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Paul Wilkinson explains how BIM has evolved over the past five years and looks at milestones in FM’s involvement thus far. Is FM taking its theoretically rightful place in the construction project spotlight?


15 August 2016 | By Paul Wilkinson

Building information modelling (BIM), we’re told, can only really work when FM is involved. 

At both ends of the construction project life cycle, FM should have a pivotal role: at initial design stage, bringing real-world requirements and operational nous into the design process; and at post-occupancy stage, maintaining usage data and thus informing future BIM models. So is the FM profession playing its part?

The global financial crisis created the right conditions for construction industry reform. To improve productivity and make practices more sustainable (not just environmentally but also economically and socially), the UK government’s chief construction adviser Paul Morrell set about making the industry fit for the 21st century. As the UK public sector accounted for around 40 per cent of the construction industry’s workload, he demanded industry change as a condition of future government work – with adoption of BIM being one of the key requirements.

With the industry’s biggest single client focused on getting more for less, we have, since the May 2011 Government Construction Strategy, witnessed a concerted – and continuing – effort to modernise UK construction industry processes and encourage more joined-up and collaborative approaches to the planning, design, construction and future operation and maintenance of built assets. The effort extended beyond UK government departments and agencies to include many private sector client organisations – all working towards achieving an initial target of Level 2 BIM compliance by 4 April 2016.

As a result, numerous client organisations and their supply chains are shifting from reliance upon conventional construction documents and drawings to becoming model and data-centric. Level 2 BIM required “fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum.”

Importantly, it also placed strong emphasis on the early involvement of FM professionals in the process, and on their continued involvement through delivery, commissioning, handover, and beyond. Leadership has been provided by government clients, with FM strongly represented on the UK Government’s BIM Task Group, reinforcing existing industry guidance, developing new advice and sharing case studies.

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Credit: Istock

Emerging BIM for FM guidance 

Deborah Rowland, currently director of FM at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), has appeared on numerous conference platforms promoting the FM cause in relation to BIM, and highlighting lessons learned from early BIM schemes such as Manchester’s town hall and central library, and Cookham Wood prison in Kent.

At a July 2016 ThinkBIM conference in Leeds, Rowland reviewed the range of advice available to FM. She talked about the Government Soft Landings (GSL) philosophy, which gets client facilities managers involved from a project’s inception in helping to define the employer’s information requirements (EIRs) and asset information management (AIM) needs. PAS 1192-3, covering information management in the operational phase, was published in March 2014, and since then the library of guidance, standards and protocols covering FM inputs to BIM has continued to expand.

Rowland highlighted a digital life cycle cost (dLCC) toolkit jointly developed by BCIS, CIBSE and BESA. This uses RICS NRM3, which aligns the Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie) in BIM with SFG20 maintenance information needs – Faithful & Gould’s Andy Green has been a key figure in this field, she says.

The MoJ’s BIM2AIM group has published a suite of documents giving clear and concise instruction and guidance on how to define, procure and deliver Level 2 BIM projects.

And the British Institute of Facilities Management’s ‘Operational Readiness Guide’ (and an associated EIRs template) aims to help FM professionals effectively engage throughout the design and construction process to deliver greater value to the end-user organisations that occupy buildings.

The BIM culture gap

However, Rowland sows a seed of caution. “The ‘how’ in BIM for FM is still an issue,” she says.

“We need to develop most clients’ knowledge and understanding, and to improve the readiness of FM supply chains. We need better integration between BIM and existing computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) and building management systems; FM needs to be in a position to validate and receive asset data. To date, FM has been slow in its take-up – we don’t want FM to be the weak link in the chain.”

Rowland’s views about slow BIM take-up among FM professionals are shared by others. 

Turner & Townsend BIM consultant Sean Farrell told a recent London BIM event: “Client knowledge about BIM Level 2 is hugely variable. Some FM people are GSL and BIM-literate, but they’re rare.”

But Kath Fontana, formerly managing director of FM at BAM and now MD of technical services at ISS, defends the FM community. 

“Yes, FM is hardly talking about BIM, but for systemic reasons; BIM processes are largely being developed without FM inputs.” She is sceptical of the COBie standard (“developed by people who don’t understand how FM people manage complex assets”), regards Stage 7 of the 2013 RIBA digital Plan of Work (dPOW) as “pretty inadequate,” and laments the lack of a standard form of contract covering FM inputs.

“Construction needs to be more outward-looking and welcome a formal role for FM in projects. Whole-life Design Build and Operate approaches will be essential, in my view. Otherwise, we run the risk that BIM may never be an FM technology.”

BIM for asset management

With designers and constructors developing their BIM skills and manufacturers recreating their products and systems as BIM objects, FM professionals will be key to ensuring that BIM data is reused effectively. And, as more projects embrace BIM, more project teams will be expecting early inputs from their FM colleagues.

Fontana welcomes BIFM’s guide to help FM people to advise project team colleagues on the data needed to populate CAFM systems. 

“It’s about keeping the BIM data alive,” says CAFM software vendor FSI’s Jacqueline Walpole (a member of the group that produced the BIFM guide). “Digitising design, construction, commissioning, and handover processes opens up the prospect of a digital flow of information into FM achieving operational readiness almost instantly.”


The FM feedback loop 

The BIFM guide is built around the 2013 RIBA dPOW, which highlights opportunities for FM inputs at stage 0 – ‘Strategic Definition’ – and stage 7 – ‘In Use’. Stage 7 also provides organisations with a route to provide post-occupancy feedback to inform future projects so that lessons learned from delivery and operation of initial projects are reflected in subsequent projects. Such feedback can be incorporated when Employer’s Information Requirements (EIRs) are drafted – but few current EIRs yet reflect that learning.

“Not many clients have gone through a full BIM project delivery cycle, or had sufficient time for FM to provide constructive feedback,” says Fairsnape consultant Martin Brown. “Many current EIRs are therefore standard documents, not fully tailored to the desired built asset outcomes. And the link to end-users can be hampered by outsourcing FM services to firms unconnected with the asset delivery BIM process.”

Brown also points out a common disconnect between the measurable performance of a physical building and the business performance and well-being of the people working in that building. “What is the value of an energy-efficient building if it makes staff unhappy, unhealthy, and unproductive?” he says.

“More buildings need to be designed and operated like Deloitte’s Edge Building in Amsterdam. There you have a ‘smart building’ incorporating sustainable technologies, enabling happy, comfortable and healthy workers to connect to the building via an app on their smartphones. Using that app, employees can control their working conditions (temperature, light levels) and even track their own energy use. And all the building management system data and app data can be accessed and used by Deloitte’s operations team to boost its understanding of current and future office working environments.”

FM and Level 3 BIM

The April 2016 Level 2 BIM deadline was not the end of the story. October 2016 will see a ‘stretch’ target come into force, requiring government departments to electronically validate data provided by suppliers, and the push towards Level 3 BIM (or ‘integrated BIM’, iBIM) will involve further targets over the coming years (no end date for Level 3 has been set).

The 2015 Digital Built Britain strategy extends BIM into the operation of assets over their lifetimes, where most cost arises. Owners and operators will become better at managing assets and services by tracking their real-time efficiency, maximising use and minimising energy use.

The Level 3 FM professional, as Brown’s Deloitte example suggests, will be reusing historic information and combining it with real-time sources of information, including sensors (the ‘Internet of Things’), apps, and linked data from internal business systems and the internet (the semantic web). This requires existing silos to be eroded and data to flow seamlessly between everyone involved throughout the life cycle of a built asset, and for asset costs to be related to business productivity.

For Fontana, focusing on the whole-life cost would justify investment in BIM. 

“A report from management consultants McKinsey said owners might capitalise the costs of digitisation and technology when setting project budgets,” she says. “When BIM data is regarded as a long-term investment, like any other asset, owners will be as demanding about creation and maintenance of their digital assets as they are about their physical buildings.”

The divide between asset delivery and asset operation is being eroded in other industries, with data the key to service levels. For example, Rolls-Royce provides tightly measured ‘power by the hour’ to its airline jet engine customers. Could we see a similar ‘Assets-as-a-Service’ provided to building owners, with integrated construction supply chains and FM earning continuous revenues for successfully supporting their customers’ operations? 

This may be a long-term view, but, meantime, greater collaboration between what are currently two largely separate spheres – construction and FM – is clearly needed if BIM is to be the force for change envisaged by the UK government more than five years ago.