With the theme of  "Optimizing Design with BIM," the BIMForum carried into its Spring gathering in Boston a goal of "shining a light on design and engineering and showcase the best examples of collaboration, optimization and sustainability."

It also threw a spotlight on some of the weakest links in the design-to-construction supply chain at an event that drew more representation among architects and designers among the 500 or so attendees.

Experts and practitioners, as well as vendors agreed that much work remains in the BIMForum's efforts to support the advance of building information modeling tools to achieve more efficiencies in design and construction. You could see this come to the fore during presentations that explored how to measure project objectives with BIM, as well as opportunities and challenges of an engineering-to-fabrication workflow and how much detail is needed in a design model to support downstream uses.

"When I was being trained as an architect, we were taught to have defensive drawings because the contractor was our opponent—even our enemy," said Patrick MacLeamy, the CEO of design, engineering and planning firm HOK. "How wrong I was." MacLeamy, a founder of open standards group buildingSMART International is on a mission to address how databases are managed and the changing world that BIM is creating for design practioners, the good and the not-so-great. During a Q&A session after his keynote remarks, the discussion turned to how architects and design professionals can survive a business model that provides a fixed fee for an end result—a design outcome—that is rarely known at the time of the contract award. "There are some tough lessons," said MacLeamy. But in addition to looking at different business models beyond fixed-fees, design practitioners, he said,  also need to help owners see their contributions as adding value, and work to counter owners' perceptions that their input can increase their overall costs of building.

After conducting research into the early years of the architecture profession, MacLeamy said he and learned that, until about 500 years ago, architects and contractors were often joined on jobs, part of guild system that built many buildings in Europe. "The guild masters were the ones that knew the crafts so well," he continued. "They were the designers. It was 500 years ago that we began to diverge, and it got to the point that [by the time] the U.S. capitol building was built in Washington, D.C., that separation was complete."

A new entity called the general contractor constructed the capitol building and, soon after, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) were formed. "We’ve been two parallel worlds ever since," he continued. "The building industry has suffered because we don’t build together. We’re now learning how to do that with BIM" and the BIMForum, which is supported by both groups.

But for MacLeamy's money, what he sees being practiced on both the design and engineering disciplines is BIM—but without much of the "information"— which means it's mostly BM that he sees many groups practicing, which got the audience snickering.

"The building model, the old BM,  is actually a much smaller part of it compared to the importance of the "I" — the data and metadata. Until we work with that batch of information, (probably cloud based), we won’t have achieved the full potential of what BIM is."

A big part of that effort includes the adoption of open standards for improved data exchange among project teams. To that end, he noted that the internationalBuildSmart alliance is rising to the challenge of driving the adoption of open standards in the U.S, as other countries such the U.K. government drive BIM adoption in public works and improved data exchange standards. "We’re recruiting and have some big players in the industry who will help fund this effort," MacLeamy added. "The ultimate place [for this work] is in the international community. And there's still a lot of work to do."