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Critical Success Factors and Guideline for openBIM and VDC on Infrastructure Projects

Bridge and construction detail
Randselva Bridge | Tekla;

Project Team:

Prof. Martin Fischer, Dr. Calvin Kam, Jacqueline Lo

Research Overview

Observed Problem: 

Increasing global infrastructure demand will require investment of ~$94 trillion between 2016 and 2040. Public agencies are starting to recommend or mandate the use of openBIM globally, recognizing its ability to enhance collaboration and hence eliminate waste on projects. In 2019 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials passed a resolution on IFC openBIM schema, and recommended its adoption as the national standard for their projects. Infrastructure project leaders must quantify and report costs and benefits that VDC and openBIM bring to their projects, but are challenged by the lack of a standardized framework for benchmarking and reporting these values.

Primary Research Objective:

To research on the impact of openBIM on infrastructure projects and how to better leverage its potential, through identifying critical success factors of openBIM, and compiling a set of assessment metrics covering associated operational cost, project performance, and operation & maintenance metrics.

Potential Value to CIFE Members and Practice:

  • Support decision-making for infrastructure project leaders
  • Better adopt and manage IFC on infrastructure projects
  • Facilitate the explanation of the value behind IFC implementation in projects for different stakeholders and parties involved
    • Improve data accuracy and assignment of ownership and responsibilities
    • Understands the value behind the “extra” effort

Research provides relevant insights for:

owners, designers, contractors, construction managers, operators

Research and Theoretical Contributions

  • Identify the contributing factors for a successful openBIM-project
  • Establish a pool of case studies and their lessons learned regarding data collection, exchange, etc.

Industry and Academic Partners:



Infrastructure, openBIM, IFC, critical success factors, performance metrics

Detailed Research Overview & Progress Updates

Progress Report June 2021

In order to learn from the successful stories, 4 cases are carefully selected to document and extract critical success factors (CSF) on openBIM implementation in infrastructure projects. The 4 cases are all award-winning projects from recent years, each pioneering of its kind. These 4 projects won awards from two different organizations, the buildingSMART International and Tekla.

buildingSMART is a neutral, international forum for initiating, developing, creating, and adopting open digital standards for BIM processes . The organization composes of 18 chapters worldwide that focused on solving industry interoperability challenges. buildingSMART award is an annual award that acknowledges exemplary use of openBIM. In 2020, they received a record high of 111 submissions, reflecting the competitiveness of the award.

Tekla Global BIM award winners are selected from over 130 projects in 2020, which celebrates BIM use and collaboration excellence.

Brief description of the 4 cases are as follow:

  1. New Cuomo Bridge (2017 buildingSMART Operations and Maintenance Award)
    • Design-Build
    • 3.1 miles
    • Eight general traffic lanes
    • Total Budget: $3.98 billion
  2. Jing Xiong High-Speed Railway (2019 buildingSMART Special Distinction Winners - Infrastructure)
    •  Design-Bid-Build
    • Total length of 92.8 km
    • Six bridges of total 71.23 km
    • Two tunnels of total 12.6 km
    • Four new stations
    • Total Budget: 33.53 billion RMB
  3. Panama Canal 4th Bridge (2017 buildingSMART Design Award)
    • Design-Construct-Operate
    • 7 km long
    • Total Budget: 1.52 billion USD
  4. Randelsva Bridge (2020 Tekla Best BIM Project & Best Infrastructure Project)
    • Design-Build
    • 634m long
    • Based solely on BIM-models (first bridge project to work without document*)
    • Total Budget:

These four award-winning projects are studied in detail, and eight critical success factors of openBIM implementation in infrastructure projects are drawn from their success stories. openBIM can also be seen as a more advanced version of virtual design and construction (VDC); performance measures for VDC are still applicable for openBIM projects. Recommendations for openBIM implementation performance measures are also concluded from the 4 case studies. Note, the numbers within the bracket after the CSF is the number of cases supporting this CSF.

Critical Success Factors for openBIM implementation in infrastructure projects

  1. Strong involvement and support from project owners on openBIM implementation (4/4)
    Infrastructure projects often are complex and challenging to design and construct. Project members may find the implementation of openBIM an extra effort to learn and require some adapting. Therefore, a strong involvement from the project owner provides them with the drive needed, especially to set up a common goal for all stakeholders involved. The implementation of openBIM by default includes all stakeholders of the project. A persuasive authority/drive from the client is thus essential to align the multiple stakeholders' objectives.
  2. Set up clear openBIM objectives (4/4)
    Projects with clear objectives provide direction for project members to follow. openBIM projects, not different from others, requires managers to set up clear objectives such that members can follow and work towards the goal. Common openBIM objectives include: enhancing cross-discipline coordination, increasing interoperability abilities, ensuring reliable data quality, etc. Through setting up openBIM objectives, managers can also convey the benefits of openBIM to project members, bring them together, appreciating the possible extra effort and learning required to achieve the goal.
  3. Plan for the appropriate openBIM standards (4/4)
    Project managers can choose from multiple openBIM standards, each designed with specific purposes and serves different project information types. In general, the industry foundation class (IFC) is selected to be the core standard to facilitate data transfer, supporting BIM collaboration format (BCF) for open communications. Project managers should plan the necessary openBIM standards for integrated and seamless information flow based on their aims and objectives, investing in the correct aspects.
  4. Investment in common data environment (4/4)
    What distinguishes openBIM from conventional BIM is its emphasis on interoperability. Each project working with openBIM might implement different sets of standards to achieve seamless interoperability, but investment in a common data environment (CDE) is vital in many cases. Projects can invest in commercial products or develop customized platforms for their unique usage. This common data environment will act as a platform for project teams to realize the value of openBIM, facilitating data exchange, communication, and documentation.
  5. Align project members to design for FM (4/4)
    Successful openBIM projects all designed their information flow through the operation and maintenance (O&M) stage. Designing for O&M allows the information integrated during the design and construction stage useful, more importantly, readily available for the O&M stage. The mindset for designing for O&M is critical for implementing openBIM as it provides a clear goal of what information is needed as the final deliverable. Planning for and assigning responsibility to the insertion of the data to accountable parties should also be conducted early. Project managers should convey this idea to all project members, plan and prepare for the data needed for O&M, for instance, with the support of Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie).
  6. Appreciate the effort in detail modeling (3/4; Did not explicitly mention for one project)
    One of the benefits of openBIM is its power to aggregate information, which in conventional ways scattered across stakeholders, together into a single platform. Inputting data with the appropriate level of details by a responsible person should be planned and carried out throughout the project lifecycle; these details combine to provide the model's value.
  7. Embrace the new working process (4/4)
    Projects implementing openBIM emphasize data exchange, quality, and communication, leading to a deviated working process with traditional BIM projects. In order to benefit most from openBIM, most openBIM projects have a more integrated workflow, bringing all parties together through the CDE. Making sure project members are comfortable with breaking through routine and embracing these changes is thus important.
  8. Managing project with qualitative or quantitative performance measurements (4/4)
    Successful implementation of openBIM requires strong drive from client and support from all parties. Measuring and sharing the benefits of openBIM can help provide motivation for project members, allowing them to understand the reason behind this implementation. Through acknowledging the benefits from openBIM by means of qualitative or quantitative measurements, project managers can better manage and align their work with their openBIM objectives and project goals.

These eight critical success factors align well with the VDC Scorecard framework , under the four areas: Planning, Adoption, Technology, and Performance. The performance suggestions are explained in detail in the following session; openBIM implementation should be well-planned for, preparing for necessary documentation and guidelines for project members, aligning their mindset to the "new" process. Technology is the foundation for the implementation; investment and training are critical.

The summary of the eight critical success factors under the VDC scorecard framework is summarized in the table below:

VDC Scorecard Areas Critical Success Factors
  • Strong involvement and support from project owners on openBIM implementation
  • Set up clear openBIM objectives
  • Plan for the appropriate openBIM standards
  • Embrace the new working process
  • Align project members to design for FM
  • Investment in a common data environment
  • Appreciate the effort in detailed modeling
Performance Managing project with qualitative or quantitative performance measurements

The following section will discuss the use of performance measures to support openBIM implementation and how it links to the performance area of the VDC scorecard.

Performance Measurements for Evaluating the Implementation of openBIM
Performance measurements for virtual design and construction on buildings are generally applicable for infrastructure projects (Please refer to VDC Scorecard or KPI Dashboard for performance evaluation and metrics for BIM/VDC). Implementation of openBIM can be seen as a further advancement of BIM/VDC implementation where some benefits are unique to openBIM. In particular, benefits revolving around the theme of communication and data transfer.
For example:

  • Cost savings from avoided change orders
  • Cost savings from optimized schedule management
  • Time savings from avoiding searching through for accurate data
  • Time savings from avoided request for information (RFIs)
  • Time savings from data conversion

Figure 1 below illustrates how the benefits mentioned by the 4 cases align with the VDC scorecard eight objective categories framework. All projects mentioned typical VDC benefits such as reduction in change orders and improvement in structural analysis. They also show a strong commonality in describing the enhancement in data quality. With a common data environment (CDE), projects implementing openBIM can ensure the data quality of the model. An integrated issue management platform can also be set up on the CDE, facilitating data queries and management. Performance measurement

Figure 1: openBIM benefits under the 8 VDC Scorecard objectives framework
Figure 1: openBIM benefits under the 8 VDC Scorecard objectives framework

Progress Report October 2020

Overview & Observed Problem

Infrastructure is central to modern economic development and necessary for upholding the quality of life of citizens. From the transportation of goods and people, communication networks, to supporting basic human needs like electricity and clean water, infrastructure is critical to publics’ health and welfare. Therefore, infrastructures’ condition has a crucial impact on economy and the investment to maintain the well-functioning of infrastructures become an important part of infrastructure investment. Oxford Economics (2017) estimated that global infrastructure investment demand to be $94 trillion between 2016 and 2040. To meet this investment need, the world will need to increase the proportion of GDP dedicated to this from 3% to 3.5%. As shown in Figure 1, many countries are facing an investment gap in infrastructure.

Figure 1: Infrastructure Investment Gap by Region, 2016 – 2040

Figure 1: Infrastructure Investment Gap by Region, 2016 – 2040

In addition, the current COVID-19 pandemic has caused serious global economic depression. To stimulate economic recovery, the US Government has planned to spend $2 trillion and investing in infrastructure projects is one of the ways to inject the money to the market.

In its 2016 economic study, ASCE state that failing to close this infrastructure investment gap brings serious economic consequences:

  • $3.9 trillion in losses to the U.S. GDP by 2025;
  • $7 trillion in lost business sales by 2025; and
  • 2.5 million lost American jobs in 2025.

Responding to this circumstances, global public sectors start to recommend the use of openBIM in infrastructure projects as a part of their cost-saving efforts and measurement to improve the performance of these projects. As defined by the buildingSMART International, openBIM is a comprehensive approach to collaboration, design, construction and operation of built assets based on open standards and workflow. It supports seamless collaboration for all project participants, enhancing the interoperability and transparency of data flow, and improving the reliability of data exchange. Leveraging standard data schema such as openBIM becomes important for infrastructure project leaders when they harness innovation available.

Infrastructure project leaders, who must quantify, and report costs and benefits that VDC and openBIM bring to their projects, will be challenged by the lack of a standardized framework for benchmarking and reporting these values. How can we quantify potential benefits from openBIM such as enhanced interoperability, improved productivity and the associated operational cost like additional training cost, extra effort to input the required data for the standard data schema? How can we balance these factors and take advantage of openBIM instead of seeing it as a possible burden?

Our research team proposes to fill the need of a standardized framework by studying 10 global infrastructure projects, identifying the critical success factors for the use of openBIM, and compiling a set of assessment metrics to quantify the impact of openBIM. These metrics consists of 3 main categories, covering associated operational cost, project performance, and operation & maintenance metrics. In addition, our group will document the findings and recommendations including essential factors for successful implementation of openBIM in infrastructure projects, lessons learned in previous projects, metrics used, and more into a guide. The goal of this proposal is to support infrastructure project leaders to better manage implementation of IFC or other openBIM schema under the VDC framework.

Theoretical & Practical Points of Departure

The VDC Scorecard Research
The effort in understanding, measuring and even scoring the implementation of VDC in project-level has been around for years. Here in CIFE, our research group has also developed a VDC assessment tool: VDC Scorecard to access the maturity of VDC implementation in a project. The scorecard uses weighted metrics to score the given project through interviews or surveys. Performance indicators and key aspects of a successful implementation of VDC in project-level are recognized in the process of developing the scorecard and data analysis on the diverse data set with 146 projects from 15 countries, 11 facility types, and all 7 stages of the construction process.

Figure 2: VDC Scorecard Assessment of Filstal Bridge

Throughout the years, students from Stanford class CEE 112/212 have used VDC Scorecard (Kam, Song, and Senaratna 2017) to assess some infrastructure projects, for instance, the Filstal Bridge project in Germany, as shown in Figure 2. As one of the four pilot projects for the introduction of BIM in national infrastructure construction activities, there are a lot of room for improvement; in particular, the integration of discipline models and involvement of end users in the design and construction projects. VDC scorecard is not designed for evaluating infrastructure projects, resulting in a lack of metrics that are tailored for infrastructure projects only. In addition, the portion within the scorecard on data exchange is very limited, making it unable to represent accurately the performance of implementation of openBIM schema in projects. Although VDC Scorecard and our class did not focus on the assessment of infrastructure and openBIM schema, these example of VDC Scorecard assessment can act as a basis for developing the assessment metrics for evaluating the performance of the IFC implementation in infrastructure projects, as openBIM can be seen as an important founding block of the VDC framework. Experience on developing the scorecard can help identify critical areas for our case studies, and help extract useful performance indicators. 

buildingSMART’s Infrastructure Room1

Recognizing the importance of infrastructure and the need to develop open data standards for these structures, buildingSMART International formed a “room” that sole purpose is to enable process and data integration for infrastructures through open data schema. The scope of their work includes information exchange and process standards, linking and integrating across BIM and GIS. The objective of this infrastructure room is to:

  • Enable data exchange based on open standards for the planning, realization and maintenance of infrastructure works and ultimately all aspects of the built environment
  • Enable the exchange of information and open data access between asset management databases
  • Enable enduring archives of asset information based on open standards
  • Enable life cycle information management for infrastructure based on open standards
  • Enable the merging of project related information e.g. requirements and risks, with asset information

Figure 3 below illustrates their current project and activities, including bridges, alignments, roads, tunnels, etc. This current emphasis and development of open data schema provides a perfect opportunity for the design of a standardized evaluation framework that fits the “new” approaches, and assist the management of projects that utilizes it; helps quantify the impact of IFC and better leverage its potential.

Figure 3: IFC Development on Infrastructure (BIMForum19 BIM for Bridges and Structures)

Figure 3: IFC Development on Infrastructure (BIMForum19 BIM for Bridges and Structures)

Research Methods & Work Plan

To learn from previous projects, the 10 or more case studies, identify patterns and lessons learned, the proposed research will be divided into 2 major tasks.

Task 1: Identify and conduct case studies
Based on previous experience in the assessment of VDC on building projects, we will first identify and select case studies for the proposed research. The selection of the infrastructure projects should help facilitate the extraction of essential factors for successful implementation of openBIM. For each case studies, we will focus on major areas to assist organized documentation and extraction of the experience learned from projects. For instance, the BIM execution plan, the information flow between project participants, quantitative objectives set up, etc. 

Task 2: Document insights into a guide for infrastructure project leaders
Extract essential factors of openBIM implementation and lessons learned to avoid pitfalls

The research team will document the case studies, including project type, contract type, openBIM strategy, key performance indicators used, and more. From these cases, we will summarize the lessons learned, like common challenges, solutions to tackle the challenges, legal or security issues to avoid, etc. These lessons learned/ pitfalls will be further documented into essential factors for successful implementation of openBIM in infrastructure projects under the lens of VDC. 

Design assessment metrics for openBIM implementation under VDC framework in infrastructure projects

We will also design and recommend metrics during this task to measure the performance of openBIM implementation. This set of assessment metrics includes the associated operation cost and benefits, and will be validated through the case studies.

This research will deliver a guide for infrastructure project leaders which consistently documents the case studies and share our insights that includes:

  • Essential factors identified: Critical factors that support or hinder the successful implementation of openBIM in infrastructure projects. E.g. which contract type may be best based on the case studies for the implementation of openBIM.
  • Lessons learned: Identify patterns of applications, challenges and solutions of the projects. For example, what may be some challenges that the project team faces when assigning responsibilities and roles to team members for the insertion of data? What are some legal or security issues that future project leaders should avoid?
  • Assessment Metrics: Design and recommend metrics that helps infrastructure project leaders quantify the impact of IFC implementation and supports their management of VDC. These metrics are designed based on the metrics collected from the case studies and the experience learned. These metrics composes of 3 main categories:
    • Associated Operational Cost Metrics: implementation cost, training cost, operation cost, etc.
    • Project Performance Metrics: increase reliability of construction time and cost, enhanced productivity, etc.
    • Operation and Maintenance Metrics: more precise project delivery, reduced asset management cost, etc.

Aside from the guide to share our insights and recommendations, the research team are also open to offer workshops or webinars for CIFE members to share our research work, in particular the metrics and methodology extracted from the case studies.

Expected Contributions to Practice

It is expected that there will have huge investment in infrastructure projects in coming years for economy revitalization after the pandemic. The proposed research helps support decision-making for infrastructure project leaders on how to better adopt IFC or other openBIM data schema under the VDC framework. Based on the case studies, this research can also help facilitate the explanation of the value, through quantification, behind IFC implementation in projects for different stakeholders and parties involved through better understanding of the value behind the “extra” efforts.

Expected Contributions to Theory

For theoretical contributions, this research help identifies the essential factors for a successful openBIM-project, and establish a pool of case studies and their lessons learned regarding data ownership, data exchange, legal and security issues, and etc.


  • Kam, Calvin, Min Ho Song, and Devini Senaratna. "VDC scorecard: formulation, application, and validation." Journal of construction engineering and management 143.3 (2017): 04016100.
  • Economic Development Research Group. "Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America's Economic Future." ASCE, 2016.
  • Oxford Economics, “Global Infrastructure Outlook”, 2017


Original Proposal


Funding Year: 
Stakeholder Categories: 
Operators/Facility Managers