months looking at this question. Our group, Survey4BIM, is an open collective of geospatial professionals that came up with five challenges in Geo-Enabling BIM — “The Big5” — a phrase borrowed from the Association of Geographical Information (AGI). These are accuracy, meta data, interoperability, level of detail and generalization. At first glance a geospatial professional might think it is all in hand. But if you look in the wider context of the UK BIM industry (or indeed the international BIM context) all is not as it should be.
The vision for BIM is clear but its implementation in a geospatial context is not. These challenges are technical, and to a certain degree cultural, and ones where we believe the geospatial profession has a significant and unique contribution to add. There are other challenges such as education, behavior, procurement which many are taking up the challenge on, including Survey4BIM. But the Big5 technical challenges are pressing and neglected in a geospatial context. If BIM does not solve these, there is a risk the geospatial industry will not only miss a huge opportunity to be a key player in BIM, but become complicit in watching it hit the rocks. Indeed, the analogy of the geospatial community building a lighthouse to keep BIM off the rocks is a good place to start thinking about what we need to do.
Big5 challenges in geo-enabling BIM
The challenges covered below require the input from a broad spectrum of expertise from within our industry and wider professionals.
Figure 1 (above) shows the Big5 challenges as building blocks in a lighthouse that will geo-enable BIM Level 2. The benefits of keeping off the rocks are clear — avoid risk, rework, delay, added cost and clash. We have assessed each of these building blocks in three ways. Firstly, what is the maturity of each process in the UK BIM industry context, not just geospatially? Secondly, where should it be to enable BIM Level 2? Thirdly, where on the BIM road map should this maturity be available? Following this assessment we can see what efforts are now needed to either push this forward, or to catch up. In particular where the geospatial industry can focus its efforts and have the greatest impact on BIM’s success. Let’s take a brief look at each of the key areas.
Accuracy: Accuracy could be driven entirely by geospatial experts, as some standards are already established and these could be introduced to the wider BIM industry through influential groups. BIM introduces the wider challenge of design accuracy, but if it were handled in the same way as as-built accuracies and was adapted for construction or fabrication tolerances, a solution could be found. Merging datasets of different accuracies or files with different elements of differing accuracy is something the survey industry has dealt with for centuries. The digital workflow can accommodate the math and the complications of combining various accuracies and tolerances allowing them to be consistently interpreted. For measurement science there is no single source of the truth, only our best estimate resulting from a controlled combination of multiple sources of information.
Interoperability: Interoperability continues to be an issue for the BIM industry. Regardless of the differing software formats, two fundamental issues arise; firstly the handling of grids and spatial reference, and secondly the interchanging of formats. These issues continue to undermine geospatial geometry, accuracy, level of detail and even information content.
Surveyors are well versed in these issues already especially, for example, when it comes to setting-out. This example is made more critical as increasingly, the information they are presented with is digital and not readily usable by survey instruments. Yet digital information is automatically perceived as being correct, which highlights the differing perception and validity of design data versus as-constructed data.
This current status must be challenged and resolving it could lead to significant efficiencies. How many BIM projects have stalled because two datasets have coordinate systems which don’t readily sit together, and the new owners lack the tools to resolve it? Of more concern is how many times that these differences have been handled inappropriately and may have gone unqualified?
An example of this type of risk is the matching of postcodes to point locations. Some postcodes can represent 80 sq km on the ground in the UK which may be perfectly fit-for-purpose for that particular location and circumstances, yet a satnav or mobile phone may offer an alternative single point location solution — yet they aren’t necessarily interoperable. If location was required urgently in an emergency, then the consequences could be costly in terms of time or even human life.
Meta data: Meta data is critical to understanding digital information. In geospatial context legends, standards and attributes are all commonplace from a legacy perspective. But digital meta data standards are less well known and understood, even in the geospatial industry. Here the GIS world leads but in a BIM and CAD world element meta data is still underdeveloped. Meta data can support the resolution of the other challenges such as accuracy, interoperability and level of detail, but in a data-driven world it also requires its own solution. Many groups such as the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) are working at present to upgrade meta data standards (i.e. Gemini 2.3). The UK geospatial industry needs to be more involved and broaden the discussion to support BIM and element meta data. This is an area where, the soon to become three tribes of BIM, namely CAD, GIS and CGI, need to come together to facilitate a holistic solution.
Level of detail: Level of detail appears highly developed in many countries and in a BIM sphere. Yet it continues to fall down on a “real-world” or as-is and as-built basis. You can define all the levels of detail you want in a design concept, but if asked for example, to map all the underground utilities, without the freedom to expose and analyse them fully, level of detail requires a different approach. PAS 128 for example, is a valiant effort in the utilities field to provide guidance and solution but is not wholly BIM ready when it comes to level of detail.
The acronym ‘LoD’ continues to evolve and be used with different meanings and therefore outcomes. LoD is starting to be expanded as level of definition — a combination of level of graphic representation and level of information. This can become very confusing, particularly where one aspect develops out of sync with the other.
There is also the challenge of comprehensive approaches developing independently in different countries, for example, by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). We cannot afford to ignore these differences in the UK and just hope they will go away. One of the key goals of BIM UK is to become an exporter of these services, to keep our knowledge and expertise aligned and current in an international context. Some of us in the geo-industry already operate in this sphere.
Generalization: Finally, the generalization issue presents one of the most difficult challenges and yet one of the most exciting. The AGI Foresight Report 2020 shows two practical examples of what a geo-enabled BIM world could do. Maps could help the reader decide where they can afford to live in the most expensive city in the world by applying rental values to the London Underground network, with each route capable of being interrogated individually producing a long section of place against cost.
Social BIM users: While not one of the Big5 issues, social BIM is a phenomenon worthy of mention. Users of BIM are growing at a much faster rate than the technical experts who create, manage and share the data. The trend from geo-enabling the Internet is showing more users with less skills and limited interfaces. For example, mobile screens are a lot smaller than maps and scale is becoming less controllable and therefore less intelligible. The conflict here is that more and more information is being pushed out in digital space but is not being regulated and can be misinterpreted by the users. Some would say that any information is better than none, but using the maxim where do you draw the line in the rigor of available data, is greater geospatial guidance required here? (Figure 2)
These are huge challenges for BIM but if we want to reach all the potential beneficiaries then working towards solutions now is critical to success. In the digital transformation model, increasing the user base (network effect) is the first principle of survival. This should happen organically, though with Social BIM society has the appetite for geo-enabled BIM data without knowing its name. Furthermore the relationship between IT and geospatial information is now symbiotic. Users drive change by demand for data applications; manufacturers drive change through innovation to entice users. BIM is for everyone. The kings of Silicon Valley are betting that virtual reality is the way forward for future user access. From the gaming industry to the movie industry, the tools are developing faster outside the geospatial and BIM industry. So we have an opportunity here to bring this expertise into CAD and GIS for our benefit.
Vice Chair, Survey4BIM
Technical Lead, Survey4BIM