Forward with BIM

Facilities management practice is changing as FMs find new ways to collect and use data for improved building management. BIM is central to this, as Gary Watkins, CEO of Service Works Group, explains

BIM (building information modelling) has been hailed as the future of building design, construction and management. As the weight behind that view continues to grow, it’s clear that BIM offers many opportunities for the UK FM industry, with the prospect of new sources of improved data for the management of buildings and services.

With BIM already embraced by the design and construction communities, the challenge for facilities managers is leveraging the possibilities this technology offers. By taking a leading role in the emergence and deployment of BIM systems, FMs can streamline the move from construction to live operation and dramatically improve the day-to-day management of their facilities.

BIM is a way of designing, constructing, running and maintaining a building as a collaborative process using a single coherent and up-to-date system of computer models, rather than multiple sets of differing tools and documents. It provides a rich, 3D experience which includes digital simulations and rehearsals of all stages of the design, build and operate process. It also promotes collaborative working, allowing digital management and sharing of information by all partners.

Fundamentally, the power of BIM lies in the ready availability of information, enabling better informed decision-making, greater clarity, improved communication and, overall, better business outcomes.

The value of BIM has been slower to spread through facilities management than other built environment disciplines. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, some FMs feel that BIM is simply not relevant to them. Yet the data stored within BIM system files includes schedules and drawings as well as asset information such as cost, location, service life, carbon impact, maintenance, spares, re-ordering, substitution, serial numbers, warranty details and more. All this is on the must-have knowledge list of most FMs. Secondly, some FMs worry that the process of implementing BIM data may be very time and labour intensive, or requires detailed knowledge of CAD software and 3D modelling in order to make use of the information. Both are untrue.

The good news is that the positive message is spreading. This was confirmed recently in a BIFM survey developed in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. The survey questioned FM professionals on their awareness of BIM, its potential impact on the FM sector, and the benefits and challenges it presents.

Key findings included:

  • Eighty-three per cent of respondents believe BIM will help support the delivery of facilities management, with the same number indicating it is already having an impact, or will do, in the next five years
  • Eighty-three per cent agreed or strongly agreed that BIM has the potential to deliver significant added value to FM
  • Eighty-one per cent agreed or strongly agreed that BIM may offer companies that adopt and use it an advantage over those that
    do not.

There were some lingering concerns. Many participants were sceptical about the readiness of the FM industry as a whole to embrace and deploy BIM, but the vast majority (over 90 per cent) agreed that more familiarisation with the technology and its application would remedy this.

There are numerous reasons for FM professionals, both client and supply side, to use BIM to increase their operational efficiency, reduce costs and generate more useful data. BIM and CAFM software are natural allies in this and together become even more powerful tools.

Integrating BIM with existing FM software systems is the holy grail in terms of better quality, standardised data and improved reporting. Integrated systems enable FMs
to make more informed decisions though the whole lifecycle of the facility around areas such as space use, floor planning, equipment and asset maintenance, energy consumption and cost efficiencies. Integration means more valuable operational FM information, as well as more reliable data to report to the board.

An integrated BIM and CAFM system creates one version of the truth when the BIM data is updated with additions, amendments and deletions from the FM software system. And by having accurate, up-to-date and complete data ready when the building is handed over to the facilities and maintenance team, the cost of the traditional data capture from design and construction information to FM data is significantly reduced.

It’s been a little over a year since the implementation of the BIM mandate by the UK government for centrally procured projects as a way to reduce capital costs by 20 per cent, as well as providing increased efficiency and collaboration in the construction industry. In that context specifically, and across the wider built environment industry generally, there is an extensive bank of implementation experience, including, among many others, Durham Cathedral, Crossrail and Sydney Opera House.

This growing track record is making the benefits of BIM deployment eminently clear. BIM can provide cost savings at both delivery and operational stages by helping organisations strip waste from their processes. They can virtually build the facility as many times as necessary to create the perfect model – which also provides cost certainty. Improved efficiency and faster project delivery follows when all parties work together collaboratively, avoiding mistakes, discrepancies and duplicate work.

Other benefits include reduced risk; for example, BIM can be used to analyse and predict crowd behaviour, enabling designs to be optimised for public safety. Projects can be visualised at an early stage, giving owners and operators a clear idea of design intent and allowing them to modify the design to achieve the outcomes they want. This results in increased client satisfaction as the client receives a building that matches their expectations and needs.

Finally, BIM allows the professional FM to get involved at the design stage and have a real impact on the building outcome. This both improves the outcome and raises the profile of the FM function.

There is no doubt that BIM is the future. This is where the built environment industry collectively is headed.

Facilities teams often struggle to get the reliable, up-to-date building and asset data they need to produce the reports required for organisational management. By leveraging the reporting capabilities inherent in BIM, and coupling this with the power of FM software, information is stored in one place, making timely, accurate and in-depth reporting far easier – while at the same time raising the profile of facilities management.


There is no doubt that when used effectively, BIM allows organisations to streamline building management, improve carbon performance and derive cost savings in the longer term, through the use of open, shareable asset information. While standards such as COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) provide a standard for formatting BIM data, they do not specify what information should be collected. To fully leverage the potential of BIM, it is essential that key considerations are addressed from the outset.

First, establish what data is required from the BIM model at each phase of a building’s lifecycle. For example, geometry information, essential for architects during the design phase, may be of lesser concern once a facility is operational. Facilities managers will require accurate asset data (such as serial numbers and equipment attributes) if they are to rely on BIM data to support ongoing maintenance management.

Agree who is responsible for providing and collecting data during the design and construction phase – is it the architect, contractor or a specialist BIM consultant? If specialist contractors are employed on a project (for example, electrical or plumbing professionals), they may have clearer insight into the components used within the building. Capturing correct equipment data at the outset will aid maintenance planning in the long term.

It is also vital to ensure that the BIM model accurately reflects the assets as installed rather than specified. All too often, equipment specified at the outset may be changed due to cost constraints or updated client requirements. Component attributes cannot easily be verified once they have been built into the building fabric – for example, electric cabling laid under floors. If incomplete or outdated equipment data is stored on the BIM model, its benefit to facilities managers during live building operation is vastly diminished.

Integrating BIM with CAFM software provides an accurate source of equipment and building data, dramatically reducing the time taken to build an asset register and streamlining the move from construction to operation. It ensures that there is one version of the truth, allowing FMs to take informed decisions about space use, asset maintenance, energy consumption and cost efficiencies throughout the whole lifecycle of a facility. Using space management software, maintenance engineers can view a 3D visualisation of the asset and its location, together with all service history and specification, in advance of a maintenance visit, reducing repeat visits and improving response times.

Finally, set a guideline for applying BIM across multiple projects. Defining exactly what is required by the facilities team from the outset ensures that architects and contractors are fully informed about their obligations when populating the BIM model. This also ensures rapid and straightforward integration with CAFM software on all future projects, supporting effective long-term facilities management.

About Sarah OBeirne


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