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22 March 2019
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The management and maintenance of building information models (BIM) has the potential to reposition facilities management within organisations, yet obstacles remain, reports Martin Read.

Illustration Buildings ©Andrew Lyons

2July 2018 Martin Read

If, as the BIM4FM Group defines it, building information modelling (BIM) is “essentially, management of information through the entire life cycle of an asset, underpinned by the creation, collation and exchange of shared three dimensional models and intelligent, structured data attached to them”, then it is a work of seconds to deduce that the facilities manager is intrinsic to the very nature of its development, analysis and control. And when BIM first rose to prominence at the turn of this decade, sure enough the cry from those across the other construction design professions went up – for any of this to really work, FM has to be at the heart of things.

When the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Plan of Works (RIBA PoW) was reworked in 2013, with the construction design sequence of events adapted from a linear process of strategy, consultation and eventual construction into a more virtuous circle in which the last link in the chain, end-user occupation, linked straight back to the strategy model for future projects, yet more pressure on FM to ‘step up’ was applied. And it was ratcheted up yet further with the introduction of soft landings, with the government’s subsequent mandating of both soft landings and BIM on central government estate projects helping set the stage for FM to become a leafing actor.

Yet in 2018, FM’s role in BIM remains opaque. Critical issues, identified initially but still key to the problem, include a lack of skills in the FM community and a difficulty in demonstrating the value that BIM – and the soft landings approach to post occupancy evaluation – can deliver. So what’s gone wrong, or perhaps more importantly, what difficulties have yet to be addressed?

“With hindsight. I think we maybe concentrated over much on BIM when, from a FM perspective, we should have been extolling the virtues of the soft landings process,” says David Stevens, vice chair of the CIBSE facilities management group. “That’s probably understandable given the hype around BIM at the time (it rose to prominence in 2012).

“Equally, I think we have been guilty of allowing BIM and soft landings to slip off the agenda,” continues Stevens, referring to an initial flurry of industry events, discussions and supporting publications that has reduced over time, although he concedes the sector, and BIFM in particular, has recently become more voluble on the subject. (“Hopefully this exercise will help bring the subject back to the fore.”)

Consultant Mike Packham thinks the problem is in demonstrating the value BIM can actually deliver (“and soft landings, for that matter”). Until the sector can point to objectively assessed numbers, “I think we’re going to have difficulty selling the idea”, he argues.

There is also a sense that, coming from so far outside of the construction project mainstream, it was always going to take time for younger, more digitally native FMs to enter the profession and take on BIMs roles.

“We need to move away from a mindset of ‘give me the building and I will manage it’ to ‘this is the information I need to efficiently support the business’”

Training and BIFM

The lack of skills within existing FMs to successfully and confidently maintain BIMs and to transfer successfully maintained BIMs from one FM to another, or indeed from one FM service provider to another, is a challenge. 

“However,” says Christine Gausden, senior lecturer at the department of built environment, Greenwich University, and chair of BIM4FM, “it is too easy to blame current FMs or FM providers. Consider – do those responsible for the provision of the information model have a complete understanding of the necessary deliverables? Are the correct questions asked of FMs in the first instance? That said, integration of FM within the Capex team can only be a positive move, and the reinforcement of the soft landings initiative will serve to further reinforce that.”

Changing the BIM equation

The conundrum of what to do with BIM data, and how it is integrated into computer-aided FM (CAFM) systems, is no longer the challenge it once was – or at least, that’s the view of former BIFM chairman and now global FM consultant Lionel Prodgers.

New generations of integrated servers will help to ease the issue of parsing data from BIM systems into others through the non-proprietary Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) data format.

“We can now manage the use of a specific asset against design criteria by direct reference to manufacturer’s data.”

Three key challenges

We asked experts to focus on the principal challenges to FM taking a more assertive role in the construction design team through BIM. Paul Thomas, principal consultant at Truner & Townsend and author of BIFM’s guide to BIM, chose perception, lack of time and money, and experience.

1. Perception

“It’s time we stopped talking about BIM as technology. It’s a process that engages a wider design team and uses technology to share information and ideas.

“We need to move away from having a mindset of ‘give me the building and I will manage it’ to one of ‘this is the information I need to efficiently support the business’.”

2. Experience

“We see a number of high-level unverifiable case studies of organisations being good at BIM, but we learn little from these sales tools. However, all organisations improve their health and safety based on poor case studies either in the form of near miss or accident reports and prosecutions. In many ways we learn more from mistakes as we never forget them. 

“To link back to soft landings, there should be a lesson review during the BIM process. But few organisations are likely to share this with others. Everyone wants innovation, but few want to be a crash-test dummy. Rather than innovation, what is required is more honest examples and lessons learnt.”

Jason Clark agrees, as does Mike Packham: “Case studies would help to publicise the cause, and those at UBS and UCL may be good subjects. Older case studies were more about the application of BIM rather than the value.”

3. Lack of time and money

“If the FM can’t show the benefit of BIM in financial terms, organisations will be reluctant to make the relatively small initial investment to have the FM engage with BIM. Part of the problem is that obtaining good, verifiable cost information to prove the whole-life benefits of BIM to the FM will take 30 years. In many ways, current FMs engaging with BIM are like landscape architects planting trees to benefit the next generation. However, ne cost benefit we can show now, using simple examples, is the reduced cost of change early in the project.”

“An apprenticeship is three or four years, as that is the time it takes to get good at a job,” says Thomas. “So unless an FM has been doing BIM projects for three or four years they will still be learning and thus require support and guidance.”

Thomas is not alone in thinking that, in 20 years’ time, FMs will consider BIM – and the engagement of the FM in managing them – as ‘business as usual’.  But until then, he says “do not try and learn on the job or run a BIM project alongside the day job: get help”.

Training and awareness at all levels will be key, agrees Jason Clark, as will consistent qualification across FM and certification specific to BIM.

Accreditation and certification of BIM managers, something that would help thus focus minds on BIM management best practice, will start to be addressed once new ISO standards – to come later this year, and which will ultimately supplant the PAS 1192 series – are introduced, suggests Christine Gausden. “There is presently an excess of providers of both services and training, with no one accredited.”

Playing the part 

The professional FM has a right to be part of the design team. But, says Paul Thomas, principal consultant at Turner & Townsend, if FMs are to be effective design team members they will need to:

- Understand the RIBA stages, what happens at each and FM’s requirements at each (i.e BIFM operational readiness);

- Talk BIM, and know the process behind each three letter acronym; know who is responsible for what part of the design;

- Have a clear idea about what we want in the building and our information requirements to manage; and network outside of FM to build relationships with the design team.

The PAS influencing the future

Perhaps one likely driver of more FM involvement will be the transitioning of the current PAS 1192 parts 2 and 3 standards into new ISO equivalents, the ISO 19650 series, due later this year and early next. This move to internationally accepted standards, particularly through the new BS EN ISO 19650-5, is seen by many, Gausden amongst them, as giving a much needed boost to the overall BIM management structure and FM’s role in it. (Work on the PAS 1192 standards has been stopped, with existing development work fed into the new ISO project.)

Dr Anne Kemp, chair of the UK BIM Alliance says the move will make “adoption of BIM an easier and more natural step for the industry towards wider digital transformation”.

And it’s not the only development in the fast-changing world of BIM that could have a profound effect on FM. This April, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) published the second edition of its BIM protocol, designed to clarify the duty of care and timing of BIM project team member contributions. It refers to the PAS 1192-3 concept of asset information model (AIM)s, “the collated set of information gathered from all sources that supports the ongoing management of an asset”. This has significant implications for the FM phase of project, claim Vicky McCombe and Simon Lewis, from the construction and engineering team at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP who have written a paper on the topic.

“Given that the application of BIM to existing assets is bound to be more extensive, and consequently involve greater resource than the application of BIM to a new build alone, it is important to understand the structure of the underlying PAS 1192-3 and the practical issues that arise,” the pair argue.

The distinction between BIMs prepared for new builds and those for existing assets is welcome, given that 80 per cent of the whole-life cost of a building is fixed in the first 20 per cent of early design, according to research. McCombe and Lewis argue that the AIM will have to cater for a more flexible sequence of activities through the asset life cycle, dealing with a mixture of planned and unplanned events that could happen in any order between the points of asset handover and asset disposal - events referred to in PAS 1192-3 as ‘triggers’, and ranging from planned and unplanned maintenance works, refurbishment and updates, variations and end-of-life works such as demolition, decommissioning and mothballing. The information necessary for an AIM is likely to require a different structure to that of new build phase projects, it being held over a much longer period of time, argue McCombe and Lewis. They suggest a process be set out in FM contracts to deal with this, and that AIR (Asset Information Requirement) and OIR (Organisational Information Requirement) detail should be incorporated into any FM contract “along with obligations on both parties to comply”.

The roles of asset information manager and data manager should be identified within an FM contract, also with an obligation to comply.

McCombe and Lewis further highlight the issue of ownership of AIMs and the intellectual property rights within them. Intellectual property rights in the construction contracts must allow for their use for FM purposes witj any licences including a right to grant sub-licences.”

“Any FM contract will also need to deal with intellectual property rights and ownership of the AIM.”

McCombe and Lewis argue for a separate BIM protocol dealing solely with the FM stage and the contractual issues that will inevitably arise as the use of BIM in FM becomes more widespread.

Ultimately, they argue, FM should be involved at concept stage for any project: “In short, start with the end in mind and involve the FM team.”

What’s needed, suggests Gausden, are more ‘digital natives’ in FM, able to easily come to terms with the way information needs to be managed and interrogated. It’s this requirement, coupled with FM’s significant influencing role through BIM management, that has the potential to reinvent FM as a career choice and attract a new type of individual into the profession.

“We often focus on sustainability or social responsibility, and FM is integral to all of it. We should raise the profile of FM. It’s the biggest part of the built environment so we do ourselves a complete disservice. The suggested BIFM name change and its pursuance of Chartered status will enhance FM. Facilities management needs to be promoted as a career path, alongside construction management – this message needs to be reinforced.”

The message, increasingly, is that FM’s handing of BIM data, inside and outside of CAFM systems, is the future - and it may well change the face of the profession too.  

“In many ways, current FMs engaging with BIM are like landscape architects planting trees to benefit the next generation”

Further Reading

- The current state of the FM profession’s involvement with, and influence on, the maintenance and management of BIMs was the subject of a recent BIFM leaders’ forum from which commentary for this feature was obtained. BIFM will produce a paper based on the event in due course. 

- BIFM Operational Readiness Guide - tinyurl.com/y79pf89a

- The Role of FM in BIM Projects - tinyurl.com/ybo6hvsu

- BIFMN BIM survey 2017 -  tinyurl.com/y9maf24l

Emma Potter