BIM: Where next ? #1

I have to say that I am disappointed with BIM development in the last few years. BIM seems to have technologically stagnated/plateaued, and the release of a ‘killer’ application seems like a distant memory.

In the same way that Microsoft Office would be quite recognisable & usable to the time-traveller from 5 years ago, most BIM applications have had some cosmetic/minor changes (and bug fixes promoted as new features) in this time, but are fundamentally not that different or better.

I’d suggest that the vendors are doing quite well with sales of current applications, so there is no great imperative for change.


The original uploader was Ali at English Wikipedia(Original text: Not attributed) (Library of Congress [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With my best crystal ball, I have gathered my thoughts on where I see future of BIM and associated technologies. This is related to my other post BIM: Where next ? #2 which relates to design & construction sectors and BIM applications.


Branding technology as as ‘cloud’ is almost obligatory these days. However, in the BIM world, most cloud applications are currently poor cousins of their desktop versions i.e slow, clunky and not particularly project-capable. Some are just glorified data storage with most processing carried out on the desktop.

The data intensive nature of BIM is not well suited to low bandwidth & high latency environments. I guess it is great if you are in Silicon Valley or South Korea, but not so good everywhere else. If the Australian National Broadband Network ever happens (I still don’t know anyone that is connected…Malcolm, please note) then in Australia at least, some cloud applications may become more feasible.

Nonetheless, BIM applications will continue the move towards the cloud and pay-as-you-go licencing.

Databases & analytics

BIM systems will be built on true relational databases and utilise the scalability, replication and transactional nature of these platforms. The current work sharing and collaboration systems are generally unwieldy and have reached a natural limit of scalability.

After all, most BIM applications are a essentially graphical front end on a relational database but have evolved with their own bespoke file-based formats.

Furthermore, true database platforms will allow much greater analytics of BIM data across large numbers of projects, rather than data being locked away in discreet models.

As I explain in this article, analytics is essentially about patterns in data. So BIM has to be one of the best data sources for this.

Predictive modelling

Current design & construction modelling is pretty dumb. A model is usually just a representation of the (expected) final result and it does not say too much about how best to get there.

In some cases, there might be a degree of ‘4D’ information which indicates the sequence and expected timing.

In the future, technology will enable predictive models that produce likely outcomes based on past performance, constraints and various scenarios. To some extent, we do this now with methods such as Monte Carlo analysis of probability- but a model based simulation could determine risk/likelihood on specific constraints and factors.

Machine control systems and robotics

Machine control systems are already common in mining, civil & tunnelling plant, and CNC or automated machinery systems are widespread in fabrication. This will extend into site-based plant and equipment which will be controlled by BIM data.

There is some excitement about 3D ‘printed’ buildings made from a grey gloopy material and prefabricated Chinese towers built in a just a few days (with an alarming lack of fire protection on the steel structure…)

I think it will take a significant amount of time for 3D printing techniques to be capable and cost competitive with current mass production techniques.


Most talk of prefabrication seems to be based around complete building units or very large elements.

I do think that prefabrication will become more prevalent but in the form of small, easily transported and placed components as a ‘kit of parts’. The precision and level of resolution of BIM will obviously be critical in this.
This is commonplace for elements such as curtain walls & precast concrete, but will extend in the future to prefinished internal partitions, framed modules of suspended services, prefabricated formwork & rebar cages and so on.

Within construction, the fundamental problems & cost of transporting hollow objects and lifting of heavy/large objects remains.It is likely that many of the small and more readily transported/high value components will be produced internationally.

Internet of things

Many building management and control systems are already based on IP networks, and buildings such as shopping centres have sophisticated people-counters, CO2, temperature & humidity monitors and so on to adjust the building services and save on energy costs.

Furthermore, systems such as security and communications are also based on IP networks.

Driven by BIM data, this will extend into other areas and will include monitoring devices embedded into other building components, and the so called ‘internet of things’


BIM will converge with other technologies such as GIS. This convergence will mean that terms such as GIS & BIM will become less prevalent.


There are occasional flurries of excitement around possible new entrants to the BIM application market such as Google Genie BIM  but the incumbents of Autodesk, Bentley & Trimble hold the lion’s share of the market. Most of the promising emerging companies get swallowed up fairly quickly.

I’d say that the time is ripe for a sizeable & well-resourced entrant to shake things up a bit, but perhaps BIM is seen as too much of a niche market.
Personally, I would love to see Adobe in this market, although it is probably not their cup of tea. Adobe seem to have got the ‘Creative Cloud’ licensing model right and produce fantastic software. Current applications from the big players in BIM are just too expensive and the licensing is way too difficult. You also have to wonder how much value the resellers bring.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

Software licensing

The writing is on the wall as far as subscription based licensing rather than perpetual. I think the move towards centralised ‘cloud’ systems will mean that this may morph yet again to something similar to the Amazon ‘elastic computing’ model, where the performance and capacity can be dialled up & down and charged on an hourly basis.

Data flow

BIM currently tends to be a one-way street as far as data flow. In other words, most data flows from authors (designers or modellers) to data consumers (constructors or operators).
In the future, more data will flow in the opposite direction i.e into the model, such as procurement or construction status originating from ‘internet of things’ devices, robotics, plant and transport.

Computational Design

Applications such as Dynamo are just the start of computational or rule based design. Many functional or regulatory aspects of design (building codes, space planning, structural or energy analysis etc) will be carried out by algorithms to iterate through numerous variations and select the optimum design.

So rather than current practice of manual modelling, future modelling may be more about feeding in constraints and requirements.

Beyond data capture/laser scanning

Laser scanning and photogrammetry (photo based) methods have evolved a lot over the last 5-10 years and will continue to do so. This will become more closely associated with machine control systems and robotics.

In other words, rather than building something, then scanning it, then processing the scans and comparing against models, the process will more closely integrated to allow real-time verification of status and progress.

Refer to my post BIM: Where next ? #2 for my ideas on future application and industry changes.

I’ll look back at this post in a few years time and see just how wrong I was…..