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The Role of Open Standards and Protocols in Advancing Building Information Modeling (BIM)

This article was created with special thanks to Eftychia Kalogianni. Eftychia is a BIM expert at Future Insight and PhD Candidate TUDelft.

Standards can serve as non-binding policy components to support the continuous improvement of a legal and policy framework for the management of the information at the geospatial and the AECOO domain. Currently, a wide range of standards (related to 2D and 3D geospatial information, as well as building-related information) is available, while each one has been developed for a specific purpose from various standardization organizations (ISO TC/211, Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), Wide Web Consortium (W3C), OASIS, OMG, etc.).

Today, Building Information Modeling/ Model (BIM) is used in the design and construction industry worldwide, and is rapidly being adopted both from the industry side, as well as from governmental perspective. BIM is defined by ISO¹ as

a shared digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of any (to be) built object […] which forms a reliable basis for decisions”.

Although there is a different rate of adoption and differences in BIM-related regulations that vary per country, the increased recognition of BIM and its importance have led to the establishment of national and governmental BIM councils, roadmaps, standards and strategies around the world.

The aim of the organizations that develop BIM standards and protocols is to ensure the ability to integrate datasets and related services of different types and from different sources, minimizing costs and problems, while reducing dependence on implementation specifics. The main organizations involved at BIM standards development at international level are²: CEN TC442 BIM, ISO/TC59/ SC13 BIM, ISO/ TC184/ SC4 STEP, OGC, BuildingSMART Alliance, EU BIM Task Group, etc. The UK government, being very active and ambitious to be one of the global leaders in BIM has introduced, since 2011, the main principles and high-level requirements for BIM implementation, that have been therefore adopted by international standards (i.e. ISO 19650).

Based on BIM standardization processes and protocols, a universal approach to the collaborative design, realization, and operation of building structures, vendor-neutral and based on open standards and workflows has been developed. openBIM³ initiated from buildingSMART alliance in order to improve the accessibility, usability, management and sustainability of digital data in the AECOO domain. openBIM processes can be defined as

sharable project information that supports seamless collaboration for all project participants, facilitating interoperability to benefit projects and assets throughout their lifecycle

, while it is aligned with the ISO 19650 standards.

The main advantage of open BIM is that data is stored and exchanged using standard-based formats, and not proprietary formats that can only be used by the application from which they were created. The principles of openBIM recognise that:

  1. Interoperability is key to the digital transformation in the built asset industry.

  2. Open and neutral standards should be developed to facilitate interoperability.

  3. Reliable data exchanges depend on independent quality benchmarks.

  4. Collaboration workflows are enhanced by open and agile data formats.

  5. Flexibility of choice of technology creates more value to all stakeholders.

  6. Sustainability is safeguarded by long-term interoperable data standards.

The most commonly used open BIM data standard is the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), which is ISO certified (ISO16739-1:2018). IFC is a schema and an open, vendor-neutral file format that describes all the functional and physical characteristics of

a model, including information about the semantics, geometry and relationships. Another open BIM data standard is the Construction Operation Building Information Exchange (COBie). COBie is a non-proprietary data format that allows resource data sharing rather than geometric data and it is used to transfer data and documents created during design and construction to end users or facility managers.

Apart from the data standards, there are also open BIM workflow standards, such as the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF, which consists of XML-based information facilitating communication between stakeholders), the Information Delivery Manual (IDM, also voted as ISO29481-1:2010 describing a methodology to capture and specify processes and information during the lifecycle of a built asset), as well as the Information Delivery Specification¹ (IDS, which is a machine readable document specifying the exchange requirements and defining the level of information needs). Those workflow standards have been developed by buildingSMART and work complementary to IFC. What is more, the buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD)¹¹ is a library of classes, properties, relations and units that has been developed by buildingSMART International. bSDD provides a standardized workflow to guarantee data quality and consistency as it allows linking between all the content inside the database,

From the aforementioned, it is concluded that, today, there is a wide range of open standards that the user can choose from, depending on the end-product requirements and the preferred technology to be used.

Nowadays, more and more companies and software developers worldwide adopt the open BIM approach and Future Insight has been one of the leading companies implementing open standards and open BIM processes and protocols in all its products. In this way, cross-party collaboration is developed, communication between all involved stakeholders is enhanced and data quality and information consistency are ensured. Future Insight won buildingSMART award in the category of Technology 2022 for the project “BIM-based permit check for Estonia” and the use of openBIM standards, providing in practice that openBIM standards and processes lead to improved and efficient communication and collaboration, which is the main objective of BIM.


¹ ISO (2018). ISO 16739-1:2018: Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) for Data Sharing in the Construction and Facility Management Industries—Part 1: Data Schema; International Organisation for Standardisation: Geneva, Switzerland, 2018.

² European Commission (2017). Building Information Modelling (BIM) standardization. JRC Technical Reports, Martin Poljanšek, ISBN 978-92-79-77206-1.


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