Finding the Babble Fish for Your Projects

Every project is unique whether due to regional economics, facility type, or a combination many different factors.  We hear this statement at many conferences, presentations and in the articles we read. Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) are the tools we use to assist our processes to help mitigate these factors. The questions are, is it enough and are projects really that special?

I will say, as I have said before, nothing is that special where there is not at least some common thread. You may say, “No, trust me this hospital; lab, or production facility is unique.”  That is where the first yellow card comes out, it is World Cup season. Yes every job is unique but that does not preclude them from having a common thread with every other project out there. Ok how about, “Our facility is designed using state of the art tools and processes and we are incorporating the latest technology into our facility.” Out comes the red card now. In the era of BIM/VDC this is now almost common place if not in the project as a whole many facets incorporate these elements.

Some may say if you are so smart what is the common thread then? The simple answer is data. I know what you are thinking, “Data, of course all projects have data. That is one of the biggest cop out answers I have ever heard.” It may sound like that but how many articles have you read recently that speak to the failure of BIM to deliver on the “I”? How many different ways do we try to capture and share information to respond with, “This project is unique and the information you require will only add cost to your project not value.” I know no one says this during the pursuit phase or even initially in the project but when the budget is at stake what is the first thing cut? Is data not really that important or is this another case of not seeing the forest for the trees?

I propose the latter is the case and one of the biggest reasons is compartmentalization of the Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Operations (AECO) Industry. I know, “BIM/VDC is BREAKING DOWN THE SILOS!” Are they really or are they allowing us only windows into each other’s silos? The design team focuses on generating construction documents and their BIM/VDC uses are focused to that end. The construction team is focused on creating the facility and their BIM/VDC uses are focused to that end. The operator is focused on the operations of that facility and their BIM/VDC uses if any are focused to that end. See the silos still exist but we have created windows into the silos. We use tools like information exchanges to help open those windows yet unfortunately the blinds are not fully open yet.

So projects aren’t special and we still work in silos; seems to be a horrible common thread there has to be something else. In fact there is the data and information is all communicated using classification systems to help organize model elements, specifications, cost, schedule activities, maintenance, and a plethora of other uses. You might say not really because I use “my” classification system for my ends so where is the common thread. And that is the point; we failed to see the forest for the trees.

Let us take a look at some of the standard classification systems in the United States, OmniClass, UniFormat, and MasterFormat. Designers use MasterFormat for Specifications. Contractors use UniFormat for costing and schedules. Operators use OmniClass or UniFormat for their CMMS and CFAM systems. Yes, it looks pretty siloed; I admit it and used to think the same way. Why? Because most of these classification systems and the information exchanges are presented in a spreadsheet format or tables that are siloed. Is the answer mapping all of those systems, so they can talk to each other? That is my thought, because if those systems are created in a database mapped to one another and the model authoring software providers embrace that; then our projects now have a “Babble Fish” and we as an industry have found that common thread linking everything together.

So are you up to the challenge? What are the challenges this faces, besides the slow movement of the software industry to embrace it? Do you think using mapped classification systems structured for electronic databases are the answer? Models after all, are only 3D representations of electronic databases.

1 Comment

  1. I see labeling everything with a standard classification identifier as the 'low hanging fruit' of BIM.
    It is reasonably easy to do (even if time consuming) and doesn't require an understanding of what information is required by other parties. That is, it is up to recipients to extract what they require rather than authors spoon feeding them as is the expectation now.

    The problem is no classification system is mature enough to be useful.
    Revit has built an Omniclass parameter INto families (for product classification) and Uniformat into system families (for element classification).
    But Revit has 3 extra digits for Uniformat, it appears they were unable to adequately uniquely identify all that Revit can model using Uniformat alone.

    The UK Uniclass is an alternative to Omniclass, and is claimed (by Uniclass) to be better suited to BIM.
    http://www.thenbs.com/topics/practicemanagement/articles/omniclasscritique.asp
    They may very well be right. More work has been done by them to make Uniclass work for BIM – except it incomplete. In fact it may become redundant. The UK government is currently running a tender for a national classification system, Uniclass is a front runner but not necessarily the winner.

    So we have the choice of an established system in the USA that is not that BIM friendly, nor comprehensive enough, and an incomplete system that may or may not be around in the future.

    So yes, I do think mapped classification systems structured for electronic databases are the answer, but unfortunately at the moment there is not a practical way for us to utilize one. And I get the feeling we will be waiting forever if we leave it until there is a complete system (Uniclass has been "out for comment" since early 2012 – it is now mid 2014).

    The question is: how can we make use of a partially complete classification system?

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