Managing multilanguage data in BIM

Modified on May 25, 2021

Language is important because it allows people to communicate in a manner that enables the sharing of common ideas. The same goes for machines – sharing information requires a language they can read and interpret correctly. Especially in the context of BIM.

Speaking the same language

You like ‘potato’ and I like ‘potahto’.
You like ‘tomato’ and I like ‘tomahto’.
Let’s call the whole thing off.

You have probably heard this popular song from ‘Shall We Dance’ starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In the 1937 movie, the language as well as cultural differences cause an initial rift between the characters who most obviously fit together perfectly.

That makes us wonder: does language cause similar problems for the construction industry and its perfect fit – BIM?

In today’s global world, there are often several languages used within a construction project. There are multinational manufacturers who provide the products and there are different software solutions dealing with multilanguage data for the convenience of their users.

Language, communication and BIM

So, what does multilanguage data mean in the context of BIM – the process that promises to optimise and streamline all activities connected to construction?

We view BIM as a system of processes that has accurate construction data at its heart, and it is not by chance that the “I” or “Information” is in the middle of the BIM abbreviation. BIM is about distributing information, or let’s say communicating through digital data, at any stage of the built asset’s life cycle, at any time, and regardless of the specific purpose for the information exchange. In a sense, BIM is a way of achieving perfect communication when the message sent out by the sender is left undistorted and reaches the receiver perfectly intact. Therefore, any language distortions should be eliminated from the process in order to ensure seamless communication and accurate data delivery.

What does a ‘door’ mean?

Let‘s take a look at a case where language could pose a challenge in BIM. Sometimes even a simple construction object, such as a door, can actually mean different things. For a UK manufacturer, a ‘door’ means just the leaf, while for a contractor in Norway it means the entire set – the door frame and the leaf. To complicate matters further, the construction object ‘door’ is described by different characteristics – called properties, such as thermal transmittance, burglar resistance, etc.

To be able to correctly interpret all the data about a construction object, we need a common understanding of what is what, i. e. what is a ‘door’. In other words –  what is the ‘scope’ of the term ‘door’?

We also need to know how its characteristics (or properties) are sourced – what is the relevant product standard that describes them? This way we can learn how the door is tested and how its properties are measured. And while we, humans, can easily find this information by reading the referenced standard, machine-to-machine communication requires full and explicit clarity. Otherwise, the information becomes ‘lost in translation’.

How do we resolve such communication glitches?

The solution comes in the form of a data dictionary, such as Cobuilder Define, that connects terms and concepts and all the relations between them. This way, the true meaning of information can be kept regardless of the language or local context. In practical terms, the data dictionary serves as a ‘connector box’ that puts together all the bits of information so that it can feed the correct meaning into other systems and platforms.

Behind this simple explanation, there are of course strict rules as to how data should be created and managed to ensure its quality and interoperability. These rules have been put together by the international standardisation bodies CEN and ISO in the form of standards, and their main purpose is to ensure seamless information flow within BIM.

Cobuilder’s data dictionary Define enables organisations to create and exchange digital data in line with all relevant standards for data management in the construction industry. By using Cobuilder Define asset owners can create standardised data structures, called data templates, to set their Asset Information Requirements. This way, they can ensure that the data becomes language neutral. It can be exchanged and interpreted correctly regardless of local semantics or the BIM tools that are used.

And that’s exactly what a common technical language for openBIM means – enabling all parties to work with multilanguage data in the languages they know.

Improving collaboration

Differences in language and culture have long been the reason for the failure of many business ‘marriages’. With the perfect collaboration and communication that openBIM promises this must not be allowed. By standardising digital construction data through a common technical language, actors can exchange and obtain information regardless of their language. This way a door is simply a door – for the specifier in Germany, the manufacturer in the UK and the Facility manager in Norway.

At Cobuilder, we believe that the key to improved collaboration is through applying BIM standards for data management. This is why, they are at the core of our data dictionary Define – enabling our clients to put together the pieces of the BIM data puzzle.