The world is changing. Population growth, urbanization, and economic expansion are set to push demand for buildings and infrastructure to unprecedented levels. At the same time we are drowning in data, with more and more of it is geospatially based and built environment relevant. Not all that data translates easily into useful information, and even less into actionable knowledge or something this is transferable between various systems and software.
While “Big Data” is a phrase most commonly associated with the finance and retail sectors, it has come home to the AEC world, especially with the large amounts of highly trustworthy information created by and used within the BIM technology and related systems. Technology has always disrupted how things are made, and today those “things” are now deeply connected and related to each other, both physically and digitally. It is happening now as the AEC industry enters what can be described as the Era of Connection.
This era is about building applications and solutions that not only connect a community of people to a 3D model with connected BIM, but also applications and systems that connect to each other with the ability to pass rich information back and forth. Big Data and the Cloud are the backbone that is helping to drive this disruption of convergence and integration.
Structured vs unstructured Big Data
When we think about Big Data, often it is created and used in one of two ways, structured or unstructured. Unstructured data such as personal photographs, other graphics, emails, videos, audio files like music, PDFs, PowerPoints/Word docs, etc are loosely connected to each other and therefore are more difficult to organize, access or analyze. However its role while less organized is often as important when we think of the amount of collaboration that takes place on a project via emails between project stakeholders with attachments of the above file types included. Or with emails that have construction contracts or schedules, images taken during inspections or the use of scanned paper docs during operations. Today all can be indexed in digital folders (e.g. NoSql – “non SQL” or “non-relational” SQL) within Cloud-based collaboration platforms, but it is still a grouping of information that really doesn’t know who it is related or connected to or why.
Structured data is by definition structured. It has fixed sets of information, fields and stores relational information. Some would say it is smart or intelligent data. The best example of this is Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM information is parametric and relational, it contains metadata, and intelligence. Its behaviors during design are controlled by what the project is (e.g. sewer pipes don’t connect into potable water supply lines); and if a designer tries to do something that doesn’t happen in real use, or wasn’t intended, the BIM-based design software will notify you. Once created, a model can be accurately rendered, visualized, simulated and even analyzed using Cloud-based analytics. It can be a model that represents a house, office building, highway or even an entire city with all its supporting buildings and infrastructure accurately and precisely put in context geospatially. It is the digital mirror of that physical world.
Why interoperability is important
Historically, the professions within AEC have traditionally operated in a very siloed-way. Even today the information created via BIM or otherwise is often focused on a particular profession (architect vs. engineer vs. contractor) and for very specific purposes. As BIM-based models and data developed, it has spread as the main data type within AEC projects regardless of discipline. This has dramatically increased the need to transfer this information between groups working on a project or projects and between trades. The ability to generate collaborative insights between professionals to inform better design, construction and even operations is today’s new reality. BIM models are not only becoming smarter, they will shortly be able to be mined for business intelligence, for such considerations as how designs performed versus expectations at the outset, or how particular construction approaches generate better results using comparative models (as-designed vs. as-built).
The era of connection is ushering in a new way of addressing the demand, production and resulting built asset products that AEC professionals deliver. Cloud computing, social and mobile technologies and services are redefining and rapidly transforming how people collaborate. Hardware, software and the cloud are merging, with the physical artifact and its digital counterpart becoming deeply intertwined. In fact even today many large transportation networks and buildings need software and data to operate. The convergence of this Big Data, BIM and a connected world will continue to drive the need for sharing and interoperability of all data types related to our built environment regardless of how they originally were authored.
We believe that interoperability is the best way forward for the industry. With such an approach, multi-discipline teams can use systems and applications that are the best tools for the job, working together and freely exchanging design and construction data. This stands in contrast to proprietary systems, where teams are locked into vendor software which might not be the best suited for the task at hand and why supporting a variety of interoperability data exchanges with all software offerings is key.
An interoperable approach also allows for an end-to-end-BIM process across teams and projects, which helps customers take advantage of what we call “Era of Connection”technology like the enhanced interconnectedness of systems, as increased access to applications, Big Data, crowdsourcing, high-speed computation, mobile technology and more join together to disrupt the design landscape. Harnessing and mastering these interconnections will help to ensure that not only does a design work, but that it is the best design. None of these exciting changes can benefit the AEC industry if the systems used cannot communicate with each other.
20+ years of buildingSMART
To answer that challenge, Autodesk’s commitment to interoperability continues today as a member of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), an international not-for-profit organization committed to making quality open standards for the global geospatial community, as well as 20+ years of continued work with buildingSMART to maintain the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) standard.
“Interoperability is the best way forward for the industry. With such an approach, multi-discipline teams can use systems and applications that are the best tools for the job, working together and freely exchanging design and construction data”
IFC files for BIM can be thought of as roughly analogous to DXF files for CAD, which is an efficient and popular way of sharing CAD graphic and attribute data. Similarly, IFC files allow the sharing 3D BIM geometry data and the associated non-graphic attribute data effectively. With IFC data file transfers architects, engineers and designers can all work in the IFC certified BIM software of their choosing and share the design information by way of IFC data file exchanges.
By being part of buildingSMART’s Strategic Advisory and its Standards Committee, the goal has been to drive openness in the AEC industry. Additionally, Autodesk only supports the openBIM of buildingSMART and its mission as the vendor-neutral body “to define open international standards and working procedures” and will continue to invest and support in efforts that keep the open in “openBIM” truly open.
As we move forward to embrace greater team, process and system interconnectedness as part of the Era of Connection, having fully translated BIM data to design, construct, and operate will become the norm. This focus on collaborating rather than competing will bring better end results and in the end benefit the customer and owners who design and operate our built environment.