BIM: Practically Standard

BIM: Practically Standard and Coming to a Contract Near You?

As I participate in standards development initiatives specifically those regarding process and workflows, and as I consult with teams, industry partners and owners alike, there is one question that I continue to wrestle with:

Who should be setting the standards?

Frankly, I believe whatever the answer, it should align with this credo:

Anyone who defines a standard should be willing to live by it themselves.

If you are not an expert or an authority in an area, tread lightly in dictating the means and methods of doing such work. In my book, an expert or an authority is someone who not only understands the theory, but also understands and acknowledges the work it takes to translate that theory into practical application. Many standards are created with only an academic theoretical backbone. While these standards are highly revered at first because who could be smarter than the PhDs and researchers, right?? Once the practitioners sink their teeth into them, that's when the real testing begins.

Think of this as we look forward to integrating BIM more fully into our agreements and developing contract language. Choose wisely the standards and the requirements which are being referenced. No doubt definition of standards is a necessary step in the success of BIM in the industry, but as the standards are being incorporated into contracts they are becoming NO LONGER JUST AN OPTION or a guideline, THEY BECOME A REQUIREMENT. Where standards are developed and adopted (especially in a legal context) they should be done so by equal representation of those who are expected to work in accordance with them, so what is required is actually fair and reasonable.

How is BIM being incorporated into legal agreements?

BIM is finding its way into agreements by way of industry organizations such as the American Institute of Architects E203-2013 (AIA,) and the Association of General Contractors Consensus Docs 301 (AGC,) as well as by way of client developed agreements including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (U.S.A.C.E) latest BIM Contract Language. The legal agreements and their incorporation of BIM is a great opportunity to give the practice some clarity and definition in terms of relationships required to support the BIM project process.

Now, where exactly do these standards come from?

In the U.S. we have historically had the National CAD Standard, and have likely become used to seeing a reference or two to a given NCS version sprinkled throughout our contracts. Since 2007, we references to the National BIM Standard could have entered the picture. While the NBIMS has been relatively innocuous in terms of formatting as it addresses more conceptual guidelines and tended to be less black and white in its requirements than its more established relative, we are now looking ahead to the standard's third generation. NBIMS U.S. V-3.0 is scheduled for voting later this year. (V1-0 and V2-0 for reference.)

The NBIMS U.S. V-3.0 is set to include an expansion of what we have become familiar with as COBie (Constsruction Operations Building information exchange) to include a whole series of IEs - HVACie, WSie, SPARKie, LCie. Yes, these are their real names - for better or worse, even if they were changed at this point they'd probably be remembered for these silly acronyms. Of course, those of you who've followed Epic BIM are well aware of a post by our very own John Grady, questioning the practicality and sustainability of this standard. (For more information on the current debates, see a post by Antony McPhee; To COBie or Not to COBie, or review the COBie LinkedIn Discussions) Whether you agree or disagree with the adoption or expansion of COBie is not the issue - The issue is that we are facing a real decision point.

At this time in the development of BIM's evolution, we are quite literally writing the course of BIM in practice for years to come. On one hand we may choose to adopt a significant set of standards that in time could prove to be the greatest facilitation tool for open BIM information exchange, OR we choose to take a moment to know for certain what we're voting to become a standard. It is important to remember that once identified as a standard, it can be so easily identified in our contract language, no longer just a recommendation. I firmly believe that nothing should be a standard until it has been proven that it can be supported by current technology and deemed acceptable via thorough industry implementation.

Anyone who's been asked to provide a COBie deliverable will tell you that it's nowhere near cut and dry. It saves money in theory, but until the process is worked out for either a client or a particular team producing, exchanging and managing the information exchange, it may not be recouped by the "right" members. A design team puts more time into data structuring and input, the contractor benefits. The contractor benefits by expediting their hand-over, the owner benefits by more quickly and accurately being able to validate their built environment and manage their data long-term. Eventually, as it goes, the circle of life will continue and the design team will benefit by having access to a well maintained and reliable as-built starting point. But let's be realistic, the promise of payback being so remote as a future project is hardly the same as getting paid today.

As a member of the Building Smart Alliance and a participant of the NBIMS Project Committee, I will vote based on what I, as a practitioner of BIM, believe to be good for the practice. If you are concerned about how this standard will be shaped, and believe me - you should be, you need to consider becoming a member (Join Building SMART Alliance) as only members are eligible to vote on these items. (I realize there could be a whole separate debate, lengthy and heated no doubt, about having to pay in order to vote on the development of a standard that you will be required to abide by, but I believe that would be a detour that at this point does little to no good.)

The next steps in the implementation and successful adoption of BIM are going to be critical for defining what we do in the years to come. Currently, we have the opportunity to set the rules of engagement for future BIM projects, an opportunity that we must not let go to waste. As it goes, once any course is set, it becomes exponentially more difficult to correct.

At this point, let's forgo the character debates and long-winded diatribes on BIM philosophy. While they are usually Epic, I am more interested in inspiring you to pay attention to what's going on in our industry at this very moment. I want to encourage you to get involved in the conversation, and remind you that if you don't vote you really don't have the right to complain. If you cannot stomach the thought of complying with a standard, then get out there and say so.

It's almost voting season people! Hope to see you at the polls.


  1. Great message! I too yell for people to get involved. I also believe standards are key to success. I will say standards need to be structured, fair, practical, and reasonable in order to work. I also believe in Semper Gumby, always flexible, while standards need to be structured they also need to have the ability to adapt with changes in tech and the industry as a whole.

    Rachel this is a great post thank you for putting it out there.

  2. Owners/Operators and Clients pay for what consultants do, so they have the right to require a deliverable (and in some cases a process.). No one says you can't be innovative, but those clients spend a lot of money for what they want, they don't want to spend more to change it into what they need.

    Rachel wrote a good message: get involved.

    Btw, this blog is presented in HTML…a standard. it didn't stop the creativity of your post or your thoughts, it just structured the deliverable.

  3. If you reject anything with a lid on it then you should do what you can to stop a lid from being placed.

    The forefathers of BIM got to throw wild ideas out there and then see if anyone would try them. That's very different from the future we are going to see. Our future in BIM is going to be dictated to us in our requirements from our clients. And those requirements will come from standards.

    You will not have the opportunity to reject them in the future. Your only chance is to get involved NOW. If you don't and find yourself having to try and implement a BIM process that makes little to no sense with the way you do business then don't say you weren't warned.

  4. "Means and Methods" was a an interesting choice of words.

    The forefathers of BIM did exactly that… bucked the system, and defined their own path to success despite the naysayers. We wouldn't have this blog, or this tidal-wave of a movement without them cutting their own paths, and developing their own ways; very much outside of the box.

    How can you write ingenuity into a contract? How can you capture creativity and shear determination to succeed into a job spec? Trying to put a box around something that was born in the wild is all-together foreign to me, and seems like a futile effort. The second you think you've captured it, is the second you learn that the industry has changed again.

    Anything that appears to have a lid on it is something I automatically reject, personally.

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