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BIM Standards and Dictionary - An interview with Marzia Bolpagni

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Digital Strategy Advisor, Marzia Bolpagni, shared some valuable insight into the standardization of BIM practices and the overall challenges of BIM adoption in Europe.

Marzia Bolpagni conference
Marzia Bolpagni

Breakwithanarchitect: How BIM transforms the construction sector?

Marzia: First of all, it is important to define what “BIM” means as there is still lot of confusion in the industry. Several definitions are available and I usually refer to the one included in the BIM Dictionary: “Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a set of technologies, processes and policies enabling multiple stakeholders to collaboratively design, construct and operate a Facility in virtual space. As a term, BIM has grown tremendously over the years and is now the current expression of ‘digital innovation' across the construction industry.”

BIM transforms how people work, how information is defined and how projects are delivered and maintained during the lifecycle. BIM allows us to have a better awareness of progress and behaviours of stakeholders. It transforms the way we carry out Business in our sector.

Breakwithanarchitect: Why we need BIM Standards and how we can use them regionally?

Marzia: This is a good question. As mentioned before, BIM is not only about technology but it also deals with processes and policies. Without well-defined policies, we are not embracing the full potentials of BIM. BIM standards allow us to use software more effectively (e.g. using agreed naming conventions and templates) and define processes before the start of an appointment. Some people think that standards block innovation: I always remind them that innovation is based on standards, for example programming languages are based on common standards. If we want to innovate, we need to start on a common ground.

There are international standards related to BIM such as ISO 16739:2018 on IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) and ISO 19650 series on organization and digitization of information.

In addition, at European level, the European Committee for Standardization CEN TC 442 is working on several standards that will be published starting from 2019 including data templates, information exchange, BIM Execution Plans templates and Level of Information Need.

It is relevant to take into account the regional peculiarities and create standards that can cover also those (e.g. different way of procuring or different building regulations). International or European standards can be used as a starting point to define local requirements: but it is important not to reinvent the wheel every time!

Breakwithanarchitect: How is the client involvement in BIM process benefits construction outcomes?

Marzia: Client involvement is key. They should be the drivers on BIM implementation as they can get most of the benefits as usually they are involved for the entire life cycle of a project. My Master thesis on the use of BIM in public procurement is still a good reference on this topic. It has been used by the German and Russian governments to implement a BIM strategy. In the past 5 years I have been working with important client organizations such as the Massachusetts Port Authority and the UK Ministry of Justice and the benefits of having an intelligent client on board is fundamental. Clients aware of the benefits of BIM are able to define clear requirements and inform the entire process avoiding waste of overproduction of information. Just requiring “BIM” is not enough, clients need to understand BIM before including it in contracts.

Breakwithanarchitect: What would you advise a construction professional or a company that is just starting with BIM?

Marzia: If you are at the beginning of your journey on digitalization, do not feel it is something too complicated that does not involve you or your company: there is lots of material available to support you including the BIM Dictionary that has been translated in 21 languages so far! Join the digital innovation, it is for all: yes, you included!

As task group leader at CEN TC 442 on Level of Information Need, I would like to remind all that the first part of the standard will be published this year. Experts from 11 European countries worked on that in order to improve the current way that we define and use “LOD” in our projects. I hope you will find it useful!

Finally, always remind that BIM is about Technology, Process and Policy. If we apply technology to wrong processes and policies, we are not innovating; we are just facilitating an inefficient way of working! For this reason, do not be afraid to think and do differently.

Breakwithanarchitect: From your own experience, can BIM implementation actually save cost and time in a construction project and why?

Marzia: Yes it does, especially if we consider the entire lifecycle, and not just a single aspect. In the last project I worked on for example, the time spent to design 9 different building typologies has been decreased of 75% ensuring consistent information. Of course this cannot be achieved from one day to another: you need to have the right technology, processes and policies in place and most important, the right people. The project team and the client need to understand the process and be committed to work differently. Also the contractual and legal aspects must be taken into account. As discussed before, clear requirements are key, just asking for “BIM” does not help to achieve measurable results.

Breakwithanarchitect: What are the main challenges of BIM adoption in Europe?

Marzia: The European situation is quite heterogeneous. There are countries, especially in Scandinavia, where the adoption of BIM is already advanced for both buildings and infrastructure. In other countries such as UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain the sector is moving in that direction also thanks to the Government mandates and initiatives. This differences are also mirrored in the education system: in some countries BIM is already integrated in the university curricula and students are used to work collaboratively while in others parts of Europe BIM is offered as separate master and not in undergraduate and graduate courses.

In last years, several European initiatives have been undertaken in order to create common standards and understanding of BIM across the European market. Different organization and institutions have been involved including the European Parliament, the European Committee for Standardization CEN TC 442 and other European associations such as the EU BIM Task Group, European Builders Confederation (EBC)/Small Business Standards (SBS), European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC), Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) and European Federation of Engineering Consulting Association (EFCA).

I really believe that we need to actively work at European level and I hope Greece will be more active in these initiatives as well!

Dr. Marzia Bolpagni

Digital Strategy Advisor at Mace

You can connect with Marzia on Linkedin and Twitter.

#Interview by Panagiotidou Nicoleta, BIM specialist for Breakwithanarchitect

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