Clients have many reasons not to use BIM, but mainly it’s because we as an industry are making it unnecessarily complex for them


It seems that BIM is gathering momentum across our industry. However in my view there are still many colleagues across the construction industry that remain sceptical of the benefits of BIM. Why is this so? Perhaps they perceive that the majority of benefits of BIM are reserved for the design and delivery teams? 

Some clients with whom I have discussed this trend offer these three main reasons for their lack of take up. They say “we already have our own FM software package. The BIM models are different and we don’t want two different systems”. Or they say “We are used to a traditional O&M manual, and the BIM ‘data’ comes in a different language and format”. And finally they will say to me “We don’t want to buy expensive software or hardware to access the data”.

Of course the data experts will tell them they can receive useful data in the form of the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (Cobia), a type of vast spreadsheets. However, fewer experts are able to tell them just how easy it is to link this with their own O&M systems, their own FM software or to read it in its own right. As FM companies deal with millions of square metres of existing buildings (largely not on BIM) compared with new ones which have been BIM’d, they don’t see the need to overhaul their products to suit a new format. The majority of buildings out there are more than 10 years old and haven’t seen BIM in any shape or form.

As FM companies deal with millions of square metres of existing buildings (largely not on BIM) compared with new ones which have been BIM’d, they don’t see the need to overhaul their products to suit a new format

As the many new buildings designed with BIM come online, there will be a shift, but only if BIM professionals and software providers engage with the FM world about “essential data” and not just “data drops”.  As a result many project stakeholders are being put off the benefits of the data because of the perceived complexity. To them it is a foreign language … COBie, IFCs, data drops etc. It’s not for the faint hearted and who can blame them. This is such a great pity. We should do something about it. But what can be done and who should do it? We need an alternative, client friendly set of information which they can readily receive and use.

We all know that the government projects require COBie by 2016 but for many non-government clients it fails to satisfy their specific needs as owners, occupiers and asset maintainers. They are not so much interested in rebar, drainage or steelwork connection details as they are in the information they need to operate and repair-maintainable assets - lights, fans, filters, carpets, finishes etc.

While we know you can extract limited data via COBie if you wish, no one is helping them understand this. Few FM companies are engaged, it appears, and the major software vendors appear to be very quiet in this space.

Our industry should offer, (and certainly Balfour Beatty is offering) a BIM data ‘lite’ approach for those for whom full COBie is just too cumbersome and scary.

With the understanding of FM software and assets the client needs to target, we can help them understand their needs via free viewing software and import the results into asset surveying/ life cycle planning software (KyKloud to name one variety). The result is that they have useful data on areas, materials, zones, volumes and key components – which covers the majority of their needs – without the admin hassle of the full COBie drop and the intensive data management which goes along with it.

For example, we have seen this shift with a leading multisite client who has built several schemes in BIM via Balfour Beatty and we are now setting up future life cycle plan, condition and statutory inspections. The data we need is simple. A colleague from KyKloud involved in maintenance and life cycle planning tells me that most FM providers need to know five things: They need the key asset quantities, the specification, the typical performance and warranty data, what maintenance is required and where it is.

The FM world isn’t warming to COBie spreadsheets (if they even know what it is!). The feedback we have had from them includes the comment “COBie is a spreadsheet, we use asset management databases”.  COBie also doesn’t handle “portfolio” or multiple facility level asset data.

Many of the fields that are useful for FM (e.g. service life data) exist but don’t get used at design stage - often because the designers are not armed with the information to populate them.

As clients begin to see companies who are making it easy to use the BIM data at handover, (rather than those trying to train them to be master Cobie-ites or IFC agents) they will begin to harness the ultimate benefits; which is good for all of us. Simplicity not complexity is the key to unlocking the potential. The ability to share, understand and interpret asset critical information with a team is more beneficial than the restriction of vital data to the few who require such specialist skills to unlock it.

We need more BIM “data lite” agility and less data heavy loading.

Peter Trebilcock chairs Balfour Beatty’s UK-wide design community of practice and its UK BIM Steering Group