Building information modeling (BIM) seems to be on a constant upward trend in the architecture, construction and facility maintenance spaces. For geospatial professionals, it is a promising young area for software, hardware and service solutions. Familiar tools like 3D laser scanners are proving useful for building data acquisition and geographic information systems (GIS) are increasingly being discussed as a valuable layer to include in models.

So What is BIM?

It’s an important question to ask, but difficult to answer. When I interviewed Avideh Zakhor, CEO of Berkeley, Calif.-based Indoor Reality, for the feature on wearable indoor mobile mapping, she brought up an important point: “The term BIM is very loaded and it means different things to different people.”

John Russo, president of the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD) and CEO of Irvine, Calif.-based Architectural Resource Consultants , solidified my hunch that there is no simple definition for BIM. “I don’t know how many definitions of BIM there are out there, but there are quite a few,” he said.

Because BIM is such a big umbrella, Russo said he likes to think of it as all-encompassing. “In the context that I view it, BIM is more of a process that takes advantage of technologies and software tools to help represent data. It’s a graphical way to represent building data through various processes.”

Zakhor offered a description of her web-based visualization tool that I found useful in thinking about BIM in general as well. She was referring more so to the end product, the model that is the culmination of integrating hardware, software and processing. She described it as a 3D visual document that allows different stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of a building to communicate collaborate and coordinate just as is done with a text document like Microsoft Word.

These are just two takes on what BIM is and I see the challenge of defining it as a good problem to have. As with so many geospatially-related trends and practices, it seems that the wealth of applications and constantly-evolving technologies make it hard to establish timeless and non-limiting definitions. An expansive market isn’t bad at all.

No Turning Back

While defining BIM may not be so simple, forecasting its future seems to be. From what I gather, it’s safe to consider BIM established.

Zakhor says the use of it will continue to grow. “Generally speaking, it’s a direction that we’re all headed in the future. No turning around and not using it.”

Russo largely agrees. “BIM is here. It’s not up and coming. It’s being used every day by a large segment of the industry.

An important thing to be mindful of as BIM expands and advances is that, as with anything else that was once new, the tools and methods will need to evolve based on the end user’s needs. Practicality and price will remain important for solution developers’ success.

Russo says the demand for interior data is high, but how that data is acquired and processed is not what the end user is most concerned with. It’s all about return on investment. “Owners, for example, could care less about the method of acquisition than they do whether the data is suitable for their purposes and what the cost is,” he says.

How do you define BIM? Shoot your definition my way in an email to