What is BIM?

BIM (Building Information Modelling) is a popular topic within the architecture, engineering and construction industry. BIM is a challenging topic to understand, because it describes both computer software and business processes that prioritise the creation and exchange of semantically rich 3D models. Given this broad scope, opinions are varied on BIM’s capability and influence within the industry. Fortunately, we can use another three-letter acronym, REM (Revolution, Evolution & Marketing), to gain an appreciation of these different points of view:

"It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)"

BIM is a Revolution because it enables the virtual prototyping of buildings. It achieves this by consolidating design and construction information within a single, semantically rich, 3D digital model. This capability is unparalleled within the industry, and it is orders of magnitude more powerful than the simple architectural drawings previously used to describe a design. A working environment optimised for BIM promotes more effective decision making and efficient communication. This is possible because team members can collaborate on the same digital model, and their decisions are automatically reflected within the BIM-generated documentation.

"Everybody Hurts"

BIM is an Evolution of the same technologies and processes that the industry has been using since the introduction of computers. From a practical standpoint little separates a well structured 3D CAD model from its BIM equivalent. The communication and data interoperability challenges prevalent within the industry still apply, and in some cases they are compounded by BIM. These issues undermine the concept of a single, overarching BIM. Instead it is common for projects to have multiple BIMs that represent different facets of the building, or specific business interests. Within these environments the communication and management challenges faced are almost identical to those that existed prior to BIM’s inception.

"Shiny Happy People"

BIM is just Marketing used to sell products and services that may, or may not, contribute to the vision outlined by its proponents. The adoption of the term BIM came about more for marketing reasons than any universal agreement as to what it constituted. This deliberately hazy definition has allowed almost any product or service dealing in building information to be marketed as BIM. This has raised awareness, and smoothed the way for changes within the industry, but this emphasis on style over substance is arguably diluting and confusing the underlying vision. For example many adoption surveys consider BIM to be a specific software product, or the generation of a 3D model, which in both cases is true, but a simplification of the overall concept.