Skip to main content

What Is OpenBIM and Why Does it Matter?


Construction technologies are capable of crossing borders, and standards should be as well. We don’t need more sets of BIM standards for each individual country; we need a unified language that promotes communication between technologies, no matter where they’re being used. 


It's much easier to talk about BIM than to implement BIM. Just ask McKinsey.

Even though they are widely recognized for establishing and disseminating construction best practices, McKinsey struggled when it tried applying those best practices to its own project, the McKinsey Digital Capability Center in Venice, Italy.

Non-design professionals who were proficient in BIM were in short supply. Many contractors expressed interest, but they were concerned that implementing the tools needed to create a fully digital construction model would create more work.

Considering that manual data sharing and time-consuming system workarounds are the status quo, can you blame them? 


What is OpenBIM?

OpenBIM is a format of BIM that uses open standards. This means several things, including:

  1. Every project member is able to use the best tools for their particular workflow, without being locked into one vendor.
  2. Every project member can access the BIM model without interfering with the native design. 
  3. AEC firms can adopt the technologies that best suit their needs, regardless of integration concerns.
  4. All the disparate systems being used on a BIM project can communicate with each other.
  5. Stakeholders can invest in newer technologies without worrying how they'll manually share data among devices.
  6. AEC firms can easily hand off data to business intelligence teams, who can generate insights that improve project safety, timing, and costs.


Who Oversees OpenBIM?

Many industry stakeholders understand the need for a common language that allows disparate BIM software systems to communicate with one another. That’s why buildingSMART International, an organization dedicated to addressing interoperability challenges in the construction industry, introduced the concept of OpenBIM (sometimes written as open BIM). 

To develop OpenBIM, buildingSMART is leading a collaborative group of stakeholders, including technology providers, owners, contractors, and designers. The organization’s Strategic Advisory Council is driving the development and adoption of open, neutral standards for data interoperability, as well as benchmarks to ensure quality. 


"If we're going to actually improve productivity in this industry, BIM standards are important. We've got to work
together as industry participants to move this forward." - Rob Painter, Trimble CEO


At the heart of OpenBIM is a standardized communication protocol based on Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), which are managed by the International Standards Organization (ISO). With this open framework, data can be easily imported and exported between technologies. This allows AEC professionals to use the technology of their choice without the limitations of proprietary data. 


What Are the Benefits of OpenBIM?

With OpenBIM in place, the large network of stakeholders working on a construction project can easily send information between systems and tools, leading to a number of benefits that improve cost control and productivity, while also reducing waste:

  • More efficient hand-offs between interdisciplinary teams

  • Fewer communication errors and omissions of important data

  • Long-term data accessibility that extends beyond asset construction

These benefits aren’t new; they’re the same ones that have been touted by proponents of BIM for decades, further driving home the point that OpenBIM fills a critical gap in realizing the promise of BIM.


Why Does OpenBIM Matter for the Construction Industry?

The construction industry is plagued by poor productivity and cost control, as well as unnecessary waste. Building information modeling (BIM) has long promised to help address these issues. The objective of BIM — to improve collaboration among construction professionals — is a noble one. And while European countries like the U.K. have advanced BIM collaboration to realize significant gains in productivity and cost control, BIM usage in the U.S. is too narrowly focused and limited in adoption. 

In 35 years, BIM adoption rates have stalled at just 60-70%. 
—McKinsey & Company, “The Next Normal in Construction,” June 2020


How is it possible that the U.S., where BIM arguably got its start, is lagging so far behind? In its tenth annual BIM Report, the NBS found that more than 60% of U.K. construction professionals viewed BIM as a collaborative process that aligns with industry standards established by the British Standards Institution. Unlike our counterparts across the pond, many U.S. owners — both governmental and private — have developed their own BIM guidelines. Because the U.S. lacks prevailing standards like the U.K., American BIM adoption (and success) has been piecemeal. However, the solution isn’t necessarily to create a separate U.S. standard either. 


The challenge for the next version of the NBIMS-US is to reconcile variations across [BIM] standards and create a unified core standard for our industry.— National Institute of Building Sciences


Construction technologies are capable of crossing borders, and standards should be as well. We don’t need more sets of standards for each individual country; we need a unified language that promotes communication between technologies, no matter where they’re being used. 


Using OpenBIM Broadens Technology Options

American AEC firms are adopting technologies that drive productivity and streamline information sharing among stakeholders. However, the tools they’re using aren’t always built to communicate with one another. When construction stakeholders evaluate new tools to add to their BIM tech stack, they’re often confronted with a difficult choice. They can choose a point solution that suits their needs perfectly, but doesn’t come with native integrations with the rest of their tech stack. Or, they can choose systems that integrate well but don’t necessarily perform at the levels they’d like. 

Ideally, AEC firms should be able to adopt the technologies that best suit their needs, regardless of integration concerns. With the sheer volume of players involved in any given construction project, it’s unrealistic to assume that each stakeholder will invest in tools that are built with native integrations. And it’s also unrealistic to think that we can make significant gains in construction productivity, waste reduction, cost control, and quality while using systems and tools that don’t communicate with each other. 

As it stands now, 47% of construction firms use disparate systems that require manual updates and information sharing. It’s an unsustainable situation, especially when you consider that new technologies and use cases are being introduced to the construction ecosystem every year. The lack of interoperability leaves the promise of BIM unfulfilled, a problem that will persist as long as we don’t have a system of BIM standardization. 


How OpenBIM Moves the Conversation Beyond the Model

For many construction stakeholders, BIM modeling centers only on the creation of the 3D model, and not the broader workflows and data sets that construction projects require. And with so many disparate systems, it’s easy to understand why many construction professionals have a myopic perspective of BIM. 

OpenBIM, when used in conjunction with a set of Connected Construction tools, can help ease those implementation fears. Connected Construction tools, which can range from data-centralization platforms to scanners, bring together the people and processes involved throughout the entire construction lifecycle. OpenBIM is the language that enables these tools to communicate. With OpenBIM, stakeholders can invest in construction technologies that improve productivity, quality, safety, transparency, and sustainability — like mixed reality, augmented reality, machine control and more — without worrying about how they’ll manually share data among devices. 



With these capabilities, the 3D BIM model is still the centerpiece of the construction process, but it’s leveraged more widely. Non-design professionals can contribute to augmenting the model with more data. And, with OpenBIM and Connected Construction, AEC firms can easily hand off data to business intelligence teams, who can generate insights that improve project safety, timing, and costs.


Want to Get Involved In the Development of OpenBIM?

Driving the development and adoption of OpenBIM requires a group effort. The construction industry is made up of a complex network of players who underestimate how interconnected we all are. To create and maintain the standards we need to realize the true promise of BIM, we all must play our part. buildingSMART’s OpenBIM initiative offers an opportunity for us to collaborate in a neutral setting to drive the transformation the construction sector so badly needs.

OpenBIM requires commitment from the industry. This includes the development and support of open and neutral standards, high-quality implementation of the standards and approved independent benchmarks to ensure quality and rigor.”

— buildingSMART International

OpenBIM doesn’t just hold the potential to improve BIM adoption and outcomes in the U.S. By setting the standard for all stakeholders internationally, it can also open up the range of technologies construction stakeholders have to choose from. 

Having a common language and set of standards for interoperability enables the construction technology ecosystem to be more flexible. Established technology providers can explore new business models and product offerings. New entrants can enter the market without being hindered by integration concerns. And users reap the rewards of being able to choose from a diverse set of technologies that seamlessly communicate with one another to build better and smarter. 

By removing data silos between systems and tools, OpenBIM helps AEC professionals collaborate more effectively with one another and produce meaningful improvements in productivity, quality, safety, transparency, and sustainability.

Visit buildingSMART to learn how you and your company can get involved in the development of OpenBIM.