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History of VANZI and Development of VANZ/DBE Concept

VANZI arose out of a need to model a proposed solution to port-related logistics.

In 2010, Michael Haines was heading a new port-logistics company exploring the use of 'inter-modal hubs' to move container freight into and out of the Port of Melbourne more efficiently.  The difficulty was in getting some 300 disparate stakeholders to visualise the proposal - to understand how it could benefit them, and the community.  From experience in the vehicle industry, Michael hoped to use 3D simulation to engage stakeholders.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the data to support the model did not exist, or was under the control of many different entities and could not be readily accessed.

After talking with representatives from the 'geo-spatial' industry about the problem, in late 2010 he was invited to speak at spatial@gov.  At that conference, Michael called on the industry to look beyond 'mapping' and 'location', to see how the emerging 3D technologies could be leveraged to provide realistic context for the simulation of large scale transport flows.  By taking a 'high level' view, users could see the whole network as a 'system', but then zoom down to the operating level to better understand bottlenecks, inefficient stacking patterns and vehicle movements in 3D.

Following the conference, a workshop was arranged that generated lots of discussion and ideas - but no clear way forward.

Then in early 2011, Dr Peter Woodgate, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), agreed to set up a new company: VANZI Ltd, with Michael as CEO. Its initial aim was to promote the integration of spatial and simulation software. Stuart Cole, then with National Information and Communications Technologies of Australia (NICTA), also saw the benefits of incorporating newly developed 'optimisation' tools and agreed to join the Board. Dr David Platt brought in the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), representing Local Government's interests in planning, building and asset management.  Prof Bill Appelbe, CEO of the Victorian Partnership for Advanced Computing (VPAC), rounded out the initial team with expertise in simulation and large scale IT project management.

While not originally a part of the Board, the Land Information New Zealand has remained keenly interested in and supportive of the project, hence: the 'NZ' in VANZI.​

During succeeding months Michael continued to engage with government and the spatial industry and again presented at spatial@gov in 2011, outlining the fuzzy beginnings of the Framework... though without any clear idea of how it could be put into practice.  In particular, it was missing a key ingredient: the structural side of the whole built environment!

By good fortune, in early 2012 Michael was invited to a workshop being conducted by buildingSMART, where he met the Chair, John Mitchell.  The workshop was one of a series to get stakeholder feedback on a Federal Government proposal to require the use of Building Information Models (BIM) for all new Federal buildings after 2016 (the National BIM Initiative).

Both John and Michael soon recognised that BIM was the missing part of the VANZ Framework.  Until then, VANZI's focus had been on 'spatial' modelling, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.  GIS uses data captured remotely from satellites, aircraft and vehicles to represent the external surfaces of the world.​

BIM is relatively new software that allows integration of many different data sets generated in the design process to be brought together into a coherent realistic 3D model, including all internal spaces and building components.

In essence, VANZ/DBE needed to integrate GIS and BIM data so individual buildings could be seen in their spatial context.

With this insight, VANZI was invited to be part of the buildingSMART team investigating the work required to implement the National BIM Initiative.

​This shifted Michael's focus to understanding the challenges faced by professionals in the property sector in gathering and managing 3D building data.  Unlike GIS data which is mainly in the public domain, BIM data is primarily about private spaces.  This raises concerns not only for privacy, but also security and liability, as well as issues of copyright. Integrity and longevity of the data also becomes paramount during design and construction, as well as for asset management over the life of the building.

To address the problem ​​​​​​​​​​of how to designate the 'authoritative' data set, and to manage the ever growing pool of data, it was proposed that only 3D computer models lodged with the Local Government (for building approval, or voluntarily), or government or utility buildings and infrastructure, would qualify as 'VANZ/DBE Data'.

buildingSMART included the revised VANZ/DBE Framework as a key part of the National BIM Initiative which is now before the Australian Government.

​​Until this point there had been little interaction between the two communities: 'spatial' and 'building' modelling in Australia.  However, this is rapidly changing with an increasing number of software providers offering more integrated products.

​John Mitchell subsequently joined the VANZI Board, with buildingSMART agreeing to provide reciprocal support for the VANZ/DBE Framework.  He was later replaced by Jim Plume, Secretary of buildingSMART.


On 30 July 2012, a workshop of some 80 VANZ/DBE Stakeholders from across all levels of Government, as well as property professionals and technology providers met to consider the Benefits, Challenges and Countermeasures relating to the Revised Framework.​​​​​​​​​​​  This workshop was crucial in taking VANZ/DBE to its next stage, and was funded primarily by Regional Development Australia, Sydney, whose CEO Bob Germaine held a similar vision for an integrated 3D virtual world to assist city planning.

While support for the overall vision was growing, it became clear from the workshop that the proposed solution to the 'authoritative data management' problem was incomplete: it was not going to be possible to rely on Local Government alone to take on the majority of this challenge.

​The idea of a formal 'Data Bank' Network emerged as a solution after Michael began looking for other examples of how society manages transaction data.  This approach allows Government bodies and utilities to establish their own 'Data Banks', or use a commercial service - with all costs being passed to property owners in exchange for improved and overall less costly design, approval, construction and asset management processes

The role of Government is then limited to establishing the appropriate legal framework and in regulating the Data Banks to ensure compliance.​​

With this idea, Government interest in the project escalated, including support from the Federal Office of Spatial Policy and the Major Cities Unit, as well as Victorian Department of Business and Innovation.  The New Zealand Government has been an ongoing supporter through its Department of Land Information and is now expanding its support through its Department of Building, Innovation and Employment.

In late 2012, Prof Michael Fraser Director of the University of Technology, Sydney's Communication Law Centre and Chair of the Australian Copyright Council agreed to lead the Legal Workgroup when it is set up.  This will examine the regulatory issues raised by VANZ/DBE in order to develop a uniform legal framework across Australia and New Zealand.  It will be based on the principle that whatever rights, restrictions and responsibilities apply in the Real World, should, as far as possible, be mirrored in VANZ.

Also in late 2012, Prof Abbas Rajabifard, Head of Department of Infrastructure Engineering, and Director of the Centre for Spatial Data Infrastructures and Land Information at Melbourne University agreed to join the VANZ/DBE project.  Prof Rajabifard has promoted the idea of 'Virtual Australia' for many years and now leads a project looking at how processes within the Victorian Land Office can be integrated into the virtual world.  This work is key to understanding how to authenticate ownership, and permit real time authorisation for access to VANZ/DBE, based on title. He is also looking at how we can geo-reference all 'property-related' legislation to easily link it to specific properties, without the need for anyone to conduct searches and analysis of the complete body of law that may apply to any property. 

In early 2013, the first Technology Workgroup was formed to look at the technical issues involved in creating VANZ/DBE and to help develop a VANZ/DBE Demonstrator in each capital city across Australia and New Zealand.


By late 2013, it became apparent that the VANZ Initiative was better aligned with buildingSMART and the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA); as these organizations are more directly focussed on the VANZ/DBE user community within the planning, building and property sectors.


This is no reflection on the CRCSI.  VANZI remains deeply appreciative of the support offered in the early stages of the project. The switch to SIBA was simply a pragmatic decision based on how best to take the project forward.


To facilitate this move, VANZI Ltd was de-registered and shifted to become a knowledge centre within SIBA (to save money!), working in conjunction with buildingSMART.


In 2013 and 2014 Conferences were held to promote the development of the VANZ Framework to underpin creation of the Digital Built Environment.  The 2014 Conference was jointly sponsored by buildingSMART and opened by Paul Fletcher, Parliamentary Secretary for the Australian Federal Minister for Communications.  The conference continued the push for formal recognition of the DBE.


In July 2015, a new paper was prepared by buildingSMART and the Spatial Industries Association promoting the integration of Building Information Modelling and Geographic Information Systems.  This paper has endorsed the need to establish robust legally enforceable mechanisms to manage access rights to the information held in the DBE.  The paper has specifically referenced the two core concepts proposed in VANZ initiative, namely: 1) that access rights to information held in the DBE should align with legal property ownership rights in the real world, and 2) that access should be brokered through a network of “data banks” (analogous to financial banks) where people can securely lodge built environment information and gain access to information regulated by those access privileges.

In November 2015 the 3D Qld Taskforce issued a tender for development of the 3D Qld Road Map that included as part of its requirements investigation and application of the VANZ/DBE vision.

Michael Haines put together the team that won the tender under the banner of ACIL Allen Consulting

In April 2016 the team was commissioned to undertake the work in two parts.  The first part involved widespread to consultations to understand the challenges faced by industry and government in moving to a 3D Digital Cadastre and in creating, storing, accessing and sharing 3D data to build a federated DBE.  This report was completed in February 2017 and released to the public in April 2017.

At the suggestion of a number of stakeholders, a workshop was held in Feb, 2018 with the aim of attracting participants to form a National Workgroup to formulate the Governance Framework for VANZ/DBE.  By the end of 2018, the Workgroup has expanded to around 80 organizations from around Australia covering most of the stakeholder groups.

Part 2 of the Road Map, setting out the steps to develop a 3D Cadastre and the DBE was completed in May 2018 and released in October, 2018.

Work is continuing to gather industry and government support for the initiative, as the technology to deliver the vision continues apace.  It is anticipated that, as the technology becomes more common place, recognition will grow of the need for a formal framework to integrate the many interests in the DBE - to reduce cost and improve clarity of access rights.


Any organisation interested in participating should contact Michael Haines.


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