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“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end, until it be
thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” ‐ Sir Francis Drake, 1540 ‐ 1596.”
Geo-Enable BIM –The Big5 Challenges.
What are you prepared to do?
By Barry Gleeson & Martin Penney, Survey4BIM
Over the next five years BIM will drive not just transformation of the built environment but the geospatial industry
itself. Its successful implementation is dependent on collaboration across all participants. The survey profession needs
to be at the forefront of Geo‐Enabling BIM. So what are we prepared to do about it?
BIM is part of the digital revolution taking hold on the built environment. The Digital Built Britain vision
the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and a desire for SMART Cities. All of these are underpinned by spatial
context and geo‐location. The Geo‐Enabling of the internet (e.g. Google Maps, Bing Maps etc) and smart devices (i.e.
smart phones, tablets, satnavs) has taken hold over the last five years. Its impact has been incredible. Entrepreneurs
and commercial ventures such as Uber are leveraging the maturity of the digital revolution in communications and
commerce (mobile devices, user reviews/ratings, payment systems,) by simply adding geo‐enabling (a live map), they
have created something transformative and disruptive ‐ necessary ingredients for change. Five years ago it was worth
nothing; today it is valued at £50 Bn.
Geo‐Enabling BIM may not have the same potential for an individual company, but it does have an impact on society
and the taxpayer. George Osborne’s recently announced National Infrastructure Commission
is looking at a future
pipeline of £450Bn of infrastructure investment in the UK alone. The efficiency target to be delivered by BIM in
capital/construction cost reduction of 20% equates to £90 Billion efficiency. The additional lifecycle and sustainability
savings required are even greater. Geo‐Enabling BIM is a key part of turning these goals into reality.
So what is Geo‐Enabling BIM? As a newly formed partner of the UK BIM Task Group we have spent the last 6 months
looking at this question. Our group, Survey4BIM, is an open collective of geospatial professionals that came up with
five challenges to Geo‐Enable BIM ‐ “The Big5” ‐ a phrase borrowed from the Association of Geographical Information
(AGI). These are Accuracy, Meta‐data, Interoperability, Level of Detail and Generalisation. At first glance a geospatial
professional might think it’s all in hand. But if you look in the wider context of the UK BIM industry (or indeed the
international BIM context) all is not as it should be.
The vision for BIM is clear but its implementation in a geospatial context is not. These challenges are technical, and to
a certain degree cultural, and ones where we believe the geospatial profession has a significant and unique
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contribution to add. There are other challenges such as education, behaviour, procurement which many are taking up
the challenge on, including Survey4BIM
. But the Big5 technical challenges are pressing and neglected in a geospatial
context. If BIM does not solve these there is a risk the geospatial industry will not only miss a huge opportunity to be a
key player in BIM, but become complicit in watching it hit the rocks. Indeed, the analogy of the geospatial community
building a lighthouse to keep BIM off the rocks is a good place to start thinking about what we need to do.
The Big5 ‐ Challenges to Geo‐Enable BIM Level 2
The Big5 – What are you prepared to do?
The challenges covered below require the input from a broad spectrum of expertise from within our Industry and
The Big5 ‐ Lighthouse
Image Courtesy of the Needles Lighthouse
The above image shows the Big5 challenges as building blocks in a lighthouse that will geo‐enable BIM Level 2. The
benefits of keeping off the rocks are clear ‐ avoid risk, rework, delay, added cost and clash.
We have assessed each of these building blocks in three ways. Firstly, what is the maturity of each process in the UK
BIM industry context, not just geospatially? Secondly, where should it be to enable BIM level 2? Thirdly, where on the
BIM Road Map should this maturity be available?
Survey4BIM, Client and Surveyor Guide to the Digital Plan of Works, 2015
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Following this assessment we can see what efforts are now needed to either push this forward, or to catch up. In
particular where the geospatial industry can focus its efforts and have the greatest impact on BIM’s success. These
opportunities are discussed later. Now let’s take a brief look at each of the key areas.
Accuracy could be driven entirely by geospatial experts, as some standards are already established and these could be
introduced to the wider BIM industry through influential groups. BIM introduces the wider challenge of design
accuracy, but if it were handled in the same way as as‐built accuracies and was adapted for construction or fabrication
tolerances, a solution could be found. Merging data sets of different accuracies or files with different elements of
differing accuracy is something the survey industry has dealt with for centuries. The digital workflow can
accommodate the math and the complications of combining various accuracies and tolerances allowing them to be
consistently interpreted. For measurement science there is no single source of the truth, only our best estimate
resulting from a controlled combination of multiple sources of information.
Interoperability continues to be an issue for the BIM Industry. Regardless of the differing software formats, two
fundamental issues arise; firstly the handling of grids and spatial reference, and secondly the interchanging of formats.
These issues continue to undermine geospatial geometry, accuracy, level of detail and even information content.
Surveyors are well versed in these issues already especially, for example, when it comes to setting‐out. This example is
made more critical as increasingly, the information they are presented with is digital and not readily usable by survey
instruments. Yet digital information is automatically perceived as being correct, which highlights the differing
perception and validity of design data versus as‐constructed data.
This current status must be challenged and resolving it could lead to significant efficiencies. How many BIM projects
have stalled because two data sets have coordinate systems which don’t readily sit together, and the new owners lack
the tools to resolve it? Of more concern is how many times that these differences have been handled inappropriately
and may have gone unqualified?
An example of this type of risk is the matching of postcodes to point locations. Some postcodes can represent 80 sq.
km on the ground in the UK which may be perfectly fit‐for‐purpose for that particular location and circumstances, yet
a satnav or mobile phone may offer an alternative single point location solution ‐ yet they aren’t necessarily
interoperable. If location was required urgently in an emergency, then the consequences could be costly in terms of
time or even human life.
Meta‐data is critical to understanding digital information. In geospatial context legends, standards and attributes are
all commonplace from a legacy perspective. But digital meta‐data standards are less well known and understood, even
in the geospatial industry. Here the GIS world leads but in a BIM and CAD world element‐meta‐data is still
underdeveloped. Meta data can support the resolution of the other challenges such as accuracy, interoperability and
level of detail, but in a data driven world it also requires its own solution. Many groups such as the Open Geospatial
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Consortium (OGC) are working at present to upgrade meta‐data standards (i.e. Gemini 2.3). The UK geospatial
industry needs to be more involved and broaden the discussion to support BIM and element‐meta‐data. This is an
area where, the soon to become three tribes of BIM, namely CAD, GIS and CGI, need to come together to facilitate a
Level of Detail
Level of Detail appears highly developed in many countries and in a BIM sphere. Yet it continues to fall down on a
“real‐world” or as‐is and as‐built basis. You can define all the levels of detail you want in a design concept, but if asked
for example, to map all the underground utilities, without the freedom to expose and analyse them fully, level of
detail requires a different approach. PAS 128
for example, is a valiant effort in the utilities field to provide guidance
and solution but is not wholly BIM ready when it comes to level of detail.
The acronym “LoD” continues to evolve and be used with different meanings and therefore outcomes. LoD is starting
to be expanded as Level of Definition – a combination of Level of graphic representation and Level of Information. This
can become very confusing, particularly where one aspect develops out of sync with the other. There is also the
challenge of comprehensive approaches developing independently in different countries, for example, by the
American Institute of Architects (AIA). We cannot afford to ignore these differences in the UK and just hope they will
go away. One of the key goals of BIM UK is to become an exporter of these services, to keep our knowledge and
expertise aligned and current in an international context
. Some of us in the Geo‐Industry already operate in this
Finally, the generalisation issue presents one of the most difficult challenges and yet one of the most exciting. The
illustrations show two practical examples of what a geo‐enabled BIM world could do. These maps help the reader
decide where they can afford to live in the most expensive city in the world by applying rental values to the London
Underground network, with each route capable of being interrogated individually producing a long section of place
PAS 128 2014 ‐ Specification for underground utility detection verification and location, BSI.
RICS professional guidance, global International BIM implementation guide, 1st edition, Sep2014
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Tube Station Rent Map Analyser (average 1 bed rental cost with 1km of station)
Social BIM Users
While not one of the BIG5 issues, social BIM is a phenomenon worthy of mention. Users of BIM are growing at a much
faster rate than the technical experts who create, manage and share the data. The trend from geo‐enabling the
internet is showing more users with less skills and limited interfaces. For example, mobile screens are a lot smaller
than maps and scale is becoming less controllable and therefore less intelligible. The conflict here is that more and
more information is being pushed out in digital space but isn’t being regulated and can be misinterpreted by users.
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Some would say that any information is better than none, but using the maxim where do you draw the line in the
rigour of available data, is greater Geospatial guidance required here?
Prof Adam Iwaniak ‐ Presented at Geo Business 2015
These are huge challenges for BIM but if we want to reach all the potential beneficiaries then working towards
solutions now is critical to success. In the digital transformation model above increasing the user base (network effect)
is the first principle of survival. This should happen organically, though with Social BIM society has the appetite for
Geo‐enabled BIM data without knowing its name. Furthermore the relationship between IT and Geospatial
Information is now symbiotic. Users drive change by demand for data applications; manufacturers drive change
through innovation to entice users. BIM is for everyone. The kings of Silicon Valley are betting that virtual reality is the
Professor Adam Iwaniack, GEOMEDIASEMANTICS TOOLKIT FOR LINKED GEOSPATIAL DATA. Geo Business 2015.
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way forward for future user access
. From the gaming industry to the movie industry the tools are developing faster
outside the geospatial and BIM industry. So we have an opportunity here to bring this expertise into CAD and GIS for
So what’s next?”
The Big5 ‐ Opportunities to Geo‐Enable BIM Level 2
So what are the opportunities for BIM? By mapping out the maturity levels of the applications of geo‐enabled data
(see diagrams below) in stages and relating them to the BIM roadmap, we can clearly identify where the opportunities
lie for development and in so doing also focus on what actions we need to take as a professional community.
The Big5 – Maturity Levels
We have identified where the Big5 challenges sit now (Red Bubbles) and should be (Green Bubbles). This assessment
applies to processes and organisations. The required stage is not the same for each, nor the optimum, and this
represents the opportunity to improve further as BIM evolves.
Initial / Chaotic
projects and is
(UK BIM Now)
Level of Detail
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Again, it must be remembered this is in a UK BIM context as opposed to UK geospatial industry context only.
Applying this staged process of adoption to a BIM Roadmap helps to clearly identify the gaps and the steps necessary
to achieve BIM level 2 (refer diagram below).
The Big5 ‐ Roadmap
When placed on the BIM Roadmap it can be seen that some of these key factors should have reached their required
maturity long before we reach BIM level 2. Accuracy, as an example, should have been quantitatively managed when
BIM was conceived. There is little evidence in the BIM digital workflow how this is defined consistently or
quantitatively managed. Yet Accuracy is a fundamental attribute in defining quality and certainty and its impact
overlaps all the other challenges such as Interoperability, Meta Data, Level of Detail and Generalisation.
Looking at the Roadmap and the maturity gap together we can now see that a significant effort is needed to geo‐
enable BIM Level 2. The next step is to see what actions the geospatial industry can focus on, and which ones should
Level of Detail
(Just In Time?)
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The Big5 ‐ Actions
Headline Action Opportunity Accuracy
Carry out a controlled test
Carry out survey
Yes Yes Yes Internal
Collate existing forum/group
Yes Yes Yes Internal
Collate existing standards
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Internal
Create Internal Workgroup
Solution / Proposal
Yes Yes Yes Yes Internal
Join and Influence existing
Yes Yes Yes Yes External
Produce case study
Yes Yes Yes Internal
Set challenge for software
Yes Yes External
Develop a detailed Road Map
Yes Yes Internal
In reviewing each of the BIG5 challenges a list of actions and opportunities have been considered as shown above. Just
two actions have been highlighted for each challenge that encourages professional engagement and action. An initial
white paper has been drafted on each with more detail on the assessment and what the action could entail. The next
step is to explore the opportunities in more detail with the Geo‐community and decide what we are prepared to do
Call to Arms
Survey4BIM is going to launch a call to action over the next few months. We are seeking expertise, leadership and
sponsorship in each of these Big5 challenges. We believe geo‐enabling BIM is a huge opportunity for the geospatial
industry now. Not only to deliver commercial benefits, for clients, for your business, for the UK industry, but to deliver
the social benefits which BIM can enable. The targets are hugely challenging and currently at risk9. If we combine our
efforts and get involved now we can play a huge part in turning this into a success for BIM and the geospatial industry.
We have the chance to geo‐enable BIM over the next 5 years. I truly hope you are going to be part of that.
Take the next step with your fingers and click here: http://www.bimtaskgroup.org/survey4bim
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Survey4BIM is an open and influential geospatial group which aims to help unite geospatial professionals in Geo‐
enabling BIM. Two seminal papers have been issued – A client’s guide to laser scanning‐ an early foray into the
unknown and recently the DPoW‐ an insightful paper on the role as surveyor and client throughout the asset lifecycle.
Join us and help Geo‐Enable BIM. http://www.bimtaskgroup.org/survey4bim.
Special thanks for preparing and reviewing the Survey4BIM White Papers on the Big5 challenges go to Mark Lawton
Skanska, Andrew Evans Topcon, Mark King Leica, Martin Penney TSA & Technics Group, Simon Navin Ordnance
Survey, James Kavanagh RICS, Ian Bush ICES & Black & Veatch, Steven Eglinton GeoEnable, Paul Cruddace Ordnance
Survey, Chris Preston RICS & Network Rail, and Anne Kemp AGI & Atkins.