12 September 2017

Construction is an industry awash with technical terms, understanding which of these terms have parity of concept and which are distinct (however subtly), is at the heart of clear communication. 

As you might expect a clear and common understanding of terms is vital to ensuring that intentions are understood, that time and money are not wasted and that clients are not left disappointed.

The buildingSMART Data Dictionary is a tool that seeks to provide this clarity.

What are the buildingSMART BIM standards?

The Data Dictionary sits as one of three BIM standards developed by buildingSMART. These are:

Collectively these standards provide the format (IFC), the process (IDM) and the meaning (bsDD) of information exchanged on construction projects.

What is the buildingSMART Data Dictionary?

In a nutshell, the buildingSMART Data Dictionary is a library of 'everything' to do with construction. It allows users to identify objects in the built environment and their specific properties.

The dictionary works as a semantic mapping tool that connects like-terms based upon their meaning as it pertains to construction.

By way of example, whether we call a door a 'door' or a 'doorset' the tool understands that these words are both connected to the same core concept - 'a hinged, sliding, or revolving barrier at the entrance to a building, room, or vehicle, or in the framework of a cupboard.'

It is these kinds of connections that give the bSDD its ability to translate. The dictionary does this by separating the words (in any language) from their meaning by identifying the concepts that the words represent.

As an example, the word 'beam' can have many meanings (concepts) such as in a beam of light or a structural beam. Having identified the concept, the data dictionary connects words to concepts and in doing so information in one language can be translated to another with the meaning remaining intact.

What are the benefits?

The establishment of a common technical language library has the potential to significantly improve the level of collaboration in the construction industry and improve communication. 

Apart from being a helpful tool as part of a BIM workflow, the main 'selling point' of the bSDD is the ability to unify the use of technical terms regardless of the language used.

A door in England, France, Germany or Sweden may have different words used to describe it but will all be referencing the same shared understanding of what a door actually is.

An example of what bSDD could do... translating a UK specification into Norwegian.

It's not only language that can be swapped out. Any descriptor can be substituted. As an example, the bSDD could also rearrange content organised by Uniclass 2015 into another classification system so long as the classification system had been mapped to underlying meanings.

How does the tool work?

It's the Global Unique Identifier (GUID) that's crucial to the bsDD. This ID is algorithmically-generated and serves as a unique, language-dependent serial number assigned to each term or definition in bSDD. 

The GUID serves as a unique constant making it possible to find concepts, track relationships and accurately maintain data without the risk of mixing concepts. The GUID can be used for storing and exchanging data within model files and ensures that the concept being exchanged is precisely what the sender or recipient expects.

How can I utilise the bsDD?

The buildingSMART Data Dictionary is open to all and international in scope. It is based on a detailed language-independent framework that can be used by third-party software providers to create their own libraries for storing construction information, allowing clients, designers, consultants and contractors on one side and product manufacturers and suppliers on the other from all around the world to easily share and exchange product information.

An Application Programming Interface (API) is available online to anyone who is interested in integrating the service with their own. Additionally, the dictionary can be browsed and searched online:

buildingSMART Data Dictionary search 

buildingSMART Data Dictionary browse


What to read next...

What is IFC?
Industry Foundation Classes - or IFC, for short, makes it possible to hold and exchange relevant data between different software applications and is at the heart of openBIM. We explore interoperability for digital construction in this beginner's guide.

What is an Information Delivery Manual (IDM)?
It's information that drives a construction project - but what information is required, in what order, when should it be delivered and who is responsible for providing it?  We explore the Information Delivery Plan (IDM) that documents exchanges of information on a project.