What can BIM offer facilities managment and will it have a transformative impact on building operation?



Driven by a combination of government policy and desperate economic circumstances, the construction industry is adopting building information modelling in droves. The benefits are well documented - BIM enables project teams to develop co-ordinated designs and plan delivery so by the time the job hits site it runs like clockwork, reducing risk and saving money. There are other advantages - developer Sellar eliminated a whole basement floor from its London Bridge scheme, The Place, by packaging the services more efficiently using BIM. Sellar reckons the process saved 10% of the build cost.

The government is targeting a 20% saving on project delivery by the end of this parliament, with BIM as a key plank in this strategy. It hopes more can be saved by using BIM to run buildings more efficiently, which is one of the reasons for mandating BIM to begin with. Government implementation body the BIM Task Group says “the largest prize for BIM lies in the operational stages of the project life-cycle” and has put measures in place to ensure that these benefits are realised.

But nobody has managed to quantify these operational benefits. The industry is so focused on the design and construction aspects of BIM that the operational advantages have been pushed into a siding. So, what can BIM offer the facilities manager and will it have the same, transformative impact on building operation as it is having on design and construction?


There is plenty of evidence to show BIM saves money during construction – developer Sellar saved 10% on the costs of building the Place – but nothing to demonstrate the savings on building operation


On handover, facilities managers must identify all components needing regular maintenance within the building and work up a planned maintenance regime. The building asset register lists the components and includes a description, warranties and maintenance information. This can be contained within a computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) system, which is used to manage this data and generate the planned preventative maintenance schedules.

Traditionally this information arrives as a huge pile of operation and maintenance manuals. According to Kath Fontana, the managing director for Bam’s facilities management arm, Bam FM, most facilities managers find this so daunting that they simply pick up the phone and get a surveyor in to determine what is in the building. Once this has been done the information is entered into the asset register. “It can take six weeks to do a survey, get the information back, validate it and put it into a CAFM system,” explains Fontana. “It’s really expensive and tortuous.”

BIM has the potential to cut out the survey and tedious manual data entry into the asset register, saving thousands of pounds. The objects contained within a 3D model and associated database contain a multitude of attributes including where these are located in the building. In theory, this information can be exported straight into the CAFM system at the push of a button.

As far as FM operators and providers are concerned, there is this huge amount of data, how you compile an accurate asset database is a huge challenge

Andrew Barraclough, HOK

If only life were so simple. The BIM includes a vast amount of data irrelevant to facilities management such as structural information. Individual objects also have information attached to them that are not needed for asset management. “As far as FM operators and providers are concerned, there is this huge amount of data, how you compile an accurate asset database is a huge challenge,” says Andrew Barraclough, a director at architect HOK who is working with several clients on providing FM-friendly BIM data.

Fontana and Barraclough both emphasise the answer is to get the facilities management provider involved at the start of the project. “You need to get them involved at the very beginning to define what FM information you need and how that information will be provided,” says Fontana. She warns that unless the BIM data is structured correctly, facilities managers will resort back to the traditional survey and manual data entry.

To date the industry has been so focused on getting to grips with BIM for design and construction it hasn’t given much thought to making it FM friendly. This is compounded by a lack of interest from facilities managers. Barraclough is one of the few design professionals who has tried to create BIM “lite” models, cut-down versions tailored to the needs of the FM community. “We have put the tools in place but sadly the take-up has been disappointing,” he says. Fontana says that any discussion among facilities managers tends to be sceptical of the benefits of BIM. “There needs to be a culture change which sees FM as part of the construction process and providing that link into building operation,” she says.


The BIM Task Force has devised a methodology for turning BIM data into a format useable by facilities managers. Called construction operations building information exchange (COBie), it turns 3D object-based information into a spreadsheet format, making it useable by facilities managers. Like all software tools, COBie is only as good as the data that goes into it. “The COBie spreadsheets I’ve seen are too complicated and technical and include architectural and structural detail that isn’t relevant to facilities management,” says Fontana. “The only way to get accurate data out of COBie is to get FM teams to do it as this is currently done by architects and engineers.” The other downside of COBie is that the spreadsheet data still needs to be manually entered into the CAFM system.

Rob Manning is the man who has the job of sorting these problems out. He is leading the BIM Task Group’s government soft landings process (GSL). The idea behind GSL, which will be compulsory for public sector projects from 2016, is to get clients or their representatives to define what they want from a project right at the beginning. “It gets the client to take responsibility,” he says. “An end user representative is invited to be involved right at the start of the process so they can review the outcomes in terms of the operation of the building.”

The GSL process also aims to standardise the information that goes into COBie. A new standard, BS1192 - 3 will define the process for data transfer to CAFM and building operation. Manning says that this should be available by April next year and will simplify data transfer. “Once the data is in a standard format this should enable the software vendors to take a COBie file and put it into a CAFM system,” he says. Some companies have already managed to automate this process - Bam FM has worked with Autodesk to take data straight from a 3D drawing and import into a CAFM system.

We see BIM as fundamental to how we manage the lifecycle of our buildings

Rod Hulse, Gatwick Airport

Does the BIM have a use once the asset register has been compiled? Fontana thinks a 3D model is an “essential” part of FM. “I think using a CAFM system with BIM is the Holy Grail for us,” she says. A 3D model will enable a maintenance engineer to check access to faulty components without having to do an initial inspection. “This is much less disruptive to clients,” says Fontana. She adds that a 3D model will be useful for space planning and tracking furniture and office equipment within a building.

But is a 3D model essential for successful facilities management? Capita Symonds manages over £2bn of property for clients. Its director of innovation, Richard McWilliams, a veteran of many early BIM projects thinks a 3D model is “nice to have, but not business critical”. “Beyond [the creation of the asset register] the case is certainly not made that there are substantial benefits from having a spatial model and there aren’t many people asking for it,” he says.

McWilliams acknowledges a 3D model could be useful to visualise access in advance where this is going to be difficult and expensive, such as in a nuclear facility. “Every time someone visits it costs several thousand pounds for the security access and radiation checks,” he says. “But how complex is an office building? You can take off a couple of ceiling tiles and have a look.” He adds that service contractors are likely to be reluctant to provide a quote for a repair on the basis of information gleaned from a 3D model. “You wouldn’t produce a price based on a model that might not be accurate unless someone was giving you a warranty,” he warns. “You would go and have a look.”

The real value of BIM for facilities management may be its ability to hold all the information about a building in one place. “At present we still see people with 2D floor plans and Excel databases,” says Peter Chambers, the commercial manager for support services company Emprise Services and member of FM professional body BIFM’s BIM working group. “BIM could bring more integration and act as one source of the truth with all information accessible 24/7 on a range of devices.”

Gatwick Airport is one organisation on a mission to centre all its construction and asset management around BIM. “We see BIM as fundamental to how we manage the lifecycle of our buildings,” explains Rod Hulse, the head of development engineering at Gatwick. “It becomes a really big management tool for the operation of our business.” Gatwick has a variety of tools for managing its estate including a huge document management system and business management system SAP. Hulse explains that BIM will become the glue linking these systems together. He likens the systems to the spokes of a wheel with BIM as the hub.


Gatwick Airport believes BIM offers big benefits for building operation and is using it for construction and asset management including optimising passenger seating arrangements and establishing how big retail areas are when letting these to new tenants

The goal is to make this information accessible via a viewer on staff computers. This would enable teams remodelling passenger seating to optimise this virtually and property managers to quickly access how big a retail area is when letting it to a new tenant.

Chambers believes this approach will filter down to smaller projects. “I think this is scaleable, there is still an advantage in say, a school environment to have all your asset information in one place.” He says the CAFM providers are busily developing new tools to work with BIM. He describes COBie as a “stopgap” - long-term contractors will pass over a building information model that will seamlessly integrate with a CAFM system. The business benefits of BIM for managing every day buildings hasn’t been proven but the combination of advancing technology, defined processes and government legislation may mean facilities managers have to adapt to this brave new world.

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