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A new standard to end data silos

The ISO 23386 standard is now published. It is a big step towards the common description and management of properties and groups of properties into dictionaries for BIM. The new standard allows interoperability of semantics between all BIM softwares. This is what enables the end of data silos.

By Frederic Grand, Project Leader of the ISO 23386 standard, and Standards Manager at Catenda


The adoption of this new standard will improve the interoperability into a BIM process:

  • All properties from different countries and regulations will be seamlessly understandable and usable digitally
  • Exchange Information Requirements will be described according to dictionaries instead of excel sheets without any precise knowledge definition of what is needed
  • It will be possible to query the right products answering the requirements of a model directly from manufacturer databases using the same dictionaries.

The birth of ISO 23386

In a BIM process, all stakeholders need to use properties, objects, products and construction works that are specialized for their specific needs, based on the legislation and culture. This means that we will never have a single data dictionary containing all information needed in all BIM domains. A large number of dictionaries may therefore be created to answer the specific needs.

Thus, it is necessary to be able to provide a unique way of describing the content of those dictionaries, as well as the methodology to operate them. By providing a methodology to describe properties and groups of properties, it becomes possible to map properties from one dictionary to another. And BIM applications become able to access any dictionary as part of an interconnected network following the same standard. Confidence in the exchanged information is also a crucial point; it is necessary to be able to apply similar management of the content in all the interconnected dictionaries to ensure that the content has been validated by experts and to be able to log any activity into the dictionary.

Back in 2012, a group of manufacturers expressed their need for trust in the information exchanged in a BIM process. This led to the creation of the PPBIM standardization committee in AFNOR (French Standardization Body) and the development of an experimental standard, XP P07-150 (also known as PPBIM). The first success of this standardization committee was the ability to involve all stakeholders covered of the standard: Manufacturers, contractors, architects, engineers etc. The XP PO7-150 standard was published in December 2014.

In 2016, after a successful experimentation financed by the government of France, the committee proposed to address the topic at the European level in the European level in the CEN BIM Technical Committee, specifically the Working Group on Data Dictionaries called CEN/TC442/WG4 lead by Roland Dominici. This has led to a specific task group working on an international version of the experimental standard. As this is not a specific European topic, the Vienna agreement has been applied to the work to make it an international ISO work.

Thanks to the work of worldwide experts and the feedback of several experiments, the final version of the document was sent for enquiry in December 2019, taking into account many comments that helped to enrich and improve the content of the standard. This process ended in February, and the vote has been 100 % positive at European and International level. The standard was published in March 2020

Here is a timeline of ISO 23386 provided by AFNOR:

ISO 23386 in a nutshell

To ensure the interoperability of dictionaries in tools and applications, the EN ISO 23386 consists of several parts:

  • The description of properties and groups of properties by a set of attributes
  • The description of workflows to author and maintain properties

In a dictionary following the new ISO 23386 standard, the definition of a property is not provided by only a name and a textual description. The definition is expressed by the entire set of attributes permitting a seamless understanding of the property: for example, the link to a reference document, the data type, the possible values, the dimension, etc.

All dictionaries following the standard must be able to provide this specific set of attributes as THE DEFINITION of the property. The figure illustrates examples of some attributes defining a property.

Regarding the authoring and maintaining process of a dictionary, the standard provides definitions and roles of applicants, experts, commissions of experts and requests, and presupposes that a governance model is established. All the processes to author and maintain the content are described in BPMns. Only experts relevant to specific areas of expertise are allowed to validate requests into the dictionary.

In order to be part of a network of dictionaries, a dictionary must support the exchange of properties, groups of properties, users, experts and requests, structured following ISO 12006-3 (also known as IFD).

What’s next

Some CEN Technical Committees have already started to use the ISO 23386 standard to describe the properties used in their product standards.

Some countries have launched projects of dictionaries managed and structured according to ISO 23386.

The ISO 12006-3 standard is currently under revision to be able to support the needs of ISO 23386.

Another Task Group of CEN/TC442/WG4 led by Espen Schulze has been working on a standard to set out the principles and structure for Data Templates for construction objects and using ISO 23386. This standard, prEN ISO 23387 will be published later in 2020.

The openBIM community

The buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bSDD) is a shared library of objects and their attributes utilising ISO 12006-3. It is used to identify objects in the built environment and their specific properties regardless of language. The bSDD is open and international, allowing architects, engineers, consultants, owners and operators on one side and product manufacturers and suppliers on the other from all around the world to share and exchange product information.

The bSDD helps reduce costs and improves quality, streamlining mapping between different users and applications through comprehensive modelling of objects and validation of data. It also allows mapping of classifications and concepts, for example classification elements and IFC entities, and allows managing translations of classifications elements and concepts.

bSDD will be updated to support the definitions as required by ISO 23386, and all bSDD agents authorised by buildingSMART International will be in charge of implementing the ISO 23386 process and to ensure the content quality into the dictionary.

Now it is up to software vendors to make the standard their own, and to make a collective big step forward towards semantic interoperability.

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