ISA² - Interoperability solutions for public administrations, businesses and citizens

Building Information Management with the Swedish Transport Administration

Interview with Peter Axelsson, BIM Strategist at the Swedish Transport Administration

Semantic interoperability is an area explored for a number of years. For the last decade, SEMIC plays a significant role by offering technical solutions widely adopted by a number of stakeholders. So far, all approaches were focused on how to implement semantic interoperability in public administrations, i.e., concentrating on providing government-to-government solutions, with less focus on the needs originated from the private sector. However, the necessity to represent asset information via a common vocabulary is of crucial importance in the private sphere as well, the building and the construction sector experiencing this need first-hand. On the other end of the spectrum, asset information is tackled as a topic by SEMIC via a dedicated vocabulary (ADMS). This interview presents Building Information Management (BIM) and shows that the needs for semantics are not limited only to public administrations. Indeed, the common need for semantics is shared by both public administration and the private sector. 

Peter, could you please present yourself?
My name is Peter Axelsson, BIM Strategist at the Swedish Transport Administration. I work in the central department for information management development. I am involved in BIM standardisation issues for rails, roads and bridges. I have a background in land surveying and statistics, with a PhD from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

What does BIM stand for and what are its objectives?
BIM aims at ensuring a common digital facility for efficient information management in the building and infrastructure sector. Therefore, BIM is related to asset management and asset information lifecycle. It is a tool often used in the design and building phases but also important in the maintenance process. We base our work on standards such as ISO 55000 and ISO 19650. More specifically, at the Swedish Transport Administration we have three focus areas: (1) an established structure and hierarchy of the information with a classification system, (2) the information needs well defined and (3) a standardised way of delivering this information between different stakeholders. Ultimately, it is all about the overall goal of efficient asset management. 

What is the importance of semantic interoperability in the BIM context?
The importance of semantic interoperability in the BIM context comes with the necessity to have a common object-type library/dictionary of what we mean and how we address assets. Moreover, it is also important to understand what are the information requirements coming from the other national systems dealing with infrastructure. In this regard, we are using Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), a format which allows us to have standardised ways in exchanging information. At the Swedish Transport Administration, we are also looking at a linked data approach, in order have the right information in the right systems. However, for the moment, because of the use of various proprietary formats, the landscape in terms of semantic interoperability is still fragmented.

With which organisations did your administration collaborate on the definition of BIM standards?
In pursuing BIM standards in Sweden, we look primarily at the buildingSMART International (bSI), initiative of the IFC format. The idea is to use this format in order to avoid proprietary formats, which might be difficult if not impossible to read in the future. The cooperation takes place mainly between public sector organisation, in our case, via the Nordic BIM collaboration group, which regroups rail and roads authorities from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. We also have discussions with software developing companies. Finally, there are some interesting large scale research initiatives at the EU level, such as Shift2Rail or the Conference of European Directors of Roads (CEDR), which aim in harmonising different standards. Process standards like ISO 19650 (BIM standard) is of high importance but we have not engaged that much directly with the work done within ISO. 

What were the challenges encountered in this respective process?
Generally speaking, in the construction industry, the use of BIM software has become widely accepted for the design and build phases. The main challenge is to properly use and transfer this information in the asset management phase, as we don’t have the tools allowing for streamlining the extraction of this information. Moreover, the information required at this phase is not structured in the same way, comes in different formats, so there is a need of a more homogenous, machine readable format, which would ensure a smoother transfer. This issue is mainly due to the fact that we work in proprietary platforms in the design and production phase. This information is stored and structured in a certain way in these stages however it must be transformed in another format in the asset management phase. This of course creates frictions. 

What future evolutions do you foresee around BIM in Swedish public administration?
I think positive progress will be made in this area. This is due mainly to the change of perception on BIM. Indeed, there is a general change in the attitude towards asset information. I think organisations like mine have realised the importance of information in the last year. Before we saw documentation as something you store in a box without much use but today we are working more on the information we have on our roads and rails and not as much on the physical roads and rails themselves. We are basing all our decisions on our asset information. The understanding that information is vital for running our business is much higher, notably in the current context of digitisation and the use of digital twins. 

Monday, 18 May, 2020