Virtual buildings

Improving the customer experience with openBIM

15 November 2018

We spoke to Context’s Digital Manager Jonny Breen about the bottom-line benefits of openBIM for our clients.

Silos are no good for business – unless you’re in the business of storing grain.

The term ‘working in silos’ refers to teams who are working together without sharing key information. For clients, silos usually mean added costs, lost productivity and a frustrating experience from start to finish.

Fortunately, technology can help break down the silos between people – but it can also create new ones called data silos.

BIM (Building Information Modelling) silos are an example of this. They occur when plans, drawings and information models can’t be read between different users. The lack of coordination leaves room for different interpretations and expensive errors.

Context’s Digital Manager Jonny Breen knows a thing or two about BIM silos and the bottom-line benefits of an open approach to digital modelling. We sat down with Jonny to learn more about what can be done to adopt the most client-centric approach in New Zealand.

BIM silos and the building lifecycle


BIM is the most widescale initiative to eliminate misinterpretation in architecture. Modelling software like ArchiCAD and Revit were invented to do away with a system where information was traced by consultants using butter paper. By creating a comprehensive digital model containing all relevant information about a project, we should be able to increase collaboration, reduce errors and improve design outcomes – in theory.

Proprietary formats, however, have made it difficult for key players to access information over time.

“BIM silos occur when proprietary systems are unable to communicate with one another,” explains Jonny. “This can lead to inability to co-ordinate consultants’ models and create issues for the builders on-site, adding cost and time to address issues that could have been resolved during the design stage.”

Why does it all matter? Because discrepancies in a digital model limit the ability to share information across the whole building life cycle, adding time, cost and uncertainty to any maintenance work.

“The client is going to use the building for many, many years – long after the architect is involved, and it’s important to keep that in mind from the start,” says Jonny.

“Modelling software updates annually so the files used for the design process expire each year. This can become an issue when the buildings need maintenance but information from previous models can’t be read.”

Being prescriptive about modelling also restricts the client’s choice of consultants to those who operate in a particular silo. When you need work done, you’ll get the team who can interact with your models – which may or may not the best team for the job.

In his recent presentation at the New Zealand BIM Conference, Jonny referenced Context’s work across the new Auckland Airport domestic Strata Lounge – a project that exemplifies the need for a collaborative, open approach to BIM.

“In a facility like this, there’s a huge number of clients and contractors involved over time – people from different disciplines who need to be able to access plans, models and data so they can continue to work efficiently.

In this case, we’re adding to an existing building and model already. Using openBIM - a universal approach based on open standards – is the only way we’re able to ensure the client can use our model and data and get the best consultants for the job.”

Embracing openBIM in New Zealand


So how do we use the tech to improve collaboration? The answer lies in implementing open standards that make a common language for transferring information between applications.

Jonny explains, “Our attitude in New Zealand needs to be more collaborative and constructive. It’s where we’re headed and mature BIM markets are there now. Government departments from America, Europe and Asia have already mandated openBIM as their requirement ensuring collaboration and longevity.”

OpenBIM is the only way for architects, builders, engineers and other stakeholders to collaborate efficiently and ensure a commercially viable project. By structuring data correctly, we can make information sharing easier and enable everyone to work efficiently without costly mistakes and exceeded time schedules and budgets.

Learn more about how Context is using technology to improve collaboration on building projects in New Zealand.