Open BIM is it Anarchy in Disguise???

The Open BIM advocates seem to go after Autodesk more than others. Why is that? Maybe because they are one of the biggest fish in the water so they are an easy target? Maybe because much to mine and others dismay when you Google BIM Autodesk is at the top of the list? The truth is I don’t know the answer because if I did then we could have a logical discourse. I have been in conversations with the Open BIM Front several times and one of the biggest problems brought up is that Revit doesn't play well with IFC. OK fine so here are three questions for you:

  1. What is the incentive for software providers to play nice if the majority of users are happy with the status quo?
  2. What is the business case for software providers to work well with Open BIM?
  3. Is there a software package available for free that authors models in an Open BIM format?

If we can answer these questions we can get started. I know by the comments on the COBie postings we will get discourse. I welcome it however, the blatant "I am packing up my toys and going home" attitudes that happened last time will be called out.

If you noticed, I didn't address the "plays well with Revit" in the questions. Why? Because Revit isn’t BIM first, and second it should be all BIM authoring platforms playing nice with Open BIM not singling out one vendor. So how is the Open BIM movement like the Anarchist Movement?

Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. While anti-statism is central, some argue that anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system.

Okay let’s do a little transposing of words:

Open BIM is a philosophy that advocates open BIM formats based on non-hierarchical free associations. Open BIM holds the closed BIM formats to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. While anti-closed BIM is central, some argue that Open BIM entails opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of model elements, including, but not limited to, a “closed BIM” Open Format system.

So basically the Open BIM movement wants software providers to stop providing proprietary formats and allow everything to consume and use their models in any way they deem necessary. First question is: are these the same groups that put waivers in place telling you how you can and can’t use the model? Second, have you sat down one with clients and team members to look at the data loses and see if there is something that can be fixed? Most time a lot of the data lose is due to either ignorance or poor education. Are these groups having open and frank discussions with the software vendors and the industry they purport to serve?

One thing I have found sitting on some of the committees I work on, is the best groups get a consensus group together to look for mutually beneficial realistic deliverables. Those groups actually get what they are looking for and partner with the different software vendors to make that happen.

IFC and Open BIM are touted as the only way to go. I’ll pull a red card here as anyone who says there is only one solution to find an answer has never done basic Algebra or worked in a collaborative team environment. Open BIM in the perfect Utopia is great but we live in a world where the government closes, jobs are postponed, and the market is in a constant state of flux. So Open BIM is great in theory but in reality I am not so sure. One day BIM will have deliverables that are like Word, Pages, or Google Docs files where all of those programs read each other. Right now Open BIM is more akin to PDFs where you can look at it, get something out of it sometimes, and do some manipulation.

So how does the Open BIM Movement align itself with one the industry and their needs and two encourage software vendors to work with them to make the Utopia a reality?

  • Get rid of the ideal that all forms of closed BIM providers’ formats are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished. It is just like the playground if you get mad and take your toys and leave others will find different toys.
  • Know what Open BIM can provide now in fair, practical, and reasonable expectations.
  • Firms are already struggling delivering the plethora of BIM deliverables to owners know where Open BIM can be useful and insert it there.
  • Don’t sell Open BIM as the savior to the industry because right now it is more of a side note.
  • Work openly and frankly with the industry and software providers and remove the adversarial relationships with the software vendors.
  • Listen to the industry, they are delivering these models every day and are truly knowledgeable about what works and what doesn't.
  • Don’t force Open BIM on the industry or oversell Open BIM to owners. Forcing things just creates a stronger resistance out of spite, even if what is being forced might have some good elements.

In the end, a major point of pain when it comes to IFC in a BIM workflow, is that Open BIM is a moving target and is being sold as a panacea similar to COBie and FM. There’s no guarantee that Open BIM is 100 percent ready, no matter which modeling software you use. There are work arounds to make Open BIM work, but as with anything, more time means more money; so ensure all parties are aware of this.

Without further ado, some shots in parting where Open BIM can be transposed:

“We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn't obey the rules.”

— Alan Bennett

“Every anarchist is a baffled dictator.”

— Benito Mussolini


  1. if anyone here has done the entire project using BIM technology by IFC? I think he did not.
    I did it. Three companies, three software (Tekla – structure, ArchiCAD – Architecture, Revit MEP – installations) Coordination only by the IFC format.
    There were a few problems, but everyone has been resolved. Moreover, the whole process is described on our blog. Unfortunately, in Polish, because I do not have time to translate design just me 🙂

  2. The problem with these discussions is that the topic is too large to actually be one topic.

    For instance: If a client demands an IFC deliverable of a certain quality that Revit couldn't produce and that firm couldn't produce it in a different program… then they don't get the project. Vice versa is true, if a client uses a non-Revit product and the client demands an RVT… then they don't get the project. These are business decisions, period. You need to have the right staff and tools to get the work. Would having the ability to use any software program be better? Certainly… for some people. But for that firm that competes with the guy down the block, then having these different qualifying skills are a differentiating factor that might win them business. Point being, it's not just software vendors that have a stake in this.. there are actual business drivers to NOT allow IFC to advance.

    You may state "but that's not good for the client". Perhaps. But most of your data is likely useless to him anyway. 15 years from now? Frankly your data is going to be just about as useful as the AutoCAD data from 15 years ago. The software will develop and what we are producing now will be nothing compared to our needs then. We (the industry) tends to use the "we'll give you the data" as a business driver and not as an actual practical tool beyond the advantages it provides upon creation.

    Point being Open BIM is an interesting long term concept. It should and does provide a framework or direction for the future of our industries. It opens up discourse and helps us discuss the topics of today. But honestly, I don't take any of it too seriously in terms of the difference it makes to our success today… because it means very little to most. IFC, RVT, DWG, pieces of paper… I don't care. As long as it achieves the end goal I (and 95% of the industry) don't care how it gets done… but we need to discuss these things to discover just what the best methods actually are! So far, we've only just scraped the surface and those that argue to strongly for one solution or the other? They are either missing the big picture or have too much into their solution to let it go.

  3. Great post. Reminds me of IPD where a comparison to communism could be argued.
    And don't get me started on what has been done to meaning of 'collaboration'.

    It seems to some people BIM take up is not possible with out changing society as well.

    BIM is a big deal, but not that big.

  4. Connor,
    I must respectfully disagree, emphatically, with your characterization of the discussion among the Open BIM proponents.

    I think part of the problem is who you choose to listen to, rather than who you know is important in the real discussions that matter.

    At the buildingSMART International level, there is very little, if any, disagreement about the principles and current execution of Open BIM/IFC among the vendor representative. At least, that is what I see talking to the engineers and management actually involved in the development of products for the marketplace. I see all my partners and competitors around the same table, talking about how the industry, as a whole, on a global scale, can only move forward with these principles.

    I believe, in some cases, there is a disconnect between what is happening "behind the scenes" and what marketing and sales people maybe being doing in the various markets and discussions around the world. I think that is what you are referring to, not the more important reality at the higher level. This is not exclusive of any single vendor or product. Everyone has disconnections that can potentially confuse the marketplace. While it is NOT for the buildingSMART/Open BIM/IFC advocates to police such internal matters, we can continue to talk, encourage, advocate, and reward positive actions and messages.

    You may think there are "heads in the clouds", but I think the clouds are a lot closer to the ground than you might think. All you have to do it stand up.

    • Jeff,
      Not everyone puts out a bad message. But many do. And I know it effects the opinions of practitioners. I also get very mixed messages from software vendors. Which I understand. If I was working for Autodesk I am not sure that I would feel compelled to give my full support to the Open BIM initiative. I think I would have very strong business reasons not to.

      You know that I want Open BIM and IFC and the bSa to succeed. That is why I'm being critical. I think Open BIM has a bad image in many of the places that matter and that needs to be recognized if it is going to be fixed.

  5. Great post John,
    Hopefully people don't read this post the wrong way. It would be easy to think this post is an attack on Open BIM. But to me it is really about how the Open BIM community is doing a terrible job selling their ideas to software vendors and the AEC practitioners. I agree with John that this is a serious impediment to getting IFC to be something that is fully supported in our industry. The chip on the shoulder of the Open BIM community is keeping it from succeeding.

    If IFC is going to work Open BIM has got to get its head out of clouds, stop approaching software and practitioners like they are adversaries, stop acting like a bunch of mindless zealots and start to sit down and make the business case that helps everyone do reach the same end goal: Making Money. That needs to be priority number one. The time for grandiloquent talk is over.

    It's time to get everyone to the table and make some real solutions.

  6. Interesting, if somewhat flawed, article Epic BIM, but I think you fundamentally do not understand the Open BIM agenda.

    In your post you state that 'the Open BIM movement wants software providers to stop providing proprietary formats'. I have not, to date, seen any evidence that the Open BIM network wants to see an end to proprietary formats. They simply want all BIM platforms to be able to speak to one another, and the format of choice that has been under development since 1996 is IFC, which is now coming to maturity with recent increases in its usage and development. I suspect the Open BIM network fully appreciates the benefits that proprietary file formats provide regarding delivering innovation.

    As far as I’m aware, the Open BIM network does not ‘target’ any platforms. They do not oppose proprietary development of sophisticated toolsets. However, these Open BIM advocates you talk of may seem to 'go for' Autodesk, if they do it would not be without due cause. Autodesk is becoming ever more dominant in the market. Without diligence from major players, it will further monopolise AEC software provision. This should not happen for many reasons, primarily economic (the price of it's products will no doubt rise sharply as the competition ebbs away) but also for innovation. If alternative platforms lose traction there will be no competitive incentive for it to improve its own products. I for one do not want to see an AEC industry where Autodesk is the only choice.

    Are the majority of users 'happy with the status quo'? Perhaps in your world of Revit users, but not for those consultants who adopted alternative, equally-capable BIM platforms such as ArchiCAD, Bentley, Vectorworks or Tekla, to name but a few. The incentive is that, in time, clients will become better educated and start including requests for proof of IFC-certified software use rather than just asking for BIM.

    The business case for software providers to become IFC certified is when clients procuring design teams who are BIM-capable do not want to be limited to consultants who are capable of authoring in one specific platform. Which software a consultant uses should not have a major impact on whether they are appointed, alternative skillsets that are far more important have to take priority. For ability in any single platform to not be an overriding factor during procurement, every platform has to be able to speak to and understand every other platform. IFC can be considered as the Babel Fish of BIM in this regard. I understand that the workflows and processes to achieve true interoperability are not yet perfect, but this is due to the BIM-platform developers, not the IFC format.

    We must try to ensure that we do not see the following situation in the future:

    PQQ question 1: Do you work in Revit?

    Answer: No, but we are the world's most sought-after architect with numerous high-profile projects under way at any time.

    Result: Unfortunately you are unable to tender.

    3: There are a handful of free software packages that enable AEC authoring. Some of these are capable of working with IFC files. For IFC to truly gain traction the Open BIM Network should sponsor the development of an open-source tool that is capable of producing and editing IFC files. It is only a matter of time.

    In 15-years time, when that whole lifecycle building design you produced in Revit 2013 comes to requiring a major renovation, do you think you’ll be able to dig-out that ancient version of Revit 2013 to open that closed, proprietary RVT file? I don’t think so, as Autodesk have a bad track record for interoperability between different interactions of even their own software. However, there will be umpteen solutions that can open and edit that open source IFC file.

    Even if we just view IFC as an archival format for now, in time open source solutions for editing and updating that IFC will no-doubt appear.

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