What Is BIM and Should You Care?

It is likely that virtually every security professional knows something about computer-assisted design or drafting (CADD). Many recognize the software, such as AutoCAD 2012, an Autodesk product.Most probably don’t know too much about its recent companion, Revit and, I presume, far fewer know much about BIM or building information modeling. You should know about BIM! It will be increasingly important in the coming years and it’s possible it will forever change how some of us do our work, especially security engineers, manufacturers, vendors and integrators.

What is BIM? It is a collaboration software program that provides a repository for each discipline to add digital, facility-specific knowledge into a single shared dynamic model, typically online. The most obvious feature is that it develops drawings in three dimensions (see graphic at left on this page).


Seeing buildings in perspective

This kind of representation makes it much easier to visualize how the completed building will look, how people will move around and how spaces relate to one another. For example, it would allow you to see how judges can securely move around a courthouse, or how they safely go from their car to the elevator that takes them to their chambers. But BIM is more than that. Conventional 3-D drafting illustrates a facility in length, width and height, but with BIM there is 4-D, 5-D and by some accounts, even 6-D (Simon Hensworth, “Building Information Modeling and Security Design,” The Australian Building Services Journal, Volume 2, 2011). The fourth dimension is generally denoted as time, the fifth as cost and the sixth as life-cycle, such as building operations over a 20-year period.

Clearly, BIM is intended for far more than drafting. As the abbreviation CADD implies, the BIM software programs are also meant for detailed programming and design work. The BIM software can conceptualize, plan, schedule, estimate, coordinate, verify and do “what if” analyses—and more.


Coming to vertical markets

BIM is already a mandatory requirement for some federal and military construction projects and is gradually emerging at the state and local governmental levels as well. Although it was primarily developed to be a tool for new construction and major renovation projects, just like “apps” for the iPhone, I expect that over time new functions will be added that will provide dynamic capabilities to support ongoing building operations, including security, fire protection and life safety—long after construction is completed. A few “apps” and some BIM “objects” are available now.

Free BIM object downloads are found online at the websites of a number of security manufacturers and vendors. For example, the BIM object illustrated on page 32 is a PTZ 510 series CCTV camera for Galaxy Control Systems and is provided by Arcat (http://www.arcat.com/bim/galaxyco/security-surveillance-cameras.shtml).

It is available in Autodesk, Revit and Bentley formats (DXF, DWG, DWF, RFA, RVT, and DGN). Similarly, Verint provides online BIM objects for its S5000 Nextiva IP series cameras (http://www.verint.com/videosolutions).


Historical perspective

The technology to use a computer for drafting began to emerge in the 1980s. It was crude, difficult to learn and used lumbering pen plotters that often worked all night to complete a single complex architectural or engineering drawing. The drawings were two-dimensional, 2-D. By the 1990s, the technology rapidly advanced along with microprocessors. Innovation exploded. CADD suddenly became faster and increasingly sophisticated. Oversized Xerographic copiers replaced the plotters. Most, importantly, the emerging technology added extreme precision and speed to the drafting process—and we got color. Perhaps the most sensational improvement was that it was possible to describe drawings in the third dimension, 3-D. Autodesk even had a program in its AutoLISP library in the 1990s for security. If a drawing was developed in 3-D, you could specify the lens format and focal length of a video camera and “see” exactly what a camera shown on the drawing would view. Now you could change lenses or move the camera around until you got the exact field of view you wanted.

Although estimates vary among industry sources, the world CAD software market is said to be worth about $8 billion annually, with more than roughly seven million CAD stations in use worldwide (Google: CAD market share, BIM, installed seats, “Googler Blog.” Data extracted from Gartner Research and Jon Peddie Research, as well as Autodesk press releases).

Approximately 63 percent of the users are still working in 2-D. This would mean that at least 2.6 million users are working in 3-D and, presumably, gradually migrating to BIM. There is little doubt that Autodesk’s AutoCAD has a lion’s share of the CADD and BIM market. Industry estimates range from 55 to 85 percent (according to http://www.wikinvest.com/stock/Autodesk (ADSK), Autodesk’s market share in 2011 was 85 percent. Other sources quote lower figures. Also see: http://frombulator.com/2009/10/cad-marketshare-bim-marketshare-installed-seats-installed-base-bim-cad/).

There are, however, a number of CADD programs available from other vendors, including GraphiSoft’s ArchiCAD; Bentley Systems Microstation and Integrator; TurboCAD from IMSI/Design LLC; Google’s SketchUp; and Nemetschek VectorworkS. They all are heavily involved with BIM and many offer online BIM training and webinars.


BIM security functions

The use of the Internet for security activities is not entirely novel. Application Service Provider (ASP) security companies, such as those that provide security central station and CCTV monitoring services have been around for almost a decade—albeit, in still fairly small numbers. “Cloud computing,” namely the delivery of services over a network, usually the Internet, is in its nascent stage, but is growing rapidly. Security departments will be able to maintain their databases, such as digital video storage, on a commercial host’s off-site data center on a subscription basis. BIM is simply a natural progression in the swift evolution of IT technology. (See related story on pages 34 titled: “BIM Now and in the Future.”)

The architectural and engineering (A/E) community—the driving force in new construction and major renovation—is notorious for resistance to change. The basic capabilities of BIM have been mostly embraced by the largest A/E companies, but the smaller firms are struggling to keep up—some reluctantly. Moreover, it will be some time before the A/E industry will be ready to nudge BIM beyond basic functions. The poor economy is yet another impediment to the evolution of BIM toward the security functions and the services described in this article. It is my view that as great as the potential of BIM may be, it is still not quite ready for prime time, at least not for security.

To use a metaphor, I see BIM as a structure with a sturdy foundation beneath a building that has been framed but the walls haven’t been closed and the openings have no doors. There is no furniture, no polished floors. The crystal chandelier for the Great Room that BIM shows is still in a packing box somewhere, hidden.

Another potential problem for the full development and adoption of BIM is its sheer complexity. It is yet one more major learning curve for users to master. Anyone working with architects and engineers will be familiar with other online collaboration software programs, such as DrChecks, an Internet-based design review and quality control system. There are other programs as well, such as Autodesk’s Buzzsaw, Bentley’s ProjectWise and more. When I am informed that I have to use one of these programs in order to participate in a project, I cringe at the thought. Sometimes I can’t log in. Other times it won’t save my work or it stores it at unexpected locations. On occasion, things simply disappear.


The dark side of the equation

As a final consideration, one cannot avoid worrying about cyber security and the potential vulnerability of BIM to cyber attacks by hackers from the dark side. It is a cardinal rule that as complexity increases, so does vulnerability and disorder. I have no doubt that BIM is, and will be for some time, “hackable.” In as much as BIM will be documenting facilities in great detail, this information is subject to nefarious exploitation.

The recent cyber attack of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges by an extremely sophisticated, weaponized virus, Stuxnet (and Duqu, a worm) demonstrates the inherent vulnerability of complex systems, in this case programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Stuxnet was able to cause actual physical damage. What would the consequences be if the dark side was able to tap the vast amount of information available from BIM for a critical national facility? Could they turn security systems off? Probably yes!

John J. Strauchs, MA, CPP, is senior principal of Strauchs LLC in Ashburn, Va., and formerly CEO of Systech Group Inc., a professional security and fire protection engineering firm. Earlier in his career, he was an operations officer with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).