LEGO Architecture meets BIM – Part 26: Common Data Environments

Introduction

BIM is often misunderstood simply as technology, a deliverable or all about the model. However PROCESS is the most important aspect of any BIM project. A successful BIM project is one that follows a defined process effectively and efficiently, using technology to produce deliverables (these may or may not come from a model). In the UK much of this starts with ‘BIM Level 1’. I have written previously in detail on this subject but a core requirement for a project is the use of a Common Data Environment or CDE for short. 

There are many solutions on the market that would consider themselves a CDE. These include solutions such as Aconex, Asite, Autodesk BIM 360 Docs, Bentley Projectwise, BC CDE (previously Business Collaborator or BC), Clearbox BIMXtra, Trimble Connect and Viewpoint for Projects (formerly called 4projects) to name just a few (I apologise to those who aren’t listed here!!). There is much debate about whether these tools can be truly considered Common Data Environments. I don’t want to get into that argument here! (you know who you are ;-)) Like all my LEGO posts the aim is to educate others about the benefits of what a focus on BIM processes can bring and whilst through this series I have highlighted some issues, the fundamental message is that BIM is a VERY positive thing!!

The fundamentals of any Common Data Environment for me are that it needs to support industry standards (including naming, revisions and suitability) and more importantly it handles the defined PROCESS we want to follow. Each of the CDEs out there tackle this in a different way. Some choose to you use folders whilst others use meta data and some allow you to do a hybrid of both. For me I prefer to use meta data to manage information as folders is such an antiquated way of sorting, filtering and finding information. You don’t look on the web in folders, you use search!!

So for this post I have just tried to show how my LEGO information would appear in one of these particular solutions. Its just an example. In fact we are in the process of changing our CDE to a different solution but here we use Viewpoint for Projects to explain some of what a CDE can offer.

A Common Data Environment

For a level one process we need everyone in a team to upload their information to the agreed CDE for the specific project. As I said earlier these tools vary in how they do this process although the fundamental requirement for a standard name, revision and suitability/status (plus a description) is a minimum requirement for a BS1192 complaint approach.

Below we can see how these files appear in the web browser allowing users with the correct permission to view and download these files. This principle of having a single location to access information is a critical building block of any BIM project in the UK hoping to meet either ‘BIM Level 1’ or ‘BIM Level 2’!

Note: file names here were created before the BS1192:2007+A2:2017 release and so Volume code would now be ‘ZZ’ instead of ’00’ for our standard approach.

Image: Files for the ‘LEGO Architecture meets BIM’ project in the Viewpoint for Projects CDE (click to enlarge)

Each file on the system has a full history and whilst CDEs will show you the latest version, historic versions are always available to view or download. Each document is always unique and contains both information about the current file but also any history associated to it.

Image: Data about an individual file in Viewpoint for Projects (click to enlarge)

Whilst uploading and accessing files is a core requirement for any system to be considered a CDE it needs to have a compliant process built into it. In the UK this process is clearly set out in BS1192:2007+A2:2016. This in its simplest terms involves 4 core building blocks: WIP (which stands for Work In Progress), Shared, Published and Archive. This could be handled by folders (like in this case) but could also be handled by data allowing the processes to occur.

Image: Figure 1 from BS1192:2007+A2:2016 (copyright British Standards) – you can download the standard for free following this link: http://bim-level2.org/en/standards/

The important part of the 4 blocks (these could be folders or just data associated to information) is how information is controlled between them. For example WIP may actually be on a server and then be uploaded onto the CDE (as I have done for this LEGO project). But crucially the uploaded information must be checked, reviewed and approved before being placed in the Shared area for others to use knowing that it has been approved. Of course I could still share information into the WIP area but not have had it checked by anyone else. Others can still use it but it is clear to others that it has yet to go through a formal approval process.

So there are essentially 3 important points to the BIM process:

  1. Approving information for Sharing
  2. Authorising informarion for Publishing
  3. Verifying information for Archive

This LEGO project doesn’t really demonstrate this process as it has been a one organisation effort but for real projects its important to understand that these are key points in the process to ensure everyone understands what it can be used for.

More functionality

Like all the CDE tools out there the functionality beyond uploading and sharing files varies greatly. Below is one piece of functionality from Viewpoint that allows you to view statistics about the uploaded information, which includes file size and how many files we have of each type.

Image: File Statistics in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

Further statistics are also available in Viewpoint for Projects regarding the number of files in Containers.

Image: Container Statistics in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

Models in a CDE

Over the last few years many of the more popular CDEs have also begun to integrate models and model workflows into their tools. Viewpoint for Projects has a dedicated BIM section that allows IFC models to be viewed directly within these systems.

Below you will see how our LEGO models, saved with different Model View Definitions (MVDs) are viewed within the ’06-BIM’ folder. This is just a list showing us the key information but if they choose ‘View Model’ a new window will open with the model.

Image: BIM files in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

Like many of the tools used to view IFC models the IFC tree structure is available on the left hand side of the screen. This gives us the ability to switch items on and off in the model.

PS: I have no idea why the colour of my model is not correct. I couldn’t find a way to change this so suspect its a bug.

Image: IFC tree structure in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

As well as the model tree we can look at the model by using the Component tab to view individual LEGO pieces in the IFC model.

Image: Model components listed in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

Of course BIM is far more than just 3D geometry, its all about the information! So with our LEGO model we can select any of the Components and view data about each piece. Our web links to order new pieces are preserved in the viewer so if you’ve lost a piece you can use the CDE as part of a workflow to order a new piece!

Image: Properties of the IFC model in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

Another example feature is the ability to create saved views within the CDE and Viewpoint offers the ability for the model we shared with others to allow collaborative discussion on issues.

Image: Saving Views in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

The saved views also allow comments to be added so marking up issues in the model or commenting on the design is another function of Viewpoint and many tools like it.

Image: Markup in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

Like a lot of the CDEs on the market they are constantly looking to improve their overall tools but also their approach to models. Viewpoint currently has a beta feature that allows viewers to see generated floor plans in the model (this is similar to what Solibri Model Checker and Viewer has).

Image: Beta of Floor Plan Views in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

As a last example of the model functionality you can also measure between two points. I personally find all these attempts to add measurement tools a little clunky compared to traditional CAD processes but i am sure they will improve with time.

Image: Model measurement in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

CDE functionality is not just built around models and many of these systems allow other collaborative functionality such as the ability to incorporate forms directly into the web browser. This can include forms like Requests for Information (RFIs) which in Viewpoint are handled by Tasks.

Image: Tasks in Viewpoint for Project (click to enlarge)

There is a lot more functionality in Viewpoint for Projects than described above. This is just to give a flavour of the type of things that CDEs can offer a BIM project. Like all technology its also rapidly changing and improvements are happening regularly with these tools as they tend to be less constrained by an annual release cycle.

Conclusion

CDEs are a key building block for projects and allow all stakeholders to access information from a consistent location. They provide a solution to support a number of standard processes required for projects. Not everyone of course needs to provide or manage a CDE but understanding the benefits and using them should be on everyone’s radar. Remember, if you are claiming to do BIM Level 1 (or Level 2) you should at least be sharing information in someone’s CDE, even if it isn’t your own.

Whilst I strongly advocate the use of a CDE on projects wherever we can, the reality is many of these tools are sadly far from perfect. Many of these solutions have historical issues and annoying bugs that prevent effective and efficient collaboration. For example I had hoped to show the COBie viewing within Viewpoint for Projects, but not for the first time it simply didn’t work. Like other posts in this series it was not my aim to highlight this failure but this is simply the reality of today.

So we have learnt to use the tools available for the things they are good at. I have yet to see a CDE that provides a platform for using models that is in any way as effective as other tools designed specifically for that purpose. In many ways though this actually demonstrates the need for openBIM and the ability to choose the ‘best in breed’ software. Using the right tool for the job is imperative to get the most from every project. Over time we will inevitably see the convergence of tools or at least greater integration between tools, and also new entries to the market who can come at it afresh without any of that baggage of the past. Until then we continue to use the tools in the best way possible and constantly reevaluate them to ensure they are meeting ours and our clients needs. More though on CDEs for another day!

Rob Jackson, Associate Director, Bond Bryan Digital

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One thought on “LEGO Architecture meets BIM – Part 26: Common Data Environments

  1. Great post Rob, with the new +A2:2016 update to the BS1192 there have been new challenges (“,) Looking forward to more of your posts and they have been very useful in my last position as BIM manager. Just to point out in one of your images you have put A2:2017 by mistake.

    Thanks

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