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October 23, 2011 / Brendan McFarlane

Beyond BIM into the World of Data Products

I recently came across an interesting article on – The Evolution of Data Products which touched on the way in which the way we consume data has developed in the course of the digital revolution. More specifically, it discussed the change from data we browsed and reviewed at as pure data, to actual products which deliver real world results rather than just words and numbers.

Once you start looking for data products that deliver real-world results rather than data, you start seeing them everywhere. One IBM project involved finding leaks in Dubuque, Iowa’s, public water supply. Water is being used all the time, but sudden changes in usage could represent a leak. Leaks have a unique signature: they can appear at any time, particularly at times when you would expect usage to be low. Unlike someone watering his lawn, flushing a toilet, or filling a pool, leaks don’t stop. What’s the deliverable? Lower water bills and a more robust water system during droughts — not data, but the result of data.

This got me thinking about what this means from the BIM angle, and just how advanced is the industry compared to the benchmark of contemporary data systems. Think about Google, not so long ago it revolutionised the way we navigated the internet by slurping up a huge cache of data, then indexing it, and dreaming up a ranking algorithm which delivered much more relevant results than any other system on the web. By adding structure and relationships to this data and the way people used it, and massively expanding the data we were able to access intelligently, they were able to do many more things which greatly enhanced the user experience, delivering really useful services which many of us now rely on.

BIM is still at a very early state of evolution compared to a company like Google, as it is little more than the same indexed mountain of data which Google started out with. We don’t really do anything particularly intelligent or innovative with it yet. There are, however, some beacons of light emerging, such as the SUperPlan product developed by Stephen Jones, the original developer of the 4D planning tool Synchro. What SUperPlan does that caught my eye is it to take in a BIM model, and deliver a construction schedule, 4D visualisation and a costed BOQ/BOM with very little user intervention. Cool!

I like Synchro a lot, it is a really well designed tool for 4D scheduling that, to borrow the Ronseal slogan, does exactly what it says on the tin. You give it a model or series of models, in various supported formats and then point it at a proposed construction schedule from Primavera P6, MS Project, or Powerproject and then link the model objects to the activities, using a variety of methods. Once linked, you can visualise the construction sequence, make changes to the schedule to fix any deficiencies, and then synchronise (hence the name) back to the master schedule.

Hopefully, we will start to see more and more of these innovative BIM based products come on the market, as the opportunity to analyse, rationalise and take advantage of BIM data crystallises in the minds of developers. There will, I’m convinced, be some amazing new tools making a name for themselves over the next few years, just as the data products touched on above are already transforming our lives.


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