Michael de Lint / RESCON
The previous government’s “Development Approval Roundtable Action Plan” released in November 2017 included recommendation No. 13, calling for a close look at expanding “e-permitting” for municipal and provincial land use and development approvals. Bill 154, the “Cutting Unnecessary Red Tape Act,” passed in November 2017, gave businesses submitting documents to a government ministry the option to submit that information digitally.
The province has a key role to support e-permitting and BIM by endorsing a common information sharing platform. Most G7 countries have already made efforts to develop such a common platform
Ontario municipalities are developing or expanding e-permitting systems
The Large Municipalities Chief Building Officials Association (LMCBO) -- working with the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA) -- is now leading an effort to expand e-permitting in Ontario. Ontario is learning from other jurisdictions how to best implement comprehensive e-permitting, while taking an approach that is right for our situation.
In the meantime, many individual Ontario municipalities continue to develop, improve or expand their own e-permitting systems.
For example, “Mississauga ePlans” currently allows for online applications for pre-application meetings for development applications; site plan approval; occupancy permits (zoning); building permits; and sign permits. Benefits include: timeframes for the first review of applications is down by 30%; the overall time to issue a building permit is down by 8%; a drastic reduction in storage space requirements; improved reviewing capacity and faster circulation of applications among city staff; as well as better overall quality and efficiency of permit services. Expanded and comprehensive e-permitting systems linking all applicable law agencies would produce bigger benefits.
Several other Ontario municipalities are active on the e-permitting front. For example, Waterloo currently reviews all submissions electronically, with changes shared and recorded electronically. The design industry appreciates this more professional and convenient way of exchanging information. In addition, Windsor is currently working with Evolta on a comprehensive e-permitting system.
Expanded e-permitting a key recommendation of RESCON’s streamlining report
The OBOA’s Aubrey LeBlanc the LMCBO’s Ralph Kaminski, and the University of Toronto’s Dr. Arash Shahi, were among the blue-ribbon steering and working group members that made valuable contributions to RESCON’s report “Streamlining the Development and Building Approval Process in Ontario” that was published in July.
Dr. Arash Shahi, University of Toronto
That report outlined, rather boldly, key functionalities of an “end state” e-permitting/BIM system, based on input from industry, and regulatory agencies. Some of those key functionalities include: a common application front end (building on Ontario’s standard building permit application form); a seamless link between cloud-based and existing local legacy elements (several municipalities have their own e-permitting system); it is enabled for integrated 3D BIM and GIS submissions; and it is based on a common information sharing platform linking municipal departments and external (“applicable law”) agencies.
The e-permitting and BIM hierarchy
Implementation or the evolution of comprehensive e-permitting and BIM can be described with the following four-level scheme. “Level 0” (paper submission of plans); “Level 1” (e-submission of digital 2D plans); "Level 2” (e-submission of digital 3D BIM plans; and “Level 4” (e-submission of integrated 3D BIM and GIS information). The “end-state” functionalities in the RESCON streamlining report proposes includes Level 4 and other features. Manufacturers, designers and software providers must move in harmony with the authorities who create by-laws, statutes and regulations to prepare for a shift to electronic plan review (e-review).
Singapore’s sustained support for standards over 20 years
As reported in an earlier blog on this website, Singapore, a city-state of 5.6 million people, has been a world leader in the adoption of e-permitting and BIM. This did not happen overnight. It was the result of more than 20 years of state level work and investment, from which we can all learn.
Before the reforms most of the agencies had different information requirements. For example, every agency had its own application form for basic information and data resulting in applicants having to complete several application forms containing almost identical information.
By early 2001, most of Singapore’s construction firms already used computer-aided design software (CAD) but the designs were not easily shared among private firms and government agencies because CAD symbols, layers and data were not standardized. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) set up a group to develop performance standards and common technical specifications to support an electronic platform. This group (Singapore Standard or CP83), which included about 150 members from the private and public sectors, also looked at process improvements (e.g., fast-tracking, low-risk projects), and other process improvements such as giving more responsibility to qualified professionals (licensed engineers or architects).
Some key milestones in the evolution of Singapore’s system:
- In the early 1990s, Singapore’s IT2000 Master Plan focused on using information technology for improved productivity and competitiveness. In 1995, the CORENET (Construction and Real Estate Network) was launched to connect private firms and government agencies.
- By 2001, a common data sharing standard was established – the Singapore Standard or CP83. To encourage its use, professional associations and public agencies signed an MOU.
- In 2004, e-permitting was mandatory. By 2009, permit processing times went from 102 to 38 days.
- In 2010, the Building Construction Authority (BCA) started covering BIM training and hardware costs.
- Starting in 2010, CORENET accepted architectural BIM submissions and in 2011, structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing submissions. Processing times were reduced to 25 days.
- In 2015, BIM submissions became mandatory for projects greater than 5,000 sq.m.
- Today, Singapore is leading the way in automated code checking using BIM-linked software.
The Singapore system has resulted in big efficiency improvements and savings for all private and public agencies. The fact that Singapore is a city-state has made things a little easier. However, developing a common data transfer standard applicable to relevant municipal and provincial agencies is perfectly feasible. Other G7 countries are already working on this.
There are two key methods for encouraging BIM and e-permitting:
1. government procurement policies that require the use of BIM for larger building projects; and,
2. establishing a BIM and e-permitting standards for data and file transfers that are open and provide a common platform for all vendors to allow for a competitive marketplace among different BIM and e-permitting vendors.
The IFC (Industry Foundation Class) data model
BIM users among designers and contractors, have adopted the Industry Foundation Class (IFC) data model, which is registered by the ISO and is an official international standard. This standard intended to describe building and construction industry data but rather is an open file format specification that is not controlled by a single vendor or group of vendors. IFC is intended to facilitate interoperability in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry and is commonly used for collaborations in BIM-enabled projects.
Experts say that while the IFC standard is not perfect, Ontario should probably adopt this as a starting point for its own data and file transfer standard.
Public procurement and standardization initiatives in other jurisdictions
Many jurisdictions are supporting expanded e-permitting and BIM through public procurement and standards development activities.
Finland: It started working on implementing BIM in 2002. By 2007, the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries had mandated that all design software packages needed to pass Industry Foundation Class (IFC) certification. As reported in a previous blog, Finland’s Evolta “Permit Point” e-permitting system opened for service in 2013 with more than 240 municipalities using the system.
United States: The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) formulated the National 3D-4D, BIM-mandated BIM for public building projects in 2003. In 2010, Wisconsin became the first U.S. state to require all public projects with a budget of $5M to incorporate BIM. Today, 72% of construction firms are using BIM. However, there is no U.S. BIM standard in sight.
United Kingdom: TheU.K. is a major BIM champion because of a clear national strategy and government support. Since April 2016, as part of the government’s construction strategy, seeking to achieve 20% savings in procurement costs, all centrally procured construction projects must achieve BIM level 2. The U.K. BIM Task Group undertook the development of a suite of standards and definitions provide the base for BIM level 2, now hosted by the British Standards Institution (BSI).
Norway: The Norwegian Home Builders' Association has been actively promoting the use of BIM. Since 2010, all projects by Statsbygg, the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property, which is responsible for construction and property management on behalf of the Norwegian Government, has been using IFC based BIM for the whole lifecycle of their buildings.
France: In 2014, France decided that it would develop 500,000 houses using BIM by 2017 with a budget of 20 million euro to digitize the building industry. This is part of the French government’s Digital Transition Plan for the construction industry which included the development of BIM standards for infrastructure projects. The French Region of Burgundy has been using BIM models for managing building operations (mostly high schools) since 2004, and now works exclusively with a BIM-based process for construction, maintenance and building operations.
South Korea: The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has provided $5.8 million over a period of three years to build open BIM-based building design standards and information technology. Since 2016, the Public Procurement Service has made BIM compulsory for all public-sector projects over S$50 million.
Russia: The use of BIM is likely to become compulsory on all construction projects commissioned by the Russian government after 2019. Moscow has been influenced by the U.K.’s BIM implementation experience.
As you can see, there is considerable activity worldwide on the issue of e-permitting and BIM standards.
University of Toronto’s BIM-driven productivity improvements
The University of Toronto’s Building Tall Research Centre, at the U of T’s Department of Civil Engineering, has been working with RESCON on ways to expand BIM and e-permitting in Ontario. A new U of T project seeks to expand the use of BIM during the permitting as well as the construction processes. As part of this project, RESCON and U of T will be working with local municipalities to develop a BIM-enabled e-permitting platform that allows for BIM submissions and takes advantage of automated code compliance techniques to streamline the permitting processes. Also, a trailer equipped with state-of-the-art virtual and augmented reality equipment will be housed at one of the tall building sites in the City of Toronto, allowing construction trades and workers to get a hands-on and immersive experience of BIM on the construction site. This trailer is envisioned as a collaboration and educational tool and will be the first of its kind in the construction industry. These research initiatives will enable RESCON, U of T and more importantly the local construction industry to be on the leading edge of technological advancements and to take advantage of the many productivity benefits that can be achieved.
The project, led by U of T Civil Engineering Prof. Brenda McCabe and Dr. Arash Shahi, the associate director of Building Tall Research Centre, is expected to begin this fall and will help to further expand the use of BIM and e-permitting in Ontario.
Mobi Inspect – Waterloo’s Smart Phone Inspector App
In addition, the City of Waterloo worked with Partho Technologies to develop an inspection reporting smart phone app. His app is designed to work on any platform and integrate with any backend system.
“The product, which is one of the first to unite municipalities in a unified approach to inspections through a common technology, will be enhanced collaboratively with all participating municipalities,” says Waterloo CBO Ralph Kaminski.
This innovative approach to working with vendors and a group of municipalities, will significantly improve uniformity in building inspections.
Ralph Kaminski, Waterloo chief building official
OBOA conference in Kingston
Expanding e-permitting in Ontario was one of the priority topics at the recent OBOA conference in Kingston. There is a convergence of opinion within the OBOA and LMCBO leadership that setting a common data and file transfer standard is key to advancing comprehensive e-permitting across the province, while ensuring a competitive and dynamic marketplace that includes competing e-permitting and BIM vendors operating on common platform.
OBOA and LMCBO are now collaborating on the issue of a common standard. This work involves establishing essential agency processes necessary for determining compliance and based on that, establishing key data that must adhere to the international IFC standard.
At the conference, we heard from two vendors, Evolta (currently working with the City of Windsor) and Partho (currently showcasing its eUDSys). Both firms have indicated that they are interested in working with us on this project.
We now have a convergence of key players interested in comprehensive e-permitting in Ontario: the design community which is already using BIM quite extensively (as evident from a recent U of T survey); the LMCBO, which is working with the OBOA to set up a working group to create a common data platform; some Ontario municipalities are early e-permitting adopters such as Mississauga, Waterloo and more recently Windsor; the University of Toronto; and the province which is aware of the need to move to a digital platform for provincial services.
The next critical step is to develop a data and file platform that can serve as the launching pad for an expanded, modernized e-permitting and BIM system that also brings in the development and applicable law agencies – and this is after all where we find the big delays.
Michael de Lint is RESCON’s director of building regulatory reform and technical standards. Email him at email@example.com.