The future of the BIM interface, part 1: connecting computers, software and people


In previous posts on the topic of BIM, we described the broad principles of Building Information Modeling, how it is intended to function, and how Omrania has successfully implemented BIM technology. In this post we discuss the question of the interface and its future potential to streamline design and construction performance.


Underlying the introduction and practical application of BIM has been a significant investment in new software and networked computers with a data processing capability unthinkable only a decade ago. This combination of advanced BIM software and powerful hardware have become an essential investment for any design firm who wants to stay in the game and compete in delivering design and construction document packages for complex projects. However, there are a few points to consider here.


The human factor

No matter how powerful and sophisticated a computer system or piece of software may be, there remains the involvement of people in the process of design, production of information, and during construction. Connecting the computer system, software, and the people we have what are known as interfaces. In addition, the use of multiple programs, app’s, and plug-ins from different providers requires the use of interface app’s in order to facilitate or optimize the working of those apps with one another and the user.

These interfaces allow those involved to operate the computer system effectively and efficiently. This involves processes such as data entry and coordination, design decision making, and extrapolation of data outputs for various purposes. This includes visualization of the model, direct cost and quantity extrapolation, data or design coordination and conflict identification, integration of disciplines during design, monitoring of construction, scheduling and life cycle energy and life-cycle cost analysis.


Selecting and implementing the right interface

For BIM to contribute to any workflow effectively, those interfaces, the software, and the hardware used must not present inefficiencies, difficulties, conflicting requirements or security risks during the normal processes of programming, design, production, and construction. To this end, ICT support teams have to give great consideration in the many interfaces that link the computer and human elements in our business. Sadly, it is all too common for design consultants without proper ICT support to consider interface applications as unimportant, resulting in inefficiencies and errors being made—often at significant cost to the paying client.

Today’s interfaces include three types; proprietary standard types, proprietary add-ons or plug-ins, and custom add-ons or plug-ins adapted for use on multiple platform types. With the highly profitable BIM industry growing quickly, there are many new plug-ins and app’s that are sold as ‘essential’ to an efficient workflow in BIM or that will make the operation of the system so much more efficient or even more profitable! In such an overheated market, care is needed in selecting the right software or plug-in for the intended purpose. As much as choosing the right interface is the implementation and integration of those interfaces within systems. The three most important matters when considering which interfaces to employ is that of compatibility, redundancy, and efficiency.


Ensuring compatibility

The first of these issues, compatibility is the simplest to get right and yet the most commonly overlooked matter. Incompatibility or conflicts between the base BIM or drawing platforms such as Revit and plug-ins can result in a range of issues from a slowing down of normal workflow to an outright failure of a production system. Occasionally it can result in unexpected impacts in the resulting data and graphic content of drawings that may not be noticed until a later time. This is not only highly frustrating for staff but can result in the expenditure of enormous amounts of time correcting problems.

All offices have a standard operating system, BIM protocols and drawing platforms such as Revit. With these come standard drawings and data representation interfaces that are regarded nowadays as an industry standard. Provided that any proprietary or custom plug-ins that are used on a project are fully vetted by the BIM manager or ICT support team for compatibility with the company’s existing software for compatibility, this situation should be avoided. It is also important that version, functional, and security updates to both base platform software and plug-ins are installed regularly.


Reducing redundancy and boosting efficiency

The second issue of redundancy addresses the matter of optimizing the functionality of the various programs that are running on a BIM model at any one time. With multiple add-ons running over or through the platform program such as Revit, any functional redundancy can slow down the system, particularly with multiple users accessing the model, and across a network. It is therefore important that the BIM manager reviews the operability of these applications identifies any redundancy and advises the team as to how settings should be adjusted to optimize performance.

The third matter of efficiency relates to how the seemingly limitless power and depth of a BIM database might best be controlled so as not to overload both the network and those people accessing the model. It is vitally important to understand the extent to which information is needed for the task in hand at any time in order to limit the risk of information overload. Without this filtering of data, BIM can become an unwieldy and costly hindrance to efficiency and productivity rather than an asset. One example of this issue is the proper understanding of, and adherence to Levels of Development Specification or LOD within a project.


Building trust and accountability with the client

Above all, we need to be aware of the fundamental reason why we are using the many apps available to us in the first place. The specific requirements of a client as defined within the consultant-client agreement will have been carefully negotiated between the design consultant and the client organization. If a client has asked only for ‘up front’ costs and energy use analysis, then it is not appropriate to carry out full lifecycle analysis or even to enter that data needed for this to be carried out, even though such a task may seem simple to those carrying out the work. We must remember that the fee is strictly limited only to the scope of services agreed, and no more.

This why a formal BIM agreement should be used and in effect as part of the consultant contract from the outset, that should include terms for adding scope or data requirements later. This agreement should make clear that the cost and schedule impact of late decisions impacting the scope of the BIM model can be significant and will be extra to the contract.


In the next post, we will review and compare several interface applications for purposes of programming, design, bidding, pre-construction, construction, handover, and operations processes.