Why create a shared BIM library?

This article is for anyone who wants to create a shared library of BIM objects in their business. Are shared object libraries really necessary? At BIM & CO, we think they’re vital. While a lot has been written about their benefits (we’ll come back to this later), many organisations are having trouble setting them up.

Fortunately, these problems are common and easily solved. This is why, in this article, we want to focus on the right way to mobilise teams internally to support this project, and how to implement it while avoiding pitfalls.

What is a shared BIM object library for?

While it may not a silver bullet, a shared BIM library can be especially helpful if you:

  • Have teams that include different professions but that don’t work together much or are not located in the same place.
  • Are constantly creating items based on already existing elements 
  • Are developing a data repository.
  • Have a user experience with consistency issues.
  • Waste a lot of time looking for the latest versions of items to use

Expected benefits: 

  • Sharing and collaboration: the members of the BIM management, model design or business study team create a common language that considerably streamlines discussions. 
  • Efficiency: resources are no longer wasted! Now objects are only designed and developed once. Production speed is increased, and design and development costs are reduced. The time it takes to complete the project and the time is takes for partners to appropriate it is accelerated. 
  • Optimisation of team time: this enables designers and architects as well as engineers to work in areas where they add the most value (designing new models, etc.) and prevents them from having to spend most of their time adapting to other professions’ requirements as well as their software and data set constraints.
  • Consistency and quality: the user gets a project model where the user experience is seamless, due to clearly defined properties, which are therefore easier to process and assimilate.

What is a shared BIM library?

A little history

The idea of ​​standardising a library is not new. In 1992, Autocad became the first software company to code things this way with the “AutoCAD Electrical” symbol library. 

They were symbols that could be used for different standards (IEC for example). You could also find out how to use them in buildings, industry, and aviation.

The appearance of products in “digital” form has added a new technical dimension to the need for a single modelling repository. Visual items are not only drawn from now on, but coded, which also means objects have to be updated much more frequently.

The library, a blend between the tangible and the intangible

In the years since 2005, other companies have also created their own libraries of what became known as BIM objects and, little by little, the notion of a shared library emerged. This library concept is closely related to the classification system idea, because it is a structured whole that can be broken down into elements and sub-elements, like a logical or mathematical system. These objects are interconnected, reusable and adopted by a community of people who are themselves connected. Three experts in object libraries define the concept of an object library as follows:

A BIM library is officially how your company drafts and builds digital buildings.”

Rémy Maurcot – BIM Product Manager at BIM&CO

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“A BIM library is an ecosystem of objects, models, guidelines, data and processes, that meet the requirements of a project or an organisation, to create a specific, well-designed outcome”. 

Eric Pruvost – BIM Transformation Plan Director at SYSTRA

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“A shared BIM library provides data consistency in any downloaded object. This is important because consistent data gives us the ability to integrate it into any other process or workflow and guarantee seamless collaboration. Content reliability through Onfly helps to automate our processes and gain in productivity. ” 

Melle SCHOORDIJK – BIM Director at ENGIE Services Nederland NV

A shared library is neither a modelling charter, nor a series of folders containing object files – or at least it shouldn’t just be that. The whole point of a shared library is to use a communal language between various businesses and teams on one or more projects. It centralises the objects from each project and enables you to see them in perspective. It also enables teams to be more autonomous and more efficient in designing their models, while freeing up time to focus on high added value activities.

The objects in a shared BIM library

A shared library is a system that relies on tangible content, such as 3D files. But it also relies on intangible elements such as processes. 

Here’s a list of everything it may contain:

Tangible elements:

  • Recommended and mandatory classifications 
  • Recommended and mandatory properties
  • Graphic objects shared between designers
  • List of properties by object type (shared between engineers)
  • Object documentation (rules for using objects for example)

Intangible elements:

  • Processes & governance
    • new object requests, 
    • existing object updates, 
    • user invitations, etc.

Basic and optional BIM objects

In reality, a shared library is rarely so comprehensive. Depending on your culture, your model projects and your BIM maturity, only certain elements are relevant. There are 3 levels of BIM maturity (with the lowest maturity level being the most common):

  Basic level Basic level Advanced level
Tangible elements A shared library contains:
  • A 3D object file
  • Geometric construction data
  • Tags and classification
  • A 3D object file
  • Geometric construction data
  • Tags and classification
  • Object model*
  • Geometric properties
  • 3D objects
  • Tags and classification
  • Object model*
  • Set of business and phase properties
Presented as:
  • Accessible via the source software
  • Ex : Template
  • Accessible internally by all
  • Ex : Server
  • Accessible externally for all project partners
  • Ex: SaaS platform
Intangible elements Made by:  1 or 2 members of the design team A dedicated modelling team All project teams and partners
All the design teams: All the design teams All project teams and partners All project teams and partners

*Object model = properties of transversal requirements by product type

This is a common data structure defining the properties (the product’s essential and non-essential characteristics such as being fireproof or the colour) describing any type of product in a way that will result in a credible and usable 3D object.

The BIM maturity levels described here are inspired by the BEW & Richards diagram. Organisation is essential for intangible elements, as this enables you to determine the interactions required for the tools and the valuation of the activities associated with the tangible elements:

How do you set up a shared BIM library?

At BIM & CO, we see the creation of a shared library as the creation of a new model (and not as a project with an end date). Like any model, it must meet the needs of a given target (project management, operators, facility manager, etc.). It must also add value over time.

The keys to getting started: building the framework of your shared library

The first step is to establish an inventory of how the teams work. You also need to clearly identify the problems that can be addressed. Once this analysis is complete, you need to define and prioritise the objectives, set the scope envisaged and last but not least, set and share the success criteria for the shared library.

Main questions you need to answer to properly create the framework for a shared library:

  • What are the project teams’ needs? What support elements have they requested?
  • What is the scope? How many models or teams should this library enable you to align?
  • What are you going to put in the shared library?
  • Who are you creating the shared library for? How many people will work with this library? 
  • How many existing models will be impacted by the shared library?
  • What technologies should you use?
  • What type of classifications and properties do you want to share communally between the various models, professions, and project phases?

Progress step by step

Once the objectives have been defined, we advise you to set an initial scope that your shared library will address. Like a model, restricting the scope and tangible elements you integrate will enable you to deliver and iterate quickly. This means you get fast results and easy fixes. You can add to this scope over time, making sure you always keep in mind the objectives you set and the criteria for success.

For example, if you are managing various different models and what already exists in terms of objects is already a lot. It is unrealistic to want to cover everything in the short term. 

A prerequisite for defining the shared library’s scope (and convincing people of the need to make one) may be to take an inventory of what already exists. This means listing the different types of objects (recurring) and sets (phases, jobs, types of projects) used in the model. Each member in your various teams (designers, as well as business engineers, for example) can contribute by providing screenshots to exhaustively catalogue what already exists. The inventory will enable teams to:

  • See the inconsistencies if there are any.
  • Identify the items that can be reused.
  • Prioritise what will be developed first.

Establish the creation principles and technological choices

You have to set out the creation principles as a foundation first, before you even think of starting the property set creation phase. These principles will guide and inspire your designers and engineers. For example, if one of your core principles is to maintain a specific use of reference lines in Revit, all your objects might want to contain a screenshot of what’s in the RFA to make it easier for the BIM experts to confirm compliance. Any items that do not comply with this document will need to be improved before publication.

The question of technological choices is key when initialising the shared library. But it should not be a constraint on your shared library. Your shared library must be technologically agnostic, e.g. it needs to be designed independently without a specific technology bias, while remaining compatible with all the main technologies in your business. This helps to create an experience that is recognisable with and suited to various different software programmes. To put it simply, it is up to the library to drive the choice of a centralised space and not the other way around. Also, consulting and getting a Technical Director (CTO) as well as business experts to cooperate on this is essential, and this needs to continue well beyond the first implementation phase.

Implement the human structuring around your shared BIM library

To make membership and maintaining a shared library easier, you need to find ways to work using a multidisciplinary approach and thus break down potential organisational silos (modelling, BIM management, engineering, etc.). This often requires changing and adapating existing ways of working or inventing new ones.

Should you set up a special shared library team?

The structuring around the shared library is key to its scalability. 

Two structuring options are possible:

  • Decentralised or distributed model: several members of the modelling teams have some of their time allocated to working on establishing and contributing to the shared library. 
  • Centralised model: A dedicated team is responsible for the shared library.

You can try out a combination of models too. Autodesk, for example, has a dedicated central team for the “Lighting” system, which is supported by contributors across the organisation.

Regardless of the organisational model you choose, the professions you need to involve from the start are as follows:

  1. Object modellers (experts and specialised profiles),
  2. Informed designers,
  3. One or more BIM Managers,
  4. The other set users, and business engineers
  5. A sponsor supporting the initiative.

The designers involved in building the shared library must be good at object modelling and information architecture. 

Likewise, the engineers you use must be very oriented towards the data needs of each product.

It may make sense to also appoint a person who will be in charge of the shared library, drive its creation and maintenance, and who will know how to preach to the rest about why having this library in the organisation is so vital.

Above and beyond allocating dedicated resources to the object library, establishing clear governance is essential for ensuring that the system can adapt to any changes. 

So, you have to start by answering certain questions about how to manage changes, such as who validates the changes made to the system? How are requests for new objects handled? What happens when bugs or regressions are detected in the implemented tool?

How do you encourage team engagement?

Even more importantly than constructing it, the key to an object library’s success lies in the team’s ability to encourage its key players to use it. 

Depending on the size of the business, it is difficult to encourage people to adopt one and it will only be adopted if it is deemed useful.

For the organisation to be able to follow the direction that the team has established, you must:

  • Instil a vision and establish strong and shared principles of experience.
  • Get managerial support to finance it, i.e. dedicate capacity to the library over time.
  • Show how valuable the library is through a test environment so that users can test it and appropriate it.
  • Collect feedback and suggestions from internal users as you would any model. Getting this feedback is still a great way to understand their needs better, spot any problems and improve the library.
  • Evaluate how internal users use the library through regular interviews, observation and quizzes.

Communication recommendations

Communication also plays a key role in library adoption. We especially recommend that you:

  • Promote the library internally through workshops, presentations and a dedicated SaaS platform.
  • Create and share naming conventions for namingobjects in the shared library.
  • Use collaborative communication tools including engineers (e.g. a dedicated Slack channel) to share changes and keep library users and designers engaged.
  • Organise formal catch-up sessions between the team and the shared library, users and the key players involved to discuss what works or needs improvement. It will also help if you prioritise and create a shared library roadmap so that the shared library keeps increasingly meeting the needs of the company.
  • Share the library’s success extensively by sharing the actual facts, e.g. by using figures and factual data.

How do you measure the success of a BIM object library?

The success of a shared BIM library can be measured externally (in terms of the models’ end users) and internally (how it impacts the teams).

KPIs about end usersKPIs for operational excellenceIncrease in the productivity of development teams.²
Improvement in the quality and consistency of the user experience (e.g.: System Usability Scale)Adoption of the shared library by the various key players (designers, engineering professions, etc.)Increase in the productivity of development teams.
Reduction in the number of model warnings, or slowdowns.Team satisfaction with the shared library (ex: Net promoter score NPS)Increase in the time spent on tasks other than modelling and especially feasibility studies

Whatever KPIs you choose, you need to take some initial measurements before setting up the shared library so that you can measure progress afterwards.

As you have by now realised, a shared library is far more than just a set of reference 3D object files; it takes on a whole new dimension if other types of content are integrated more broadly (properties, set and reference, documents, etc). 

As it becomes exhaustive, it turns into a valuable internal communication tool,standardising your company language. Also keep in mind that if you want to get the maximum value from your object library, you need to think of it as a project in its own right. Only by allocating resources, communicating about the benefits, measuring its impact and continually striving to improve it, will you ensure that it is useful and gets adopted by your teams.

By following these tips, you too should be able to build a consistent shared BIM library that is capable of improving over time.