Putting the "I" in BIM

How to Work with the Information Needed for a Building Information Model*


The “I” in BIM stands for the information you put into the model, not the appearance of a construction documents set. We have all heard the terms LOD (Level of Detail), BIM (Building Information Modeling), and BIM Execution Plan (what is the information needed,how to model that information, where the information is located), but how do they all affect each other when modeling? How do we ensure we are not over- or under-modeling on each project? I will provide a few tips for working with the information needed for a Building Information model.


To answer the questions posed above, we must first have a clear understanding of the client’s expectation of the model. We can talk about space and planning, but the moment the term BIM is used, we move away from a printed construction document to a database that can be used for so many different things. The printed construction document may still only be the focus of the deliverable, but now we need to look at LOD and contract wording. We must understand what the term BIM means to the client, not just our understanding of it. Does this mean we should never use the term BIM while talking to a client? No, in fact you should have an in-depth conversation about it. Not only will you know what to model and how, but you might find ways to support your client before and after the project.


Where we start is simple. Have a clear understanding of quantum mathematics, dark matter, and how time began and you have it nailed! Okay, it’s not that bad, but a good game plan is important.




The first big question to the client is, “Would you like to use the model’s database?” If the answer is no, then you have two choices. Focus only on the design of the project and the deliverables, or find new ways to support the client as additional services. If they do want to use the model database, then you need to do a deeper dig into how they intend to use the data. When you are in talks about the needs of the building, ask questions to understand what you are modeling in specific areas of the project and how it will affect the client’s business model and workflow. “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context. A chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan,” Eliel Saarinen stated.


Find out how the model can help in the process of the project. Can it be used to help relocate people before, during, and after the renovation? Can the model help the IT department track computer assets in the building? Can HR have parameters to track personnel? As always, how can facilities management use the data in the model to streamline their process? There are so many different questions that can be asked and information that can be used in the discovery talks phase that will define what the “I” is that you need to put into your model.




Now that the intent for the model is clear, the expectations are understood for the data in the model and there is a plan for how to model all of it, get it all down in writing. It is always a good idea to write a BIM execution plan for every project, large or small, even if it is for internal use only. This will help the modeling process become more efficient and ensure that there will be no over- or under-modeling.


On small projects, develop an internal BIM execution plan that is no more than one or two pages. Clearly define the LOD by breaking down the two areas of modeling: family information input and design modeling. Give direction as to what details are needed and what areas need to be modeled more than others. The size of the project will drive your bigger BIM execution plans. If the client intends to use the model to track specific information, it is critical to outline that clearly.


Some of your “I” in BIM may come from consultants on the project. If they are not part of the discovery talks, you will need to explain what information is needed and where that information is coming from. The AIA also has developed documents to help outline the LOD of a project (G202 and E203). The more documentation you have that explains where the “I” in BIM is integrated in the model and the intended use of that information, the better the outcome.




Now that we know what the client’s needs are, how do we make sure we are modeling the right way? Never assume the way you modeled on the last project is the way you will model on the next. When modeling, the first step is to start with the family library you pull from (Family Information). A good rule of thumb is to have the families in the library built to support a high LOD. Add the parameters you will need for future projects to each family, even if they are not going to be used. This allows for a simple drag and drop by your users, saving time on any size project and any level of LOD. Most of the time the “I” the client wants to use is in this area. As you complete more BIM projects, you will see what parameters are good to pre-load into families. A family library should always be updated. Never let the dust settle on your library. What you learn from the last project should be updated in the library to support the next one.


The other area where modeling affects time is during design modeling. For example, do we use a Basic Wall Generic – 6” for the outside of the building because we are not touching it in the renovation? Or do we create a new wall with a fully defined assembly including “Physical” and “Thermal” properties for each? Can we pull details from the library, or do we detail everything from scratch? Can you use a line, does it need to be a family, or does it come from the model? The material library will also help expedite the “I” process. You will want to keep this library updated the same as you do your family library. The important thing is to get the design intent out. What needs built for the project should remain the priority. The way you model can change with each project, so always look for ways to save time on design modeling.


At this point in the process, we understand the client’s needs, we have developed a clear execution plan, big or small, and we have communicated these needs to our internal team and to our consultants. We now need to input the “I” in the Building Information model. There are a few ways to do this with families where most of the “I” will be held. You can have your design and/or production team input the information or export schedules so the support members can enter the information and then import it back into the model. Being able to export the schedules and import them back into your model is a great way to allow your model to develop. Things change, as we know, so it is helpful to designate someone who does not normally work in the model to keep the information updated. This may include training support staff to access and update schedules in the model. Doing so will allow the design and production team the opportunity to focus on the design and the printed set or even move on to another project. Document where the “I” is in the model as part of your BIM Execution plan so later down the road, that information can be accessed.


One thing to keep in mind, and an option not often used, is continued client relations—using the model to keep relationships open between you and the client. Find ways to support the client during the construction phase by helping them with relocating staff. We can show phasing in a model, so use that not only to show what walls are coming down and are getting built, but what staff is moving to where. Not all clients will have a full-blown facilities management software, so once the project is complete, show them what information can be pulled from the model’s database and how you can help them get that information out. This is a service in which few firms are participating because it is not included in the design and/or construction documents. The connection between client and firm will be stronger with this constant information sharing. If you have a running updated model of the client’s building, it makes for an easy sell when it comes time for the next project with them.


The big takeaway for the “I” in BIM is to establish a clear understanding of the wants and needs for the data. The “Discovery Talks” phase is the best place to start this conversation. Help guide clients to define this data and show them how they can use it. “Document It” by building a game plan around how to collect this data and how you will share this information with anyone who will work with the model. Have an efficient “Modeling Phase” so to not over- or under-model. In the end, you will have a successful B”I”M project.


*This article originally published in the January 2017 edition of AUGIWorld, page 10.




Rick Burchett // BIM Manager

Rick is passionate about architecture and the tools behind designing great buildings. His work with Revit began at the time the program was acquired by Autodesk in 2002. Rick believes that Building Information Modeling (BIM) is far more than the software used to create construction documents. It is a paradim shift directing the way in which we integrate all facets of the life cycle of a building. As DesignGroup's BIM Manager, Rick leads Revit training for all staff members, oversees data integration and management on many platforms, and continually works to establish Revit standards and outline best practices for implementation.