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Taking Steps Toward Model as the Legal Document (MALD) Through Data Standards

February 27, 2024

What do you think about modeling in engineering and construction? Models are a natural evolution for us in the digital world. When we first started using CAD, it was not much more than a digital pencil and a digital drafting board. But wow, have we evolved! If you or your engineers are using any of the latest design tools, they are creating 3D models. And depending upon the engineer's sophistication, they may be very information or data robust models. Agencies like Utah Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration are leading the charge by bringing models to the forefront of design and construction. We are headed toward models being the legal document or the legal delivery for solicitation and construction. Are we ready? Many states are already moving to approve models as the official engineering document of record. It is happening. So, let’s leave that professional or legal debate to ‘others’ to resolve. What is the impact on bidding, construction, and inspection?

Let’s look at bidding and solicitation first. One of the few positives that came out of COVID was the acceptance of electronic bidding as not only a norm, but a requirement for most agencies and firms. What does our current construction bid package look like? PDFs of plan drawings, specifications, legal and contractual documents, and survey/geotechnical data. If a model is included, it is for informational purposes and in a vendor proprietary format. And, that model, if properly done, contains mountains of important and influential information about your project. But it is informational only. Can you consume all of the information? Who within your team can digest the information? Today, it takes someone as talented with modeling software as the person who created the models. Does your Bidding and Contract staff have these skills? If so, you are very fortunate. What about your subcontractors? Do they have the skill set necessary to dissect a model using the design modeling tools? In many cases, they may not even have access to the same tools as the model creator. It certainly sounds like I am painting an abysmal picture. But it is not a dark horizon. There is hope, a future, and help is on the way. Two things must occur to provide that digital bridge from design to construction.

First, we need an industry consolidation on standards that will provide collaboration among vendor proprietary formats. We can all attack vendors about proprietary formats, but vendors should have the right to protect their IP they have heavily invested in. This has two potential solutions. Truly open APIs, which are a long way off, or a performant, robust, neutral data standard.

Enter Industry Foundation Classes, or IFC. IFC, under the steady guidance and stewardship of buildingSMART International, is an ISO-certified representation of both the geometric model and the business meaning behind the geometry. With IFC, we can represent a road as a road and a bridge as a bridge in ways that any software can understand and make use of. When a vendor is reviewing proposals on Bid Express, Infotech’s online bidding platform, to determine if there are jobs they would like to pursue, they must comb through hundreds and hundreds of item lists and plan sheets. If they are a subcontractor, they might be looking for a single needle in a haystack. What if, instead, they could open the project in a virtual environment, move throughout it, and quickly determine if this type of project is in their wheelhouse? It is just one of the many ways having the model available throughout the entire lifecycle completely changes how people will work.

Another especially important ISO standard is the standard for organizing and digitizing Building Information Modeling, known most often by its ISO certification number, 19650. This standard lays out the processes and approach to adopt BIM within an organization. Why these standards become so important is we can then start to rely on them as a baseline for how we organize and present data as an industry, creating familiarity, efficiency, and innovation.

So, we need tools that you do not have to be a hardcore design modeling expert to use. Take IFC, provide access in a robust viewer with game-like intuitiveness, and this becomes a reality. All of us have some experience with games. The model view is realistic, movement is super performant, it streams from the cloud, remembers who I am and where I was. It is intuitive and discoverable. No instruction manual, no training. It runs on my handheld devices or my powerful desktop. For solicitation (electronic bidding), I want to be able to load IFC models, multiple at a time, query the model, measure the objects, see all the intelligence within the model, and report out the information. I want it integrated with my bidding solution. I will need to be able to save views, persist models, and mark them up. This is a huge task in a tool simple enough anyone can use.

These are not just hopes for the future, they are the expectations of today. We believe that the model cannot be considered a legal document until it is easily accessible by anyone at any time. To this end, we are building a model viewer that we will incorporate into all of our products to better enable not just the delivery of the model in a legal fashion, but also forward the entire ecosystem, help everyone better adhere to ISO 19650, and continue the conversation of - what do we want to do with the model next?


Andrew Martin
Chief Technology Officer
My job is to listen and learn. From there, I can create an environment that helps identify, develop, and sustain teams that create some of the world's most amazing software products. It isn't my job to make software that accomplishes the task, it is my job to make software that blows our customers and partners away. I've spent my career contemplating everything from operating system design to fully modeled virtual worlds to essential questions about data but it always comes back to one fundamental thing: are we building software experiences that make our users' lives easier? To me, that is the ultimate reward.
Ron Gant
Senior Account Manager
A graduate of Mississippi State University, Ron Gant, P.E., is a BIM expert with four decades of experience in infrastructure construction and civil engineering.