Introducing Open & Closed BIM


From BIM Journal. Click Here to Read Issue 1

In an industry already full of acronyms, opinions and rumours it is important to make sure we align ourselves firmly with the definition of important key terms. This article, and indeed the rest of this issue, begins our “deep dive” into the realm of openBIM (as championed by buildingSMART - the International home of openBIM) through the opinions of key industry players and what it means from one practitioner to the next - before we summarise with an overall consensus later on.


Since the original introduction of the very concept of BIM (some decades ago), standards and approaches have developed considerably ever since[1]. Assuredly the BIM of today is not the BIM of yesterday and as leading technology developers and industry officials increasingly find their feet, we see evolution not just in the direction of how BIM is used but also in its purpose, direction and implementation as a vehicle for effective data sharing and communication. Indeed, with the ever-increasing complexity of intelligent data - culminating in the realm of “big data” - the impact of this evolution is more pertinent than ever before.


Remembering that BIM itself contains so many approaches and methods, each of which captures a subtlety in approach or in vision as different from the last, “closed” BIM has developed a meaning and significance of its own, as a method of implementation. Indeed this is the genesis of where the terms originate and both suitably juxtapose one another.

Both terms maintain a number of similarities however, but there are considerable differences that see core conflicts as to how BIM projects are implemented; not least with relevance to how intelligent data is communicated between parties and the overall transparency of workflow. Which are aspects that we will clarify.

Closed BIM

Closed BIM or “normal BIM” tends to represent a restricted design environment within which participants are required to use a singular software suite or platform that, as a consequence of this restriction, limits accessibility for those unversed in that particular tool[2]. Newbie note: If you ever see the term “tool” in a BIM context, just think “software”.

That said, closed BIM is often alluded to as a dogmatic and mildly procrustean approach brought forward by specific vendors throughout the years. Indeed closed BIM’s restrictions have been seen to lead a disconnect in communication between different participants attempting to share data in a common environment. This sees leading software vendors in a position of being able to, if not establish then at least influence something of a monopoly over the digital construction field in order to maintain dominance. Whatsmore, due to widespread usage and adoption by key representatives of authority within the field, this dominance can prevail. This is the consensus anyway and it is a point that we will come back to.


Unsurprisingly, in contrast to closed BIM, openBIM (a la buildingSMART) signifies the conception of a new mode of communication or “digital language” through which compliant technologies maintain translatability with the model and the associated data itself[4], both graphical and non graphical. “OPEN BIM” (all caps) relates to a Graphisoft backed marketing campaign (based on openBIM standards) shared by several other software vendors[5]. So when it comes to standards it’s the “openBIM” variant to look out for, the spirit of which is used when describing an open and collaborative approach or workflow.  

Considering the sheer amount of information involved however, in all its forms, an open design environment really is a fundamentally sound attribute to begin with[2]. However this route does see a more diverse range of project participants utilising BIM software, or at least putting more effort into BIM software choices, to collaborate in this manner and integrate with the teams more seamlessly.

Indeed, within this structure leading software vendors are still able to compete for dominance, but a removal of boundaries inherent to a closed system sees an opening of the market where participants can utilise different (albeit compliant) software platforms to communicate more fluidly and transparently. We should be able to add ‘reliably’ too.


Q: What do you feel are the benefits of a more open transparent and collaborative approach based on open standards?[3]

A: My belief is that any professional should be able to do their work in the software that they feel comfortable with, in order to deliver the optimum results in the best time and the most efficient way. If these files are not compatible with other tools out there then the efficiency gain is nullified, which affects both the sender and the recipient.

Therefore I strongly support openBIM, though there is still a long way to go and I see smaller players challenging the market more prominently. The bigger players might be at ease with their dominance, as they generally have less interest in pushing compatibility towards competing software, but the landscape has been changing.

In fact from a purely technical point of view often the best written software is being pedalled by smaller players who have to challenge dominant players to survive, which sees greater innovation and adoption of open standards overall.

But software is playing a smaller part next to the challenges of collaboration at large. It is still difficult to set up or manage a collaborative environment or platform without a high capex investment. Which is where the added value of a cloud platform like GDaaS comes in.



Indeed it is to the notion of openBIM where we look to remove these boundaries to entry for lesser versed but equally willing participants to enter the world of BIM. In fact thanks to this very removal, openBIM allows participants to focus more wholly on the compatibility of workflow rather than that of data[7] thus seeing more participants being able to quickly reach a common ground within BIM, largely unrestricted in fact.

Whilst this does indeed allow for an improved level of control of data within organisational structures, questions as to whether lesser-versed organisations are in a position to assert such control in an informed manner also come into play.


Q: Regarding the present BIM landscape, what does closed BIM not achieve?

A: It doesn’t lend itself to the complexity of a construction project, as this includes so many different people with so many different goals to achieve.

There is no tool that can serve a purpose for all of these people. You usually get a tool that only scratches the surface - and it doesn’t really help the project stakeholders to fully participate and achieve their own goals. [8]



Many key players in the promotion of openBIM include names such as Vectorworks, Allplan, SCIA, Trimble, Data Design System and of course most importantly of all buildingSMART International who validate and certify the openBIM standards upon which everything else rests. Indeed it is through the hard work and diligence of these industry leaders that openBIM can be defined and detailed to such an extent already, where its potential adoption within the industry remains as open to adoption as the very openness of the process itself.

Yet key questions can still be raised as to whether organisations should move to adopt an Open BIM approach to workflows at all. Even in cases where this is true it has to be asked if the time is truly right for them to do so? A question we will look at in following articles in BIM Journal here.

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