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In this segment we delve into some aspects of BIM (building information modeling) that revolve around the interoperability of data between disparate software applications. This segment also touches on IFC and ArchiCAD, if briefly. Sean Flaherty's talk regarding the company's roles with IFC, government and standards groups is also promotive to the consideration of VectorWorks Architect for large architectural practices, as these practices will no doubt come up against BIM requests sooner than smaller firms.

Is the US lagging behind Europe and other parts of the world in regards to interoperability? This segment asks the question to a CAD CEO whose product is widely used in Asia as well as Europe and America.


BIM market: No Acid Test for IFC

AFR: Are you at the level of ArchiCAD with IFC with this release?

(SF): We have both passed IFC 2x3 level 1 certification, and VectorWorks is seeking level 2 certification.  I believe ArchiCAD has its level 2 certification.

We don't have the same experience as them. I don't want to take anything away from them because I know how long they have been working on this [IFC]. Everyone has to pass at the same standard to get certified.

What is lacking with IFC? What are some of the problems with it?

(SF): I am always cautioned about the use of data that doesn't have a clear owner of that resource. That's one of the reasons why formats like DWG and PDF are so popular, because there is at least an acid test for them. If it doesn't look right in Reader, or it doesn't look right in AutoCAD, then it is not right. It is much more black and white.

IFC is a little more like STEP and IGES, which by the way were much more quickly adopted by the U.S. Government. This is because it is controlled by a standards body trying to provide exchange of complex assemblies in a better way than 2D drawings or pieces of paper.  The economies it introduced into the aerospace industry were significant, so everybody worked together to produce an exchange format that worked much better than what they had.  In the end, however, it still isn't one single cure-all for exchange and there remain many "flavors" of IGES and STEP.

Where does Nemetschek North America then, play a role with advancing IFC to make it better?

(SF): People are on the board of directors at different chapters of IAI all over the world. Nemetschek AG has Rasso Steinmann, a key player in the European IAI. I am on the board of directors of the BuildingSmart Alliance . So, as a group, we have people scattered all over. They are part of the community developing this. I think that right now IFC is happening stronger in Europe than the U.S. The BuildingSmart Alliance is trying to build an umbrella organization to tie all these things together. NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences) has decided we need one umbrella organization in the U.S. for all BIM standards. I think that is brilliant.

But every group's view of BIM is so personalized, how do they ever get together?

(SF): We talk to the AIA, we talk to CSI and the state organizations; it is hard to talk to all these people at the same level. They are all moving in slightly different directions, and now NIBS has mandated that all U.S. Government groups pull all of this together. So that when we deliver a new government facility all these pieces can talk to each other. I agree this is the right direction.

You mention that Europe, Scandinavia in particular, was more on-board with IFC. Is the U.S. Government trying to play catch-up on some level here?

(SF): Well... "catch-up" would be a derogatory term here. The U.S. government has dramatically more facilities and dramatically more investments in facilities than all of Scandinavia combined, so by nature they are going to move more conservatively.

The Scandinavians, across all technologies, have been much quicker to adopt open standards. I would not be surprised that one day the Finnish government, for example, standardizes on Linux.

Obviously being in such a cold area, sustainable design and energy simulation are going to be more important issues than the average building here in the U.S., so maybe that has driven the role, also.

Where do you see the GSA's role in the U.S.?

(SF): I like what the GSA (General Services Administration) is doing because they didn't just come out with this. I think the message got a bit warped when it got to the average architect -- that the GSA was going to require BIM and IFC. This is inaccurate and a big blanket statement.

The U.S. Government has a space planning standard that is IFC-based. They are going to take one piece of the puzzle and automate and standardize this part. Then they will work on the next piece.

So they have standardized the typical BIM space object via the IFC format?

(SF): Yes, this is a great approach. I think this was the very first time we got something concrete and solvable, and any CAD package that takes the U.S. Government seriously would support the IFC-based space object. They have defined a nice achievable spec.

We don't need to look a mile ahead and say, "How are we going to get there?" We need to take one step-- and everyone takes it together. Every six months the U.S. Government comes out with a new step that we can take and achieve with a reasonable amount of resources.

What I see in Singapore and Finland is almost like science fiction. You see how many extra layers and overhead there is in the U.S. Government compared to those guys, and you wonder how this will ever happen. What you see in the DMA and GSA is that we are still many years away from the biggest goal of all, which is that buildings just get transferred electronically and shared with no errors.


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