BIM4M2 BIM components: where’s the profit? the future lies in e-commerce.

I would be surprised if a product manufacture’s response to any one trying to sell them a product data platform or service did not ask “how does this increase my sales?”. If the answer is vague, indirect then there will be very few takers.

The current proposition with BIM components, a 3D geometry object filled with specification data, increase the chance of a sale. BIM component portals promote numbers of manufacturers, products and downloads as a reason for choosing their platform on the basis of best chance of discovery. Upward trends in manufacturers sales data could be for a variety of reasons is it because of:

  • They have BIM components?
  • They are marketing better?
  • There is an upsurge in Construction?
  • Their product is the best?
  • Their product is the most cost-effective?
  • Their product has a comprehensive data set?

If you ask any purchaser of products, price is the most commonly cited reason for choice. Data content would probably not register. However quality of data content is becoming a weapon of the marketing tool set but does the promise of increased sales if using BIM components really work?

When BIM components are used in a project and the data is found to be missing key standard requirements, not exporting properly, not supported on a variety of platforms someone has to fill in or correct the data. Many AEC design firms use generic geometry components which hold the specification data. Consultancy design does not have to provide the actual product this job is passed onto the Contracting team. Depending on the workpackage, 3D building models are mostly used for coordination but generally are not fully detailed. When products are finally selected then validated data has to be captured. It was thought that this data could be packaged into BIM Components, and that someone would then update the single model from which all the information could be extracted into the desired format deliverables such as COBie or another format for the FM Applications. The reality is that there are many 3D models and data sets making up a single view and these are brought together in the CDE (Common Data Environment). In these environments product data is added and validated using data import or form filling tools by contractors and subcontractors. BIM Component advocates would argue that the data resides in their objects and makes the process more efficient but the reality is there are not enough objects, covering enough products, with the correct data and how do you get them into the single model cost effectively? This is making a lot of product manufacturers skeptical of the use of BIM components but they want, and need, to be part of this Industry transformation. E-commerce is something that all product manufacturers are passionate about and the AEC developer community in BIM needs to embrace it.

The Manufacturers perspective:

Product Manufacturers need get their products discovered. Consumers (purchasers)  find products by some sort of specification. In the AEC industry, there are a huge range of product types. Some purchase choices are affected by Brand, others not so,  but by experience, the best price and when it can be delivered. A major mile stone of the selling process is the placing of the order. Once this is achieved it’s a matter of keeping that order until delivery and payment.

  1. Discovery
  2. Best Price
  3. Delivery
  4. Ordering

You have probably used at least one of the following 4 main stream online business 2 consumer shopping platforms.

  1. Amazon
  2. eBay
  3. Google (google merchant)
  4. Microsoft (bing merchant)

What are the relevance of these platforms?

You need only to step out from the design and construction space and into Facility management to see that a lot of the managed assets are products that are listed in business 2 consumer on-line retailing. This product range is growing as more   manufacturers are setting up shop on these platforms, (Amazon reportedly had 200 million products in their catalogue in 2013). Sellers have to provide unit price information , stock availability and make sales on the B2C market through price and quality of service. Many manufacturers augment their website linking it to the selling platform  “buy it on Amazon” this is particularly useful where products are sold through channels (Merchants)

Can the likes of Amazon,eBay, Google and Microsoft provide the data content for BIM/FM. All these platforms provide API’s that enable applications to publish products with varying levels of detail through attribute data sets.

On the projects I get to work on, we have to gather and process the data for a COBie delivery. We have not been required to capture the data ourselves but when the data is missing, or incomplete we fill in the gaps because time is finite. My view is that this data should come from as close to the product manufactures source as possible and if possible avoid 3rd party transcription. This means getting data through application transactions. Where there are gaps we have made it really quick and easy to fill in the gaps.

We always planned to allow our product library to exchange data with other libraries, however these don’t have to be our own applications. Amazon is one such product library.


Searching for products on Amazon in the product Library

We can add product data with 3 clicks into either application, data and media, and transfer from the product library to AIM converting a generic Type product to a specific one. This is extremely useful for lots of white goods, fixtures & fittings which make up a lot of managed assets. It also means that the attribute data can contain endpoints back to Amazon for sales, replacements and price comparison.


Added product and media from Amazon to enhance the data

From the Asset Information Model (AIM) we can update the asset “Type” to a product from the product library.


Prairie Sky Consulting / Bond Byran Architects East Dormitory Test project

In this test project from Prairie Sky Consulting I’ve imported the COBie data into our AIM application.


activePLAN AIM updated a generic type to a product from the product library.

In the product library I have added some bar stools from the Bar Stool Factory then updated the Bar Stool Type 01 and 02 by being able to search the product library from within the AIM application.

Overview of these services


Amazon is monetized on sales of products and using their warehouses for delivery which is optional. Amazon has product pages for every product in its catalog. This means that if you are a merchant selling a product on this platform it is simplified to you only having to provide stock levels and price. The Amazon product page will display other data, images and videos. The platform has a “Product Advertizing API” to drive traffic to their site. As Amazon evolved they allow selling of second-hand goods, moving into eBay’s space, and this means that out of production product pages may not disappear because a seller may have a second-hand one. Amazon’s searching order favours merchants with “amazon prime” which is the order fulfilled by Amazon which means you have to hold stock in Amazon warehouses. Many high street retailers have set up stores on amazon which has increased sales. There are also many e-commerce applications that will synchronise with amazon increasing the sellers channels of marketing.


eBay charges for listing’s and is widely known for being an auction site, however it has developed its offering with eBay stores. There are API’s for auction, publishing and discovery. Merchants have to provide all the information of product listings. eBay does have product pages similar to Amazon and I will learn more once I start using it’s API.


Google’s monetizing is based on advertising sales with Google Ads. Google use to have a product discovery API but withdrew this and focused on the Google Shopping API that enables merchants to upload listings. To get up the ratings merchants have to pay for Google Ads. The ordering of products is handled on the merchants own website.

The phrase “Google it” is now part of the online vocabulary and is the most popular search  engine but in recent years consumers have been using Amazon to search for products first and then checking the price with a Google shopping search.


Microsoft Bing merchant is almost identical to Google merchant in features. However they have integrated the services in the cloud computing offering of Azure.

e-commerce platforms

There are lots of on-line e-commerce platforms and they have integration with all of the above systems. It is possible to synchronise the stock and price through the use of the API’s.

The Amazon data schema appears to support unlimited attributes sets, and eBay seems the same. It should be possible to add a products data that conforms to the template data being defined by the industry through Building Smart and National Bodies.

There are 2 forms of platform types

  1. SAAS (Software As A Service)
  2. Server application

The key for both these platforms is that they are focused at managing the whole process and the most important part getting paid.

There are several e-commerce platforms for the AEC industry but they do not provide API interfaces this means their systems are closed and I cannot see how the will compete.

Builders merchants will do well to look at either moving to emulating the Amazon / eBay technology before these giants swallow them.

The future for BIM Components

You should always look for the ROI (return on investment). There are a limited number of product types that benefit detailed 3D component libraries from manufacturers typically calculation and/or visualisation.

BIM components are being promoted as the solution to all information requirements, a packaged object with all the data that can be easily disseminated, but the evidence is quite clear. No clear correlation with product sales, an expensive 3D wrapper of packaging of data which is incomplete.

Designers are reluctant to use manufacturers objects for a variety of reasons, principally being that they do not want to restrict the tendering process to specific products.

Sub Contractors wont use them as their services are not priced for them to provide complex collaboration 3D Modeling deliverables. This leaves the process of operation and maintenance information who are not paid to be responsible for a 3D building model.

When data capture becomes an expensive process for the design and construction teams then they should not be doing it especially if existing e-commerce systems already provide the means and methods to access product data. Equally Manufacturers are best placed to provide this data and should be engaging BIM in the context of e-commerce and driving the uptake of electronic data transactions for applications, this will be a better marketing strategy to more sales and more profit.

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