BIMcollab Twin | Spatial structure is the foundation for document management

How should we organize our folder structure? I have been asked that question hundreds of times for as many projects and real estate portfolios. And apparently there is quite a bit of uncertainty about setting up databases. I get it, because storing data and (especially) finding it is difficult. People probably know that I ‘do something’ with databases and I get the question. That is why I would like to share our vision on document management here.

First back to basics; when we talk about a ‘folder structure’, we are actually talking about Document Management Systems, also known as DMS solutions. Those DMSs are built in databases with a user interface often made in the form of the familiar Windows folder structure. Simply because everyone understands that graphic. In a previous version of BIMcollab Twin we had also imitated that Windows folder structure, but it soon became clear that we had to get rid of this. We heard that customers had constant discussions and ambiguities about the storage of documents and data about building information.

Metadata and filters

In addition, a new challenge presented itself. In recent years there has been an increasing number of 3D models and we want customers to be able to store the information from those models in the DMS. Data is multi-dimensional: every stakeholder has a different view of the data and therefore expects a different tree structure/folder structure. This is even more the case with 3D models. That is why one folder structure does not work, but you need several metadata fields on which you can search and filter. But 3D models contain a lot of information and it is not presented in a Windows folder structure. So how could we access all that data in an accessible way and also combine it with a DMS? As a solution to this, we have developed a ‘framework’ in the current version of BIMcollab Twin with metadata and filters instead of folders. All documents, data and geometric data are stored on the platform and with the help of that metadata and filters, users can quickly and intuitively find the desired files.

Spatial structure

In fact, we no longer use folders at all. This solution therefore comes from the building itself, namely from the spatial structure of the building, which is in fact ‘only’ a graphical representation of the building. The spatial structure of the building (location, site, building and floors) is the coat rack on which all documents and data in the database (structure) hang. In fact, our platform provides a representation of that spatial structure. This structure is also recognizable for all those involved in the building, so they can work with it intuitively. If there is already a folder structure in the database (which I started with) then that default is visible to customers. In any case, it is not leading for the storage of data about the building (model). The structure follows the building based on the information from the IFC infrastructure.

Legion of possibilities

We have now implemented this insight on our platform, which has been operational for more than three years now. The DMS and the 3D objects are in the same database structure in the open (database) model. How does it work? All types of documents and files can be uploaded to the DMS and the system links those files directly to the spatial structure of the building.

Customers can upload IFC and Revit files to the cloud and once the system has imported all data, geometry and documents into the database, countless possibilities arise. For example, our online viewer (developed with DeltaPi) can display the geometry in a browser. The DMS can establish relationships between documents and 3D objects, giving you direct insight into the linked documents and communication when you select a 3D object. These 3D objects can be viewed on the basis of parameter values in the online viewer (developed with DeltaPi). In addition, work packages, which previously only consisted of drawings, can be supplemented with 3D objects. All documents and the 3D model are also mobile on location in the field app (developed with BEECOT) The future belongs to Augmented Reality (AR) for which we are currently also developing functionality.

Searching becomes finding

In short; so don’t think in terms of databases or folder structures today. Instead, think about the result you want to see and what information you want to zoom in on. If you are looking for documents about the front door, don’t look at the V for front door, as a colleague may have saved it to the I for entrance or the D for doors. So rather click on the front door in your 3D model. Create a system for this that intuitively takes you to the document you want to consult at a specific time. It is a precise job to box this for each other. So would you can of course also outsource.