The long road to interconnectivity: buildingSMART to launch its new Data Dictionary
In 2017, buildingSMART and ETIM signed a memorandum of understanding to intensify their collaboration. Since then, a lot has happened, mostly regarding the development of the buildingSMART Data Dictionary, or bSDD, in short. Time to catch up with Léon van Berlo, Technical Director for buildingSMART International and Frédéric Grand, Technical Director for buildingSMART France and product manager for bSDD. Where are things at, right now?
Van Berlo: “In data development and innovation we deal with processes, tools and, of course, data. In this light, consensus on standards is paramount and at the same time the hardest to achieve, especially in the building sector. Not ideal for trailblazing, as one can imagine. Especially, since change always comes with impact on current users and will therefore always be a sensitive subject.
In the specialized building industry, different project stages require different types of information and every region and every domain seem to have their own standard. The first bSDD was founded on the idea of one umbrella standard for all data. This meant, that IFC, ETIM, Uniclass, ECLASS, Omniclass and other standards would have to harmonize with each other. In recent years, it became clear we needed a different approach to gain momentum. Forward to the changes in the ISO 12006-3 standard, which also reflected a change from the thought of one super standard to connecting different standards, we positioned the new bSDD to bring all kinds of agreements together, create a one-point access, a clear-cut and uniform digital workflow and optimum interconnectivity based on use case and daily practice. Last May, we truly achieved the needed momentum. From a string of business cases in a partnership with real stakeholders we created a new prototype, tested it thoroughly and built from there.
By providing a universal structure independent of individual content of the domains involved this new bSDD allows for such a uniform digital workflow. Its biggest advantage is that it enables users to simultaneously search through different datasets, from general technical product information to more niche-driven sets. The ability to interconnect different standards adds even more efficiency and potential for automation. And although primarily developed with service model engineers in mind, in time we aspire additional use cases with different niche requirements for bSDD. This is also why all the objects in the bSDD have their own unique URI that allows connections to agreements and products outside the bSDD as well.”
Grand: “The bSDD that we are working on now is indeed a whole new product relative to the earlier version, based on conduct, use and exchange. We seek to provide a tool that will be used extensively: a central place to provide crucial information that can be embedded in BIM building and management. Hopefully, we will be officially live before this summer.”
Van Berlo: “It’s all about optimum access to fragmented data. We see classification standards like ETIM as a must-have, but also need other systems to achieve true usability and offer quality content to our contractors and engineers. ETIM is of the utmost importance to us since it’s not only a high-quality standard, but the high quantity of products that are categorised according to the ETIM standard by manufacturers and wholesalers is also rather unique. This generates a great flow in data between buyers like installers and contractors and said manufacturers and wholesalers. With bSDD, we are now able to additionally bridge the void between these parties and their designing counterparts for an even better flow. When talking with ETIM, there was some scepsis at first, based on earlier experience. A screenshot of a contractor’s actual Sketchup IFC dataset containing ETIM coded products was one of the practical examples that helped convince them of the progress we had made in terms of possibilities and added value to both manufacturers, wholesalers and end users.”
Grand agrees: “The relevance of bSDD is derived from its content, so we need both ETIM and other standards representing manufacturers and wholesalers to benefit, too. Our first use case is to have ETIM and other domains corresponding with IFC as the open standard for exchanging BIM data. After all, users need the right and corresponding properties to attach in their BIM model. With bSDD, you can have it all: a BIM model that holds information, including the individual semantics of the different domains. The second step, or use case, is the ability to process specific requirements. We envision an bSDD connected end-of-process tool, for example, to check if the information in your BIM model is correct and complete. Although our focus is on the first use case, there are already people working on these extended possibilities.
As an early mover and high-quality standard, ETIM has always been of interest to us. Subsequent to improving the connections between ETIM entities and the bSDD IFC entities, ETIM would be ideal to create proof of concept. Connecting tools used by ETIM users, like manufacturers’ PIM systems to bSDD would be especially interesting: now, when a manufacturer describes his product, he has to do so according to ETIM as well as IFC, following GS1 and so on, providing the same information over and over again, but in different ways. If we connect his PIM system to bSDD he will have just one way to describe his content. We also envision helping builders in different countries to develop accurate BIM models based upon structural calculations by attaching local regulatory information to different datasets, for instance. Fully recognising the need for extended connectivity, our small development team aims to tackle functionalities like these, in which bSDD addresses all different levels, in the future.”
Van Berlo: “In this transitional stage we are mainly investing in growth in terms of domains and data sets and familiarizing more and more users with bSDD. One of our long-term goals is to speed up the consensus among standards. At the same time, we are already experimenting with functionalities that are based on this consensus, our current experiment with GS1 involving finding products through GS1 digital links is a great example. ETIM is one of the prime standards to enable us to introduce more use cases and data flows in this respect, since it is one of the few standards that has the manufacturer’s side of things well covered. This adds to the potential of such services. As I am very happy working with Marc (Habets, ETIM International) – both personally and professionally – I’m looking forward to intensifying our collaboration in the future.
The deployment of bSDD, connecting to the vendors, primary use cases: we address them all today, whilst keeping our developmental efforts like with GS1 going, since these are the experiments that will enable us to take the next steps with bSDD in about two years’ time. In terms of other developments like the standardisation of parametric and geometric components, we recognise the potential of ETIM MC and counterparts, but it’s still early days in this respect and too soon for us to get actively involved. We are, however, always on the lookout for different data sets to add to our dictionary, including for instance lists of materials, or properties that include process information and planning. And now that the development of bSDD has reached this transitional stage, Fréderic Grand is the perfect person to lead the next scale up phase. His priorities as product manager for bSDD are data owner and vendor support. I am confident that by the time he completes his mission, every BIM model engineer will be using bSDD.”
Grand: “With more content added every day, we can now focus on helping software vendors to connect. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, we already gave them access: around eleven or twelve vendors – including big names – already connected to bSDD and played with it, with much enthusiasm. Some plugins, like those of REVIT and Sketchup, are even quite ready to go live, I am pleased to announce. This will hopefully attract more software vendors to connect with the API and increase bSDD’s added value: the moment engineers can simply click to retrieve and put information straight into their BIM model, they will undoubtedly start using it. Of course, we are always on the lookout to expand in terms of new domains in all varieties, from a pilot in Chili, where the public authorities have asked us to push their local BIM requirements inside bSDD, to the standardisation of properties concerning acoustic calculations.
In the end, we need to keep reshaping and creating. Léon has been a great catalyst and I’m very happy to continue his work and make bSDD an undeniable added value to both users and other stakeholders.”