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April 2, 2013, by admin

When Is A “Standard” Not A Standard?

When is a "Standard" not a standard?
There are currently around 150 Building Information Modeling (BIM) Standards that exist across the United States right now.  The definition of a standard:

stan·dard  (noun) : something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example -or- something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality

It is interesting to look at this because the two definitions from Merriam-Webster's dictionary both challenge and support my position on BIM Standards as they exist today.  At our recent Cincinnati BIM User Group meeting, of which I am a chairperson, we were reviewing the results of the McGraw-Hill SmartMarket report for 2012.  Click here for the report .  The point was made by one of our members he believed that one of the reasons for the massive explosion of BIM adoption in the United States was because owners were starting to ask for BIM.  But he went on to say that it was probably also the biggest problem that existed for those that were trying to adopt BIM.  Owners requiring BIM but not understanding what they were asking for.  His final question, which he said with frustration, was, "Why can't they just create an all encompassing standard for everyone".

A Modeling Standard
So what about this all encompassing standard for everyone?  Why can't we get a standard that applies to everyone, every type of project, and every possible project delivery method?  The answer to the question resides in the title of this blog post, "When is a Standard, not a standard?".  We must look to the first part of the definition above:

stan·dard  (noun) : something established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model or example

This definition of a standard is very appropriate to define a modeling focused standard.  An example of a modeling focused standard would be the GSA's BIM Standard.  The GSA has tried to apply a BIM standard across various organizations and departments within a government infrastructure that allows those organizations and departments to act independently of one another.  No two groups have the same set of procedures or requirements.  The GSA is trying to unify a deliverable, the model, that contains geometry and information that creates a starting point for each of the groups to leverage sometime in the future.  This is not necessarily a bad thing or a bad standard.

What is Value?
Value is an interesting thing.  Value can be measured.  Value can also be perceived without being measured.  Value can sometimes be a gut feeling that what you receive from an activity simple just feels better.  So how do you value BIM Standards?

What is Value (BIM)

This graphic that I have recreated from a presentation that I attended at Autodesk University this last December, really conveys the value of BIM and of BIM Standards for me.  The starting point, on the left, is basic data.  Creating, collecting and compiling data is a laborious but necessary task and is typically the start of any BIM discussion.  Data is raw. It does not have context, nor is it biased.  Have you ever heard anyone say "It is all about the "I" in BIM."?  "I" of course being information.  Information is a more organized form of pure data.  Data with purpose.  Information creates structure.  It sets the table for discussion, but does not set context or teach.

Knowledge is information and data in context.  It takes knowledge to translate information into usable pieces.  Knowledge can be attained through experience and applied to situations.  More often than not, knowledge is gained or applied not given.  Wisdom is the ability to transfer that knowledge to multiple people or processes.  Transferring wisdom or teaching is a very valuable ability in individuals and not everyone can do that.

I believe that modelling based standards reside between Data and Information on this graphic.  Collecting data from different project team members and organizing it into some type of structure fits the description of a model and the information contained within it.  I think that it also starts to describe the first rudimentary steps of a designer, contractor, or owner trying to adopt a BIM type software such as Autodesk's Revit.  It is easily understood, does not take wholesale change, and the level of commitment is smaller.  Collecting and organizing in a visual database is what software does very well.

An Integrated Standard 

When is a "Standard" not a standard?  When it is integrated into the relationships and activities of the group that the standard serves, as well as the group that have to conform to the standard.  A "Standard" is not a standard, when is created specifically for one owner.  Going back to the second part of the definition of standard supports my position on BIM Standards.

stan·dard  (noun) : Something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, extent, value, or quality

The first piece to extract from that definition is value.  From the graphic above, an Integrated Standard finds it's home between Knowledge and Wisdom.  Value is derived in a BIM Standard by helping to define how wisdom is transferred between the project team's heads, including the owners.  An Integrated Standard helps define how those relationships work and seeks to create alignment of goals for projects.  It does not ignore modelling activities or the format of the information, but allows the standard to be shaped by relationships and value.  An Integrated Standard is created with an owner that is involved, willing to put in the work, and can take on the sociological change that has to occur to make a BIM Standard work.