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ISO 19650

A gateway to standardized digital practices to design, deliver and maintain Canada’s built environment

By Erik A. Poirier, Professor, École de Technologie Supérieure; Director, buildingSMART Canada; Vice-President, Groupe BIM du Québec

The accelerating rate of BIM adoption and implementation in Canada, evident through increasing interest, demand and use across the country, brings with it many challenges. While an increasing amount of stakeholders in the built environment sector (including clients, architects, engineers, constructors, trades, operators and manufacturers of built assets) are not only aware, but are seeing the significant potential and benefit to its implementation throughout a built asset’s lifecycle, there still lacks consistency in its delivery and use. As BIM-enabled practices become more and more common in our industry, various stakeholders have come (or are coming) to the conclusion that the transition to digitally enabled business practices requires considerable amounts of structure and consistency in order to truly reap the benefits of this digitalization and fulfill its potential.

Over the past two decades, various organizations both nationally and internationally have been providing this structure, or at least its foundations, through the development of standards, guidelines and protocols. Amongst these, four bodies have tackled the question of built asset lifecycle information authoring, exchange, and management: the International Standards Organisation (ISO), the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), buildingSMART International (bSI) and its chapters, and the Open-Geospatial Consortium (OGC). Many of the standards discussed in, among other places, past issues of the CanBIM Innovation Spotlight such as ISO 16739 (Industry Foundation Classes —IFC) are highly technical in nature and are geared towards very specific audiences, notably software developers. In the past year however, the ISO 19650 suite of standards has been published and is aimed at industry practitioners. The suite lays the foundation for consistent and structured collaborative working supported through BIM across the project supply chain and throughout an asset’s lifecycle. This article highlights why this standard is important and what it means for the Canadian built environment sector.

Why is Standardization Important?

Before going into detail regarding the standard itself, it is important to note that the Canadian industry does have a strong tradition of standardization in the built environment when it comes to elements such as products (e.g. CSA, ANSI and ASTM standards) and representation (e.g. drafting standards). What is currently lacking is the widespread and consistent use of standardized approaches to develop, exchange, deliver and manage digital forms of data and information in the context of design, delivery and use of built assets. There are several highly related reasons to standardize these approaches. First, it helps ensure consistency in the procurement and the delivery of information in digital format by project teams. This means that clients will be able to consistently ask for BIM according to a set of normalized procedures. Second, it ensures predictability, meaning that any project stakeholder will be able to know when a given set of information will be made available and by whom at any given moment during the project’s lifecycle. Third, akin to consistency and predictability, standardization ensures the reliability of the information development and delivery process. This acts to greatly reduce risk. Fourth, standardization allows repeatability of process which leads to the fifth benefit: efficiency. A repeatable process allows for measurement and improvement as well as automation. Finally, all of these reasons fall under the umbrella of quality. The biggest reason for standardization is to ensure quality. While compelling, these are but a few reasons why standards and standardization are so important.

Of course, the path to standardization and its outputs is not without its lot of critics. Indeed, many see the development of standards in the rapidly evolving world of digital tools, technologies and practices as precocious and vowed for rapid obsolescence. In this sense, critics say that the development of standards tends to codify obsolete technologies and acts as a hindrance to innovation. Moreover, some say that current standards are too complicated and create too high of a barrier to entry for the industry. While these concerns are valid to a certain extent, the benefits of standardization, as outlined above, far outweigh these challenges.

What is ISO 19650 and why is it important?

ISO 19650 is published (or in the process of being published) in five parts:

  • Part 1: Concepts and Principles
  • Part 2: Delivery phase of the assets
  • Part 3: Operational phase of the assets
  • Part 4: Information Exchange
  • Part 5: Security-minded approach to information management

The standard “…sets out the recommended concepts and principles for business processes across the built environment sector in support of the management and production of information during the life cycle of built assets (referred to as “information management”) when using Building Information Modeling (BIM).” It is primarily intended for use by organizations and individuals involved in the procurement, design, construction and/or commissioning of built assets; and those involved in delivering asset management activities, including operations and maintenance. In other words, the standard spans the entire lifecycle of an asset or a portfolio of assets (Parts 2 and 3). It also provides solutions to an increasingly important and highly relevant issue: data and information security (Part 5).

The main intent behind the standard is to provide a clear pathway for information management over an asset’s lifecycle supported through BIM based on consistent and specific terminology, concepts and methods. This is especially useful for clients when procuring services and assets as it provides, among others, a baseline for their assessment and evaluation. It also provides a framework for project teams in the production and delivery of information using BIM across all asset lifecycle phases.

While based on the UK’s PAS 1192 set of standards, the ISO 19650 series underwent a stringent and rigorous review and adaptation process through ISO TC59/SC13/WG13 to be as flexible and useful as possible on a broader, international scale. In other words, a number of international experts, including experts from Canada, reviewed, commented and voted on the standards. The product is a series of recognized international standards that have achieved consensus amongst experts across the globe.

It is important to note that, as a framework, ISO 19650 articulates many, if not all, of the other standards that have been developed within ISO TC59/SC13, including ISO 12911 (framework for BIM) and ISO 16739 (IFC), ISO 29481 (Information Delivery Manuals), ISO 12006 (International Framework for Dictionaries), which form the core of the open BIM triangle (see past CanBIM innovation spotlights for reference). Naturally, it also bridges other standards relating to the digitalization of the built environment’s delivery and use, such as GIS and IoT.

What’s next for Canada?

Immediate developments for Canada include an Annexe to Part 2 which provides naming conventions for key elements found within the standard, such as information containers. In parallel, work is currently underway to develop guidance documents that will provide information and context for the standards themselves. This work is being led by the Standards Council of Canada ISO TC59/SC13 mirror committee in collaboration with buildingSMART Canada. Efforts are also underway to raise awareness and educate industry stakeholders as to the benefits and functioning of the standard(s). As with many similar efforts in Canada, most, if not all, of this work is undertaken and supported through industry professionals contributing their knowledge. We are therefore always looking for individuals willing to join the different committees and provide their input and expertise.

ISO 19650 is important for Canada as it provides many layers of structure and reference to whole lifecycle asset information management supported by BIM. As a framework, it provides consistent terminology and conceptual soundness across the country, which will help focus the discussion around BIM and provide grounds for future developments. As a standard, it provides a common reference for all industry supply chain stakeholders to procure and deliver goods and services in the built environment. Regarding its diffusion across Canada, work has only begun, but the standard provides much needed coherence and consistency to this rapidly developing field. It is crucial that we see considerable uptake of the standard itself. Failure to do so risks to seriously hinder the deployment of BIM across Canada’s built environment, which in turn will negate many of the gains and potential benefits accrued through digitalization.

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