Sponsorship disclosure: This blog article is not sponsored by any entity.
The topic of BIM content management systems is one of the most important topics in BIM. It revolves around how to manage BIM content in an architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firm, including searching for content, validating it, inserting or leading it into projects and customizing and modifying it.
“In a designer’s BIM world, content is king. Not only is BIM content a visual representation of the objects that are foundational to your models, but more importantly BIM content serves as the vessel of essential, associated data that helps you successfully predict, document, forecast timelines, calculate, measure, and beyond. Finding, organizing, managing, and distributing your invaluable BIM content is a must for designers, which ultimately saves your firm hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars every year.” (source: Club, BIMsmith Coffee)
In this article, we will not discuss how to create the content or any related best practices, as we assume that the content exists in a database already for us to use. The focus of this article is to discuss what BIM content assets are, why BIM content management is important, BIM Content Management Systems (BIM CMS), their desired features, their pros and cons and my final thoughts.
You are welcome to read the entire article or skip to a specific section by clicking below:
Why BIM content management is important
Introducing the “BIM Content Management System (BIM CMS)”
BIM CMS: Desired features
BIM CMS types
BIM CMS pros and cons
For the purposes of the present article, BIM content assets are defined as:
BIM MODEL ELEMENTS
These are elements that are used to create the project models, which have a 2D and 3D representation usually. These elements consist of tables, chairs, lighting fixtures, mechanical equipment, electrical fixtures, plumbing fixtures, to name a few.
BIM ANNOTATION ELEMENTS
These are elements that are used to create the documentation for project models, which have a 2D and sometimes a 3D representation. These elements consist of grids, levels, element tags, text, dimension lines, to name a few.
These are the materials that are used in projects mainly for the purposes of visualization, such as rendering. These elements consist of a list of materials and all their properties, such as material information, graphical representation, appearance, thermal properties, structural properties, to name a few.
Note: The “BIM content assets” in this case are not to be confused with BIM or model assets used in the Operations phase in a project lifecycle (also called Operations & Maintenance (O&M) phase).
Now that we have defined what BIM content assets are, let’s discuss why it’s important to management.
Why BIM content management is important
BIM content management is important for many reasons. The reasons below are some of the primary ones:
✓ It affects every project
BIM content assets exist in every project. In other words, we need content to create every single project, no matter the scope, budget, size, field, etc., and we need to manage how we get these BIM content assets into the project and how we manage their development through the project lifecycle.
✓ It affects most staff on a project
Since most staff working on a project are in production or operations-related roles, most are affected by BIM content asset management. Therefore, the scale and the scope of BIM content asset management affects entire BIM teams.
✓ It can save or waste time
Managing BIM content assets effectively can save a lot of time and costs on projects due to the compounded effect in a firm. In other words, BIM employees could be wasting time to find the right content they’re looking for, loading it into their project and customizing it, and that’s for only one project! Taking this waste into account across multiple departments and projects, we can summarize the situation with the following formula:
Average number of minutes wasted x number of staff x number of projects
= too much time wasted!
✓ It is a scalable solution or problem
Considering that all production and operations-related employees in an AEC firm need to use BIM content, the nature of BIM content asset management affects everyone in the firm. Therefore, if the issue is a small issue on a project (i.e. only 5% of time wasted on managing BIM content assets on specific), it can scale up to becoming a major issue at the firm level (i.e. 30% of all time wasted on managing BIM content assets.)
Now that we have investigated why it’s important to have BIM content asset management in an AEC firm, let’s discuss the system that can help us manage BIM content assets in projects.
Introducing the “BIM Content Management System (BIM CMS)”
So, what is a BIM content management system?
According the Digital Built Environment Institute (DBEI), a BIM CMS is defined as:
“Put simply, a BIM Content management system (CMS) helps teams organize their digital assets while improving a conventional user experience. These platforms are critical for any team that seeks to share content across multiple people, whether internal within their organization or an external client, partner, or consultant.” (source: Maller, Aaron)
According to BIM&Co, a BIM CMS is defined as:
“A BIM content management system allows BIM project teams to better organise their digital assets while improving the user experience. This type of solution is essential to gain efficiency and time.” (source: News, BIM&CO)
In my own words, a BIM CMS is a management system that allows for the search, validation, loading and customization of BIM content assets on projects.
In other words, it is a solution that allows AEC users to find content, validate that it is indeed what they’re looking for, to load it into their projects and to modify and customize it easily thereafter.
The BIM content management system will be referred to BIM CMS hereafter for simplicity.
So what are the workflow steps that AEC users complete in order to work with BIM content in their projects? The following is a simple chart that describes this workflow:
|1. Find & query BIM content||2. Validate the chosen BIM content||3. Load the BIM content into the project||4. Modify & customize the BIM content in the project|
|This entails finding BIM content assets from the database based on specific criteria||This entails efficiently and correctly validating that the BIM content assets chosen are indeed what we are looking for||This entails quickly and simply loading the chosen BIM content assets into the project at hand||This entails the ability to quickly and easily modify and customize the BIM content assets after loading them into the project|
Any chosen BIM CMS should be able to address these simple steps of a typical BIM user that interacts with new BIM content assets on projects.
BIM CMS: Desired features
The list below is by no means a comprehensive list of all desired features of a BIM CMS, but based on my experience in BIM, it should have these key features:
- AFFORDABLE – The solution should be affordable, whether the business model is based on a lump sum payment or a subscription. This is subjective based on many factors, but there is an acceptable threshold that AEC firms are willing to pay for this solution.
- SCALABLE – The solution should be scaled up to multiple projects or entire firms. Since many AEC firms have multiple offices across many regions, states, provinces and countries sometimes, it is important that the solution could be potentially used by entire firms.
- EASY TO ACCESS – The solution should be easy to access by average users. There shouldn’t be hurdles or complicated steps to access the solution in order to load content into projects, modify them or remove them.
- EASY TO USE – The solution should be easy to use by having an ergonomic and logical user interface and a simple layout. Users should be able to complete steps easily and fast.
- EASY TO UPDATE AND MAINTAIN – The solution should be easy to update and maintain (if applicable), so users can enjoy new versions and updates seamlessly. This is usually the responsibility of the BIM Manager and/or the IT department.
- INTEGRATION WITH EXISTING BIM SOFTWARE – The solution should be interoperable with existing BIM software and have a simple workflow. There should be simple steps or ways to interact with existing BIM software (i.e. Revit) and to integrate into the existing BIM workflow. The solution must also take into account interoperability with different software versions.
- CONTENT AGGREGATION – The solution should be able to classify content based on metadata or criteria, such as software versions, industry standard (imperial vs metric), language (English and French),
- CONTENT CONSOLIDATION (SINGLE SOURTH OF TRUTH) – The solution needs to consolidate all content into one “place” or database, so we don’t have content pulled from several places. This consolidation provides a single source of truth and allows AEC firms to manage content in terms of duplicates, versions and customizations effectively. This is a selling point or not for AEC firms that are interested in working with their own content, external content or a combination of both.
- CONTENT HISTORY AND VERSIONING – The solution needs to ideally show the development of BIM content assets through time. This allows to see the evolution of the development for tracking purposes, and to roll back any undesired changes in the future.
In any case, the desired features of a BIM CMS do not make up for the quality of the content that is being used in the BIM content asset management system. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” So if the content is not useful, up-to-date, relevant or well created, it negates the excellent solution in place.
Also, in the case of large projects (budgets of over$ 200M and BIM teams in the dozens), some of which I have worked on, it is important to have a dedicated BIM content specialist that deals with creating, modifying, maintaining and updating content for production teams. Since this responsibility is so important on large projects, it requires a full-time dedicated staff to keep up with the demand of production teams.
So now that we know what we should look for in a BIM CMS, let’s discuss the types of BIM CMS.
BIM CMS types
There are different types of BIM CMS available, and the follow is a general list that groups all types into the follow categories:
Type 1: Based on Windows explorer
The BIM CMS in this case is simply a Windows-based search of folders. This is not an “official” system in this case since it is not based on a vendor solution. It entails drilling down in the folders hierarchy on the firm’s server and doing a basic “Windows folder search” to find the BIM content assets.
Type 2: Based on software built-in feature
The BIM CMS in this case is a software built-in feature that allows to load content based on specific meta-data. Different BIM software allow for different levels of filtering and categorization of data based on specific criteria, but most are lacking the full functionality desired by AEC firms. In most cases, this system is a basic “import” or “load”, or a glorified version of it.
Type 3: Based on internal or external plugin
The BIM CMS in this case is a plugin that is developed either in-house in the firm or by a third-party app developer. I have worked with AEC firms that developed excellent internal plugins that allow for them to search for BIM content efficiently and accurately, and others that were less impressive. As for the external plugins, there are several solutions available on the market, but careful consideration must be paid to the functionalities, integrations, interoperability, costs and workflows, among others.
One such BIM CMS is Avail: AVAIL | BIM Content Management Software for the AEC Industry (getavail.com)
Type 4: Based on standalone software
The BIM CMS in this case is a standalone software that sometimes has a built-in feature in BIM software that allows to find BIM content, validate it, load it in projects and modify/customize it. As with internal or external plugins, the same considerations for functionalities, integrations, interoperability, costs and workflows, among others.
One such BIM CMS is Unifi: UNIFI – UNIFI (unifilabs.com)
Another such BIM CMS is HIVE by CTC Tools: Hive – CTC Software
And that’s it! Next, let’s discuss the pros and cons of a BIM CMS for AEC firms in a simple summary.
BIM CMS pros and cons
The following table presents the pros and cons of a BIM CMS for AEC firms. The list below is by no means a comprehensive one, but some of the benefits and drawbacks of a BIM CMS.
|Standardizes BIM content assets||Comes with an upfront or subscription cost in most cases|
|Centralizes location of BIM content assets and addresses duplicates and versions||Depends on leadership approval and involvement at multiple levels (BIM and non-BIM)|
|Standardizes user workflow for access of BIM content assets||Involves multiple members of a team to implement, deploy, train and use|
|Speeds up search, find, validation and import of desired BIM content assets||Content ownership or access issues if developed by 3rd party|
|Scalable to multiple projects, offices or firm||Can be slow or cumbersome to use if on cloud or with large data sets|
|Is not dependent on one person or his/her knowledge||Must be used with good BIM content assets, which take time, effort and expertise to develop|
And there you have it! Now you are ready to make a choice on how to best manage your BIM content assets in your firm using a BIM CMS!
There is no stressing enough how underestimated the BIM CMS discussion is in AEC firms. I have worked with firms where project teams are left to figure out on their own how to manage their own project BIM content, from the query / search step, to validation, to loading / insertion / importation to the modification / customization of BIM content assets.
Most AEC firms simply expect BIM teams to do a simple “Windows search” to find what they are looking for, which results in plenty of content loaded to projects that is not exactly what is required or desired. What ends up happening is teams load BIM content assets multiple times into projects, and use only what they need, which inflates their project size for nothing and harnesses all kinds of unused content.
As as a final takeaway point, I would like you to think about the best way or a better way to manage BIM content in your firm based on your needs. There must be a better way…
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog article and I’ll see you again soon.
Tarek Ghazzaoui, Eng.
Senior BIM Manager
Special thanks to the following individuals and entities for their contribution to this article:
|Trevor Taylor||BIM Manager at ZGF Architects|
Maller, Aaron. “Top 3 Reasons You Need a BIM Content Management System.” DBEI, 10 Sept. 2020, www.dbei.org/news/top-3-reasons-you-need-a-bim-content-management-system/.
News, BIM&CO. “Why Use a BIM Content Management System?” BIM&CO, 6 Sept. 2022, www.bimandco.com/bim/why-use-a-bim-content-management-system/.
Club, BIMsmith Coffee. “New Virtual CEU Session: BIM Content Management.” BIMsmith Blog – Everything Revit, Architecture, and Building Products, blog.bimsmith.com/New-Virtual-CEU-Session-BIM-Content-Management. Accessed 30 Oct. 2023.
|Avail||» Visit website|
|Unifi||» Visit website|
|BIM360 Construction Cloud||» Visit website|
|CTC Software – Hive||» Visit website|
|Onfly||» Visit website|
|Concora||» Visit website|
|Kinship||» Visit website|
|BIMotion||» Visit website|
|BIM[Systems]||» Visit website|
|Agacad: Smart Browser||» Visit website|
|BIM Streamer||» Visit website|
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