According to a speaker at the RICS Digital Built Environment Conference a key tipping point for the adoption of BIM (Building Information Modelling) will come once digital asset management systems can freely enable clients to accept and use BIM data straightaway. What more can be done to encourage FMs to understand and reap the benefits of BIM?
I asked a construction software business executive the same question. His response was blunt: “Don’t call it BIM.” Despite long involvement in the UK’s BIM adoption programme, he felt the abbreviation was often unhelpful, particularly to people who do not see themselves as being involved in ‘building’ (ie: planning, designing or constructing built assets).
“We need to use the language of the people who own, occupy, operate and maintain buildings and other built assets,” he said. BIM benefits will include end-users quickly finding the right information at the right time and in the right format they need to do their jobs more easily and at lower cost, without having to learn any complex new terminology, let alone new technology.
“Often the frontline issue does not require comprehensive detail on a component’s dimensions, its manufacturer, or its constituent raw materials. It may be a more practical question – how do I clean that surface, or how do I replace that thing when it breaks down?”
Engaging the FM team and other end-users in the earliest planning and design stages of projects is key. Asking stakeholders ‘plain language questions’ is a vital when planning and delivering a project.
At the brief stage, the Ministry of Justice, for example, explicitly asks “What information do facilities managers need to manage the soft and hard utilities? Are there any specific FM requirements regarding generic or specific products?”
FM needs are also raised during design (“Does the design meet the FM’s needs e.g. access, adaptability, cost, information on the basis of design, accommodation etc?”) and again at handover, when key information (operation guides, maintenance manuals, etc) about how the facility will be operated and maintained are made available for transfer to FM systems.
BIM aficionados may talk about EIRs (Employer’s Information Requirements), CDEs (Common Data Environments), or about COBie (Construction Operations Building information exchange) data requirements. But to many busy FMs this is obscure techno-babble best dealt with by their CAFM providers.
Ideally, if the asset has been well designed with the end in mind, relevant asset information should literally be available at the fingertips of owners, FM professionals and their teams. Intuitive-to-use CAFM apps on mobile devices should present instant answers to plain language questions, simple searches and location queries. Frontline staff would thus, inadvertently, become expert users of BIM data. And, as operational data updates the model, users are also creating information to help future ownership and operation become even more efficient.
We all know BIM-enabled facilities management is still fairly rare, especially when compared to BIM adoption levels during a buildings’ planning, design and construction phases. While it’s still an everyday occurrence to pass physical files between colleagues and handwritten maintenance logs are still commonplace, digitisation is picking up pace and FM BIM adoption is at a tipping point.
BIM adoption rates rise systematically in a way that mirrors the building process, as you’d expect the highest BIM levels are found at the earlier construction stages; planning and design. Time will naturally lead to improved BIM FM rates as those buildings planned, designed and built using BIM come on stream. Realistically, BIM FM is only going to be used in new buildings, retrospective installation is many years away.
There are a few things that need to be addressed and planned for by the industry to truly speed up adoption.
FM is an outsourced function and key to driving adoption is demonstrating the benefits to clients. They need to be aware of how BIM implementation can lead to improved lifetime efficiencies. A few years ago there wasn’t the understanding of what it could do at a client level, now the building and construction industry is seeing an uptick in enquiries about how BIM can benefit estates, so it’s clear that perceptions are starting to change.
The best FM BIM based software system in the world cannot overcome poor design. FMs need to be in the design phase zero conversations, so that they can say: if you design something that way costs will go up. FMs have to be part of the conversation from day one talking about building lifecycle costs and clients really need to factor this strategic FM involvement into to their design phase costs. When used well BIM allows FMs to plan and make significant and informed decisions about the whole of the building’s life including space use, floor planning, maintenance, energy consumption, even before the building is complete. Problems can be swiftly identified before they arise. Consumables such as light bulbs can be automatically re-ordered. This is machine learning in action.
Increasingly BIM data is being passed from the build programme, through to the operations and maintenance phase of the building lifecycle, and we’re seeing a digital handover along with the keys. FMs then gain access to a Common Data Environment, a digital logbook for each building of exactly what’s been installed and when along with maintenance records. These digital logbooks clearly outline everyone’s roles and responsibilities, helping to ensure that no specification is overlooked, maintenance schedules are on track and FMs are alerted to problems with the building’s systems.
BIM will allow for smart FM in action where facilities managers can make informed choices with all the information.