Open BIM, 4BIM … and potential ‘BIM-wash’

A London conference on building information modelling (BIM) on Wednesday, organised jointly by Constructing Excellence and the Construction Products Association, featured two announcements.

Open BIM

First, we heard that BuildingSMART International, various Nemetschek companies, Tekla, Solibri, and other major construction software vendors (but, perhaps critically, not Autodesk or Bentley [yet], nor any construction collaboration technology vendors) had joined forces to launch a global programme to promote Open BIM collaboration workflows throughout the global architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. According to the news release:

Open BIM is a universal approach to the collaborative design, realization and operation of buildings based on open standards and workflows. Open BIM is an initiative of buildingSMART and several leading software vendors using the open buildingSMART Data Model.

Other AEC software vendors as well as designers, engineers, contractors and building owners are being encouraged to participate and use the Open BIM logo as a promise of successful and streamlined collaboration (see also the Graphisoft blog).


Second, there was a brief mention of the establishment of 4BIM, an initiative being driven by a consortium comprising Sunderland, UK-based collaboration vendor 4Projects, Northumbria University/BIM Academy, specialist technology consultancy AEC3 (involving Nick Nisbet – alongside me at the conference), contractor VINCI Construction and construction products manufacturer Kingspan. 4Projects’ website describes how it aspires to extend its core SaaS solution to offer new cloud-delivered BIM services, including:

  • a browser-based viewer for 3D BIM models, supporting open Industry Foundation Class (IFC) model files, as well as secondary support for industry standard 3D BIM formats.
  • a browser-based review system allowing items and assets within an IFC model to be reviewed and tagged with data
  • an integrated model server, allowing multiple BIM files from multiple disciplines and organisations to be merged together for collaborative viewing, review and further processing.
  • a BIM reporting system to allow interrogation of model data
  • a facilities management handover service, delivering O&M and other BIM data, and using the open COBie data interchange format, and
  • a mobile application for accessing BIM data in 4Projects

Technical advances or marketing hype?

Reading the 4Projects description, it repeatedly describes 4BIM as a collaborative project, but the purpose seems largely focused on expanding the capabilities of 4Projects’ platform. While 4Projects does mention IFC and other open approaches, I wonder if 4BIM will, for example, be open to collaboration with other SaaS collaboration vendors in developing this technology? Or is this a 4Projects’ marketing pitch to counter the cBIM drive that rival SaaS vendor Asite has been mounting over the past couple of years, the recent BIM360 push with Buzzsaw from Autodesk, and renewed promotion of ProjectWise as part of Bentley’s BIM product portfolio (see this week’s Ghafari Associates news)? Other collaborative flavours of BIM are also available….

It is easy to get overwhelmed. I spoke to one particularly jaded contractor earlier this week, and he shared a weariness among some UK industry folk about apparent “BIM-wash”, where technology businesses seek to position themselves as offering BIM solutions whereas the reality is currently little more than marketing hype or pushing existing proprietary tools. Perhaps buyers will soon need to beware of “BIM vapour-ware” just as they had to be careful of vendors’ empty promises at the height of the 1999-2000 boom?

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4 pings

  1. Hi Paul

    I’d agree that there’s a huge amount of ‘heat and noise’ about BIM right now, and not nearly enough action, but I’d take issue that 4BIM is just another ‘initiative’. The 4BIM project has £1m+ investment from the partners involved, and will see 25+ man-years of effort committed to it by the team over the next 2 years.

    So it’s definitely not just marketing hype or BIM-wash! The consortium is collaborating, with the help of the Technology Strategy Board, to try to address some of the BIM interoperability challenges the industry faces if it is to meet the UK Government’s 2016 mandate, and broader adoption of collaborative BIM. As I’m sure you are aware, it’s about addressing the process & people issues, as much as the technology.

    As well as publishing a comprehensive interoperability study, and guidance document based on the findings of the project, a significant deliverable of the project will be the XBim Open Source IFC library, which is being made available for wider collaboration (under an open source licence that enables commercial organisations to build on it). i.e. We’re actively looking for use and collaboration from the industry. This is a key point as there are few mature IFC and COBie software libraries available today, and many are somewhat hamstrung with restrictive licences (prohibiting their use in commercial products).

    Regarding Open vs Closed/Proprietary, yes, 4Projects will be the host for the BIM Cloud services for the 4BIM project, making use of our existing collaboration capabilities, but it will be much more than a ‘me-too’ proposition. By building the services around a rich open source BIM library such as XBim we can provide services that are not currently feasible, because we can unlock the information in these models. Just one example: we’re able to demonstrate a distributed, real-time model design review tool using pure SaaS techniques that will work across platforms.

    Finally, I’d point out that 4BIM and OpenBIM have shared aims. We are both seeking to provide an alternative to proprietary standards for BIM, as we believe interoperability is in the best interests of collaboration, and ultimately the industry and clients. We’ll be signing up to the OpenBIM program ourselves.


    Andy Ward
    4Projects CTO & 4BIM PM

  2. Thanks, Andy, for the clarification. As we tweeted over the weekend, the PR description of the 4BIM project perhaps does not accurately convey the potential industry contribution that may be made.

    As I wrote, there is some scepticism in the industry about the claims by some vendors, consultants, resellers, etc regarding their BIM capabilities. I want to see more detail regarding the foundations that are being laid down and how these relate to ongoing open initiatives.

    Regards – Paul

  3. Paul, agreed re: PR and general industry scepticism! Happy to take you through the 4BIM details at some point. I might even bump into you Weds at EcoBuild…


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