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Ouellette Talks—Ambitious Routes Abound for Expanding openBIM Mission

Can the openBIM Movement accelerate? Can the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) certification process expand to help that happen? Acknowledging that there are often many routes to success, these are some of the questions Jeffrey Ouellette, buildingSMART International’s new ISG Chair addresses in discussing how critical open standards are to the entire global building industry.

Earlier this spring Vectorworks, Inc., announced that senior product specialist Jeffrey W. Ouellette, Assoc. AIA, IES, was named buildingSMART International’s Implementation Support Group Chair. The chairmanship offers a platform to advocate for open industry standards for the whole AEC industry with particular initiatives like the openBIM movement and IFC file format for BIM model data exchange. I spoke to Ouellette about this new role and what it means for him, Vectorworks and the industry at large.

Chairmanship—Progressing Open Standards

Ouellette has been involved with buildingSMART for years. I ask him if the chairmanship of the Implementation Support Group was a role he had been seeking. “No, I wouldn’t say I was intentionally seeking that role,” remarks Ouellette. “I started at Vectorworks in 2006 and in the fall of 2009 I was tasked with attending the group meetings on the company’s behalf.”

Through his involvement with buildingSMART International, Ouellette worked on various ISG educational and technical projects while championing the interest of the Vectorworks brand and company and supporting open and fair international standards systems. In 2011, he became the Deputy Chair of the ISG (Implementation Support Group).

The ISG is tasked with supporting the implementation and certification activities of buildingSMART, primarily centered around Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and the BIM Collaboration Format (BCF) for the exchange of BIM data among different software products.

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Asked how his role will impact the Vectorworks company specifically, Ouellette notes that the Nemetschek Group as a whole is extremely dedicated to IFC and openBIM. “We have many companies within the group with long histories of support for open standards in the industry and IFC in particular,” says Ouellette. Speaking about Vectorworks in particular: “Vectorworks is very committed to open standards. As a company we put substantial efforts into helping to make the concept of open standards not just a dream but a reality. And you’re seeing that pay off now with openBIM projects happening with our customers worldwide.”

He notes that a buildingSMART International challenge is educating the market about open standards, IFC, and other collaboration technologies that allow better data sharing and ensure an increased success for BIM workflows.

BIM Competency—User Error or Vendor Software Error

The term BIM (Building Information Modeling) has been around since 2003, a term first coined by Jerry Laiserin. And if one was to look at the “hype curve” for just BIM, the peak of expectations passed us likely in the early oughts (00’s), a few years after Autodesk acquired Revit. For sure, in the early years, adopters were left to work out the shortcomings in the complexity of BIM software systems and data exchange has been the toughest challenge.

“There is a clear difference between the competency of the BIM software versus the end user,” explains Ouellette. “The certification process is a major step in addressing technical competency by the applications.” In recent years the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) 2×3 certification has been the one to match. Now software vendors are preparing for IFC 4 certification, which will attempt to streamline the process while significantly improving on data exchanges for project coordination.

Still, there remains the issue of how competent the end user is with respect to the stories one can still hear in the industry when complaining about the effectiveness of the IFC data exchange process.

Ouellette noted that there has been some discussion in buildingSMART International circles about IFC certification for end users, so that BIM managers and specialists in charge of managing data workflows in AEC can themselves been trained and certified to fully understand the full spectrum of IFC workflow challenges and how to overcome them in standard practice.

 

A primary objective of buildingSMART International and the work of the ISG is “instilling confidence in users themselves and in the market as well.” “Say the German government wants to do a big BIM project,” says Ouellette, “The certification of a design services company, as well as a software, gives the government an assurance that goals will be understood and met.”

Ouellette says that the idea of IFC certification of individuals and companies is still early in the discussion and formulation stages. Cues are being taken from other training and certification programs, like the CM-BIM certification from The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the BIM Level 2 certifications by BRE Global in the UK. From an owner’s point of view in the AECO market, such a program would add assurances to their investment in projects.

buildingSMART and ISG Going Forward

I decided to bring up the Nemetschek Group’s acquisition of Solibri and press an interesting question or idea in front of Ouellette. I asked whether it would ever make sense for the ISG to pool its resources and produce software tools that can enable IFC exchange in other open and proprietary software programs, as well as verify IFC conformance, IFC data flows—and the like—to serve as an open, lingua franca for data exchange in BIM models via the IFC file data format.

“Well, it’s an interesting idea, but buildingSMART doesn’t currently see itself as a software development organization, but as a standards development organization,” noted Ouellette. “The certification effort has components developed by the Institute of Applied Building Infomatics (IABI), from the Munich University of Applied Sciences and the IFC TOOLS PROJECT, derived from a project originally at the Bauhaus University of Weimer, Germany.”

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“In addition,” he adds, ” members of the Model Support Group, responsible for developing and maintaining the IFC specification, have created the IfcDoc tool to help streamline creation and documentation of IFC-based data exchanges.” Ouellette explained that these tools provide internal support for the mission of the buildingSMART organization without becoming a competitor of sorts to the member vendors themselves.

“What we are trying to do with the ISG is getting members to solve problems in their implementations, getting them to adopt IFC 4, and to begin imagining the types of BIM workflows coming down the line. What I want to focus on,” he adds, “is getting more end user feedback. ISG can provide an opportunity for the end user to talk directly to the organization…so we can be more effective at understanding where end-users are struggling with IFC workflows with specific tools and combinations of tools.”

“As chair I want to get more feedback.” Asked how he intends to make that happen, Ouellette says getting one or two key end users to present in the semi annual group meetings would add something to that goal.

Going forward as chair, Ouellette also hopes to expand membership among the various software companies that claim to be BIM companies and claim to support IFC data exchange and openBIM philosophies. “We have many of the major CAD and BIM software vendors involved,” says Ouellette, “but we also have over 120 vendor-developers who say they have IFC support. But who are these other companies?” “For example, we brought in IES, Ltd. recently. We want to do more with the makers of software that analyze BIM models not just author them.”

For Ouellette, the new chairmanship at ISG offers ambitious routes to expanding the openBIM mission by setting into motion new processes for improvement and new ways to reach the larger market. “We have got to make more people aware of how important the openBIM approach is to the future of not just BIM, but the entire industry. This is the HTML of the building industry.”

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