Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Google of BIM?

Construction Manager
Interesting to read an article in Construction Manager asking whether NBS was becoming the Google of BIM.

The article, written by John Eynon, (CIOB/BIM4SME/Author of The Design Manager's Handbook) looks at our recent re-launch of NBS National BIM Library, the winning of the contract to complete level-2 BIM for Government and the launch of the NBS BIM Object Standard.

Firstly, many thanks to John for his very kind words about the BIM Object Standard. To quote...

"The 44-page standard itself is comprehensive and well worth a read, the level of detail and clarity is exemplary. The main section outlines how a BIM object should be structured, covering its general, information, geometry, functional and metadata requirements."

The second half of the article then asks whether there is a risk of NBS becoming the Google of BIM? (i.e. too dominant).

My personal view of this, is firstly that it is very flattering to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Google, but when it comes to market dominance, on the software side BIM is very much seen as the domain of the 3D modelling tools. Quite often other key software tools, that form part of the BIM ecosystem such as NBS, Causeway, 4projects, ASITE etc... are not yet seen as BIM. So we have a long way to go here.

And on the BIM content side of things, the market is very competitive - not just in the UK - but increasingly from international providers. This competition coupled with the fact that the majority of BIM content providers deliver their content free to end users has got to be great news for the industry. So I personally don't see any one organisation dominating - just great competition - which is fantastic for the industry.

However, when looking at the Google principles, there are many things they have done that has changed the software industry for the better. For myself, as an R+D professional, Google are a huge inspiration. I include a few examples of this are below with respect to how this inspiration has helped enhance NBS National BIM Library.

1. Fantastic software and content - free to end users
Google's business model is to give end-users the best functionality for free, this then builds a large user base to which advertiser content is relevantly placed in an unobtrusive way. In the example below, the user has searched for "curtain wall systems", they have then been returned relevant images and relevant websites. But in addition, the construction manufacturer of glazed solutions Dow Corning is placed on the page. Dow Corning have paid for this placement and in return the end users gets something special for free.
Google - fantastic search - unobstrusive advertising
NBS National BIM Library has a similar business model. Manufacturers must pay to distribute their content, in return, this allows NBS to invest in content management systems to help expert authors produce high quality generic BIM objects and also a digital distribution network (website, plug-ins, web syndication...) that is first class. The best bit, is that all of this generic content, all of this manufacturer content and all of this functionality is completely free to the industry. This creates efficiencies, improves best practice and allows manufacturers to put their content and their added value services in front of specifiers.

What is unique about NBS National BIM Library is the availability of generic content and manufacturer content. BIM users early in a project can add generic content when they wish to describe a system or product. Later in the project, they can swap these generic objects for manufacturer object when they want to prescribe a system or product. The level of detail and level of information smoothly grows as the project develops.
Descriptive early in a project with generic objects
Prescriptive later in a project with manufacturer objects
The screen captures below demonstrate the unique way that manufacturer objects are positioned beside generic objects.
Assa Abloy and Leaderflush manufacturer objects positioned against generic internal door

Dolphin, Warner Howard and Dyson manufacturer objects positioned against generic hand dryer

Sapa and AluK manufacturer objects positioned against generic glass units

Big Foot manufacturer objects positioned against generic rails and mountings
2. One account - many services
Your free Google account allows you access to many great products and services: Google+, Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Analytics, Google Docs etc... It also remembers your settings in the cloud on any device.
Google Account
At NBS, your free NBS account gives you access to great features in many of our online offerings. For example, creating a shortlist of CPD on, downloading the RIBA Plan of Work toolbox, the support area of, free BIM objects at National BIM Library and of course pay-per-use tools such as NBS Domestic and subscription products such as NBS Create.
Booking continued professional development through your single account
3.  Open standards to help support the entire industry
Where Google develop useful tools, that are useful to the wider industry, they share them. For example Google Charts or Google Hosted Libraries (eg javascript libraries).

By sharing what they do internally with the industry (for example, how to put charts or scripting on a website) in a standardised way they are reducing the cost to create websites and delivering efficiencies across an industry.

At NBS, we had to develop a standard way of creating BIM objects for National BIM Library. A standard way of working regardless of software platform and one that had researched the international standards such as IFC and COBie and also the UK standards such as the BS 8541 series. It is also worth mentioning that a lot of internal staff time is spent on the buildingSMART and BSI B/555 committees helping define these national standards.

We could have kept this methodology to ourselves, but we published this for all. This is in an effort to help all of industry create consistent content to increase efficiencies and reduce risk. Design practices, manufacturers, clients and content providers will all benefit through consistency of approach. We realise that we cannot create every object for every generic object or every manufacturer, so where others do this - it's best for industry if it is to common standard.

Free to industry - the NBS BIM Object Standard
Early signs are that the standard is being very well-received by industry.
Respected voices within the industry give their opinions on the standard
4. Linked information
Google have many fantastic products and services and they link them together to make things easier for the user. A simple example of this is the ease at which a youtube video can be inserted into a blog post.
Inserting a YouTube video into a blog post
A parallel example within National BIM Library of linking technology/content together is with the linked information against BIM objects. This includes case studies, catalogues and maintenance manuals within RIBA Product Selector, CPD from and specification from the NBS specification products.

Manufacturers know that whilst BIM is an enabler, it is part of a more rounded technical service that they provide specifiers. This is why the National BIM Library links to a number of other channels for delivering the key information.
Linked BIM, specification and additional technical support information
5. Fantastic user experience
Google say "Focus on the user and all else will follow".

Hopefully users of the National BIM Library will agree that we put the focus on the user - excellent free content, a focus on raising standards and a fantastic digital user experience.
The National BIM Library
To conclude, what NBS is doing is hopefully increasing the encouraging the production of BIM objects to a common standard from many sources and helping with the UK's BIM journey. Looking to an innovate inspirational organisation such as Google - hopefully some small parallels from a number of their key principles can be seen.

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