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Design collaboration in openBIM

The evolution of design collaboration

In the AEC industry, the biggest challenge is communicating design information throughout the lifecycle of an asset. And this was true no matter when in history and how a project was run.

It is widely known that the construction industry is old, and yet stable and even lucrative (humans will always need buildings to shelter them, and with a growing global population, the industry is not ready to die…). During centuries, what we call collaboration was done on paper and verbally. The architect would send his drawings to the site manager, and if some issues occurred, he would agree with his team to change details with a handshake. This worked for a very long time; buildings are still up and money was made.

Elevation paper drawing
Elevation paper drawing

At some point, Technology caught up with Construction: computers and cell phones became big parts of our lives. It is quicker for a project manager to give decisions over the phone than to drive to go on site. And for Design teams, it is quicker and more effective to draw on a computer than on paper. Digital plans replaced their paper ancestors, and what was agreed with a handshake was now set with a text message or an email.

And finally, probably under the influence of other industries like Aerospace, car or even animation and video games, software solutions have evolved towards 3D modeling. This added a level of complexity to the information that could not necessarily be shared via email. And if you cannot share it via email, it is difficult to make decisions by simply replying. Collaboration had to be re-thought.

Where is BIM in all of this?

The subject of this article is, after all, collaboration in openBIM and so far, the last part was not mentioned.

BIM had the same effect on the industry than the space telescope Hubble in Astronomy. It was spoken of before by some high-ranked experts, then showed to the public and changed the way we perceive an operation: from the management to the type of insurance we are subscribing to.

How is your O&M Manual, with its thousands of pages, used by the FM team? Why has your electrician received the technical datasheet of the paint you’re spraying on the wall? Has the insurance body received the third party certificate of the air permeability test certificate?

Introducing BIM helped to center the discussion over the common goal: provide high-quality, low maintenance and easy to use assets.

BIM has disrupted the way we worked. It allowed (or forced?) us to take a step back, look at our goal and find a solution to reach it efficiently. People have new and more powerful tools to design and exchange information; it is the perfect opportunity to make things right and deliver high-quality projects. Every actor had to rethink how collaboration was done: Do I want to change this detail now or should I be more systematic? Should I wait for my colleague to provide me the answer or should I help him/her get it?

BIM in an asset lifecycle - Source: letsbuild.com
BIM in an asset lifecycle - Source: letsbuild.com

Design collaboration in an openBIM environment

If you are not sure and you want to know what is openBIM, you can read this article. Here are the few steps to put in place in order to collaborate in openBIM:

1) Agree on the exchange format: IFC and BCF

The most important thing in communication: language! The openBIM standards, such as IFC and BCF (here is a great article about IFC), are the common language between software. Similarly to running an international project where you agree on a common language for communication, here, you will agree to the open standards to exchange data in order to perform the coordination. When agreeing to export your native file into IFC, it is also crucial to set the rules of translation/export as not everything is necessary.

2) Plan your data releases


The new way of designing is heavier than before: every element is now linked to one another, and properties are embedded within the object. Because of this, design reviews and coordination need to be done in a more systematic way. The project configuration and the general operation’s program are also two important factors to take into account. Based on the above, the Design team will discuss and agree on the:

  • Frequency of data drops
  • Sequence of design coordination
  • Work packages release

Keeping this transparency over the common goal will help everyone planning resources accordingly.

3) Channels of communication


The way you want to share your data is crucial in order to avoid miscommunication. Ideally, a transparent and open design collaboration tool is your answer: a space where you will invite all the stakeholders, share and visualize your IFC exports, communicate with BCF and upload your documents. There are several tools that can answer those requirements, but one example is Bimsync, where you can do all of the above.

On Bimsync, you will be able to look at every IFC model, one by one or all together for checking the overall design. If something is incorrect, you can raise a BCF, explaining the error and assigning to a person and a close date. And finally, you can upload your documents in your own folder. Dropping everything in here will save you from headaches as to what to put where.

All the team members should be given access to the platform so that he or she can download the information needed and discuss issues. There will be a smaller chance of miscommunication.

Dashboard in Bimsync
Dashboard in Bimsync

4) Final step: Evaluate!

Everyone has heard about LEAN Management, this trendy method of work that all the big companies are proud to be using (when actually Sciences has been doing it for centuries: study, test, results, change). There is one thing that you need to remember about this: take a step back about your design collaboration process, look at what is ineffective and modify it.

Keeping the same process when it doesn’t work is painful and driving you backward. It is important to listen to your team, see what is going wrong: it might just be the fact that people need more training or you need an extra member of your team. But keep in mind that openness is the key to true collaboration.

    In an industry where deliverables are coming almost instantly from a large variety of software, collaboration is crucial for a high-quality design.

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