Organizing Models and Elements

Information Hierarchy explains the mechanics of how Models, Elements, and parent-child relationships among Elements can be used together to model Entities in the real-world from various Modeling Perspectives and at various Modeling Granularities.

Top of the World explains how and why Elements are structured within the RepositoryModel to describe what the BIS Repository is “about”. The ‘leaf nodes’ in the RepositoryModel are InformationPartitionElements (henceforth “partitions”) that establish a Modeling Perspective for a given Subject.

This topic reviews those fundamentals and provides guidance to Domain authors and client developers on how and why Models and Elements are organized under partitions. Before diving into detailed explanations, we summarize the rules reviewed or established in this topic.

A Summary of Principles and Rules for Modeling with BIS

These principles and rules govern how Models and Elements are organized to model real-world Objects.

  • BIS conceives that a real-world Object consists of multiple Entities, each from a different Modeling Perspective.
  • An Element models an Entity.
  • An Element can only be placed in a Model of compatible Modeling Perspective.
  • A sub-Model of an Element models the same Entity as the Element, but at a finer granularity.
  • Models can only sub-model Elements of a compatible Modeling Perspective.
  • A parent Element identifies an Entity and may model a part of it, but it together with its child Elements model the Entity.
  • Parent Elements and Child Elements must be in the same Model.
  • A single party should be responsible for all Elements in a given Model.
  • A single party can be responsible for multiple Models.
  • Modeling the physical perspective:
    • Organize PhysicalModels and PhysicalElements primarily around the implementations of physical systems (that implement functions). These will tend to align with responsibility boundaries.
    • Where a physical Entity is part of multiple physical systems, it should be modeled by a PhysicalElement in a Model owned by the primary responsible party. Other parties can “share” the PhysicalElement using a PhysicalElementIncludesPhysicalElement relationship.
  • Within the constraints above, the domain author can impose additional organization for domain-specific reasons.
  • Domain authors should give users flexibility to further-partition for arbitrary reasons, so what could logically be modeled in a single Model could be partitioned into two, with one “including” the other.
  • “Include” relationships should never be recursive.
  • Software should not be too “rigid” in its expectations of how Elements are organized in to Models, especially in the physical perspective. Functional and analytical Models can be more rigid, because they are highly-specialized.

The Top-Model for Each Perspective

A top-Model models a top-level Entity from a specified perspective

As described in Top of the World the root Subject identifies the real-world Object modeled in a BIS Repository. When modeling an Object with BIS it is split into multiple Entities, one for each modeling perspective. Each modeling perspective is represented by a partition Element added as a child of the Subject. A top-Model is created for each partition to model the Object from the Entities perspective.

In summary:

  • Subject: mentions/identifies the highest-level Object to be modeled.
  • Partition: establishes the perspective-specific Entity of the Object to be modeled.
  • Top-Model: models the Entity from the given perspective.

BIS Repository and Real World Mapping

Contents of a top-Model

The top-Model models the complete Entity established by the Subject and partition.

The top-Model should contain one Element for each discrete Object included in the Subject. When the modeled Subject refers to a single discrete Object, the top-Model will contain only a single Element that corresponds directly to a perspective on that Object. In this case, the Code and DisplayLabel of that Element may be the same or similar to that of the Subject (particularly if this is the [Primary Perspective] for the Object.) because they are “about” the same thing.

When the modeled Subject is ‘compound’ (referring to multiple discrete Objects), there will be multiple Elements in the top-Model. An example compound-Subject might be “Deliverables of Phase II of Project X”. The project’s contract will contain a list of the top-level things-to-be-built, and the top-Model would contain one Element for each thing-to-be-built in that list. This honors the Single Responsible Party Principal (SRPP) because one General Contractor will ultimately be responsible for all of the deliverables.

If you find that a top-Model is unable to follow the SRPP, then the modeled-Subject needs to be decomposed into child Subjects. For example, with a compound-Subject like “The Dock and the largest boat that must be able to dock there”. The top-Model for that Subject would contain separate Elements for the dock and the boat, but a single party is unlikely to be responsible for both. Creating “Dock” and “Boat” child Subjects solves this problem.

Modeling from the “Top-Model” on down

The top-Model is where modeling from a given perspective really begins. As a domain author, you are faced with many options for modeling your domain, which are described below.

Multiple domain contexts

There will be distinct Digital Twins for design phases like Design, Construction, and Operations, and for major categories of infrastructure like Cities or Buildings or other facilities. There should be as much commonality among these as possible, but the domain author must have an awareness of the kinds of Digital Twins and the range of workflows where their domain is relevant. The modeling decisions discussed below occur in the context of those Digital Twins and workflows.

Domain authors should study examples of other domain schemas to see how others have addressed modeling challenges.

The many considerations

The domain author has a tough job. They must consider:

  • Object boundaries: Consider the real-world and conceptually carve it up into Objects
  • Entity boundaries: Carve those Objects up into Entities.
  • Whole-part relationships: Consider the whole-part relationships among the Entities (and how to model them.)
  • Other Relationships: Consider other relationships among Entities (and how to model them).
  • Attributes: Consider the attributes of the Entities (and how to model them).

The “Object boundaries” consideration is business-as-usual for data modelers and will not be covered here.

The “Entity boundaries” consideration is covered in discussions of Modeling Perspectives.

The remaining considerations will be covered in the following sections.

Whole-Part Relationships

Each Entity will be modeled with an Element. Does the Entity have “parts” that are worth modeling individually in the given context? The answer to that question will lead to one of three choices:

  • “Atomic” Element: There are no “parts” to model. Atomic Elements can still model significant internal structure using the GeometryStream, Properties, and ElementAspects.
  • Parent-Child Modeling: The whole Entity is modeled as “parts” consisting of a parent Element and its child Elements. The “sum” of the parent and child Elements models the whole Entity. These Elements implement IParentElement. See Parent-Child Relationships.
  • Sub-modeling: The “parts” are modeled in a sub-Model of this Element. The sub-modeled Element represents the whole Entity. The “sum” of all Elements in the sub-Model of the Element also represents the whole Entity, but at a finer granularity. These Elements implement ISubModeledElement.

In the picture below, Entity 0 is modeled with an ISubModeledElement, so Element P-0 represents the whole Entity 0, and its sub-Model also represents the whole Entity 0, at a different granularity. Entity 4 is modeled as an IParentElement, so Elements P-4, P-5, and P-6 collectively represent Entity 4 and its parts.

Whole-Part Mapping

Use these questions to determine whether to use parent-child modeling vs sub-modeling:

Whole-Part Mapping Flowchart

That last question needs elaboration. What are typical reasons why users need to both model the Entity as-a-whole and also model it as a collection of fine-grained parts? Reasons include:

  • According to the SRPP, if one party determines that X should exist in a particular place, but delegates responsibility for modeling X in detail to a second party, the delegate would need to do their work in their own Model.
  • If some workflows want to deal with the Entity-as-a-whole, but other workflows (e.g. fabrication for construction) need to deal with it as a set of parts, the fabricator would want a Model focused on the parts used to fabricate the whole.

As a boundary case, if one of the parts is clearly a “lead” part, e.g. a “Beam” with specific additions (welded on) or subtractions (cut out) then maybe parent-child is more appropriate. The decision to use parent-child modeling vs sub-modeling can be quite tricky. You should examine schemas from comparable domains and consult experts, if possible.


Next: Modeling Systems

Last Updated: 13 August, 2019