May 15, 2024

Improving BIM Management with VIM and Power BI

Summary: This article explores how the integration of VIM and Power BI enhances BIM management practices, as discussed by Jeff Walter from AECOM and Samuel Arsenault-Brassard from VIM during the AEC+Tech talk series. They explore the complexities of managing project information and the benefits of VIM in digesting large volumes of BIM data.

Hosted in late March 2024, “Improving BIM Management with VIM and Power BI” is part of the AEC+Tech talk series, which brings together experts from the AEC and Design Technology space to share their work and insights on the emerging AECTech landscape. Our latest event invited Jeff Walter, Digital Consulting Lead at AECOM, and Samuel Arsenault-Brassard, Product Owner at VIM (Click here to know more about VIM, a BIM-data-governance and analytics platform), where they engage in an in-depth conversation about contemporary BIM practices, and how VIM + Power BI lets users optimize their workflows!

Jeff is an accomplished digital leader with over 25 years of experience in the AEC industry, specializing in the interface between physical and digital infrastructure. His expertise spans digital delivery strategies, complex infrastructure projects, and custom digital applications such as Digital Twin and Metaverse implementations. Jeff is recognized for his leadership in smart city and infrastructure delivery, BIM to Digital Twin Integration, Integrated Data Environments (IDE), AI/ML/RPA intelligence and automation, and immersive experience technologies. 

VIM User Interfaces
Fig.1) VIM User Interfaces

Samuel brings extensive experience in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and immersive technologies. With a designer and BIM specialist background, Samuel has worked on diverse design projects while developing technological strategies. Currently serving as a Product Owner at VIM, Samuel leverages their experience to oversee product development. Their expertise in BIM coordination and immersive technologies makes them a valuable asset in BIM visualization.

The two engage in a fireside conversation about their experience with BIM processes and management and share a wealth of insight on how it takes place in large AEC houses. Read on to find out more!

Large Infrastructure Projects - Complexity, Collaboration Loops, and Beyond

Jeff starts off the conversation by highlighting his role at AECOM, which involves looking at different emerging technologies that impact how they deliver projects while also guiding clients through those digital futures, as he calls it. He feels grateful for interfacing with the grassroots of some of the biggest infrastructure projects from a digital perspective, taking a lot of that expertise, and applying it to asset-owner level conversations, providing them with an outlook of the vision for such digital practices.

He rightly points out that the complexity that arises with managing project information between different project phases and among dozens of stakeholders increases rapidly as infrastructure projects become more challenging. Working closely with the team behind VIM across many innovation fronts has helped solve several pain points for their practice and BIM workflows. From a multi-disciplinary perspective, he talks about the inefficient ‘information loops’ from architects, engineers, etc., to other stakeholders. Contractors, for example, may demand more real-time information faster and of higher quality and traceability. When the information reaches the asset owner, the whole process is set off to continue upon countless revisions and changes. While BIM is the underlying backbone of this information transfer, the complexity is still largely unmanageable for projects of this scale.

Figure 2) Different classes of BIM geometry and information inside Microsoft Power BI from VIM
Fig.2) Different classes of BIM geometry and information inside Microsoft Power BI from VIM

Jeff says VIM comes to the rescue here, which fundamentally helps you digest large volumes of BIM geometry and data while putting them through faster engagement levels with stakeholders. From an infrastructure delivery perspective, VIM recognizes the necessity of focusing on digital transformation to improve the quality and efficiency of collaboration. He says VIM has truly been a catalyst and brings project data streams from different scopes into more intelligent engines. From a reporting perspective, VIM helps transform and visualize your BIM models in a Power BI expression, improving how accessible and queryable project information becomes. It removes the need for superior computer hardware and improved Revit skills, thereby allowing any stakeholder to access BIM insights that weren’t previously possible.

Samuel jumps into the conversation, saying the core of VIM’s product ideology comes from an obsession with extremely large buildings, their geometry, and the associated information. The team developed a new file format to achieve a more shareable format for BIM projects. For many years, the VIM file format was only sold to software developers or big companies before it emerged as an AECTech product in its own right. Apart from BIM management, owing to his experience in visualization and AR/VR, Samuel says that the VIM file format is highly optimized for ArchViz, and only takes less than a minute for imports, where an equivalent .RVT or .IFC would take hours in engines like Unity and Unreal. This is largely thanks to the geometry optimization that fundamentally differentiates VIM: the geometry is built straight from scratch, ignoring the triangles and quads originating from the .RVT or .IFC files. In all, the .VIM file format is built for more efficient information-sharing, with the added advantage of optimized visualization - in both renderings and data!

Figure 3) VIM’s open-specification file format, 3D visualization plugin, and pre-made reports all coming together in Microsoft Power BI
Fig.3) VIM’s open-specification file format, 3D visualization plugin, and pre-made reports all coming together in Microsoft Power BI

VIM and its Power BI Integration

Power BI is Microsoft’s star product. It allows you to link data from about anywhere and of any scale and magnitude and share insights and reports from this data as customized, interactive dashboards. The highly efficient VIM file format can easily be nested within Power BI, and all the information that comes with it becomes readily accessible and queryable.

Samuel says that the high degree of customization offered by Power BI lets you create your own dashboards and templates, wherein you’re free to write insights back to the data instead of sheerly just consuming it. In other words, you are given the powers of a developer without having to learn how to code!

Jeff pitches in: he stresses that the ability to transform complex BIM models and data environments into simple Power BI dashboards and instantaneously being able to share them positions it as a must-have tool. He relates it to the information loop he previously mentioned and points out how much more efficacious and quicker the same process could evolve with such a tool. Plus, a Power BI dashboard can readily provide any stakeholder with access to all scopes of project information without having to silo them across disciplines, which largely hinders progress. True, a much more normalized, structured data perspective solves many industry-wide problems that are otherwise given into complexity. 

Jeff highlights how the same BIM data structuring taps into the aspirations of asset owners regarding digital twins. He says that getting down to a data level in a much more normalized structure makes building digital twins and associated applications comprehensive and refined. 

Fig.4) Analyzing and synthesizing insights from BIM projects with VIM
Fig.4) Analyzing and synthesizing insights from BIM projects with VIM

Integrating BIM as a ‘Process’ in Power BI

Talking about how they focus on BIM auditing and teaching, Jeff throws some light on their idea of using Revit as a process. “You don’t just buy Revit, and everybody’s great at it and start using it. You customize it for your needs - you create your own practice-wide workflow where it becomes a process of getting things done”, he says. The aspect of developing BIM templates for auditing and educating users about their usage is a big part of the BIM process. 

He talks about champions or super-users who, in practice, take up the use of new toolkits/software products, spend time with them, and push the widespread application of it. The case with VIM + Power BI is not very different: some people first champion the use of VIM, start to understand its nuances, and develop custom dashboards and reports, whose usage is later mainstreamed in a firm. This opens the doors to access a lot of work in the data models that are not readily accessible otherwise.

Samuel adds that the people who understand the value of Power BI and VIM are the needy folks, folks who are never satisfied. Upshooting the BIM process multifold, he says, such people in an office take advantage of the customization that Power BI offers and figure out ways to develop new features, buttons, workarounds, and simply more new ways to reveal insights from a project. He underlines the fact that on an enterprise level, the BIM workflows required are highly differentiated, and nobody is ever going to customize an automated solution for them, especially not Autodesk. The high degree of customization that comes with VIM is truly a game-changer. It comes in extremely handy when developing Digital Twins of infrastructure projects: using a VIM-enabled workflow reduces a lot of manual errors that are commonplace here. 

Speaking about BIM data validation, Samuel mentions the multiple inconsistencies in a team’s work that BIM managers/coordinators have to solve, including rules, codes, worksets, and so on. When you monitor this for a 3-years long project, it easily adds up to thousands of rules to verify the model against. The customization of dashboards and reports with VIM can easily help automate most of your job as a BIM coordinator.

Digital Twinning with VIM + Power BI

Jeff and Samuel previously dropped hints on the enhanced Digital Twin applications from BIM with the VIM + Power BI workflow. From an asset owner’s perspective, the high-level control offered by Power apps in a BIM context, say, to identify items, mark components for inspection, order RFIs for clarifying concerns, etc., helps automate an array of processes from digital twins.  More than just the querying, Power BI automation lets you react to the data and make decisions based on it.

Samuel says that owners are largely very laggardly when it comes to BIM understanding. Showcasing the pros of using digital twins will make them drive the BIM rules and standards expected of projects based on their own purposes of managing the project in the future using the digital twins. The owner may have their own requirements to understand, manage, and exploit their data to, say, prove carbon information, prove compliance to third parties/the government, prove valuation to the insurance company, and so on. From a portfolio-wide perspective, such BIM rules will ensure a sheer sense of uniformity across all projects and assets of a group. 

AI Applications from BIM Data

Both Jeff and Samuel are very positive about the advent of AI in the Design Technology space, and foresee some interesting developments in BIM management. Although we don’t see any mainstream AI applications just yet, they are very confident that the sheer volumes and scales of BIM data, even at an enterprise level, can drive interesting use cases for AI, especially in reacting to data and helping make decisions. 

The nuances behind BIM Management is not largely spoken about in the AEC space, but Jeff and Samuel throw light on some very crucial insight and insider information behind contemporary BIM practices. Plus, they reveal all the ways a VIM + Power BI addition to BIM will benefit organizations and stakeholders. Check out VIM here and see all the goodness behind its BIM data analytics. And as we always say, we have some exciting times ahead for the AEC Tech space!