by Michael Schley, IFMA Fellow — Building information modeling (BIM) is transforming architecture, engineering and construction by providing accurate, timely and relevant information throughout a building’s life cycle. While the use of BIM technology for facility management is still developing, the potential to dramatically improve the effectiveness of building life cycle management is clear.
The challenge faced by the facility management profession is the divide between the information used for building design and construction, and the information needed for effective facility management.
What is BIM?
The term building information modeling gained currency around 2002 through the writings of Jerry Laiserin. But Laiserin himself notes that BIM concepts go back to the early days of computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1980s, being described conceptually by researchers such as Charles Eastman and being implemented in working software in early CAD programs such as RUCAPS. Only recently have programs such as Autodesk’s Revit, Graphisoft and Bentley systems converted the concepts of the ’80s into practical, affordable software within reach of every architect and engineer.
At its most basic, BIM encompasses two key attributes:
- Object intelligence: the ability to associate material and assembly data with graphic elements.
- Three dimensions: complete three-dimensional graphic representation of buildings.
A more comprehensive definition of BIM has been proposed by construction company M.A. Mortenson1. According to Mortenson, BIM must exhibit six key characteristics:
- Spatial (3D);
- Measurable (quantifiable, dimensionable and query-able);
- Comprehensive (design intent, building performance, constructability, and including sequential and financial aspects of means and methods);
- Accessible (to the entire AEC/owner team through an interoperable and intuitive interface); and
- Durable (usable through all phases of facility life).
The current state
While BIM widely is considered to be a single, unified technology, this is not the case. Leading software developers such as Autodesk, Graphisoft and Bentley Systems have developed very capable technology that serves the building design, engineering and construction phases of the building’s life cycle. Moving into the more diverse requirements of the occupancy and management phase of the building’s life entails a variety of other technologies and software. Fortunately, software developers are moving rapidly to accomplish the integration needed between these various systems. Most likely, the result won’t be a single software package but rather sets of compatible software programs that support interoperability.
Evaluating the current state of BIM technology against Mortenson’s six criteria shows that BIM has yet to reach its full potential. Although BIM is digital, 3D and measurable, at this time it is not completely comprehensive, accessible to the entire AEC/owner team nor durable.
BIM benefits for building design
The benefits of BIM for architects and engineers are significant. First, for many design firms, the new BIM software tools support a better way of designing buildings. With the complexity of modern buildings and the difficulties of preparing construction documents using two-dimensional CAD drawings, BIM software programs provide major advances in managing information.
Second, the ability of BIM software to easily generate realistic three-dimensional views and even walkthroughs makes visualization a free byproduct. This not only provides valuable guidance to the designer, but also is tremendously helpful in communicating a design to clients.
Third, BIM software supports various types of building analyses. In particular, integration with energy analysis programs provides essential information early in the design process to guide decisions on building materials and mechanical systems.
BIM benefits for construction
Although the benefits of BIM during the construction phase are less obvious, they are compelling. First, the ability of BIM tools to track phases of construction is valuable in construction coordination. For general contractors in particular, BIM tools for coordinating space and schedules are very effective, particularly for large projects on urban sites where staging areas are always at a premium.
Second, software tools for clash detection provide ways to reveal layout errors in advance, thereby enabling more cost-effective resolutions and fewer expensive change orders.
BIM benefits for facility management
While BIM has proven its value in design and construction for five years or more, the necessary technologies for using BIM in facility management only now are emerging. A large number of new building projects have been designed and built with BIM software. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to leverage this store of information and greatly improve the practice of facility management.
Although we are still at the early stages of understanding the ways BIM can be used throughout a building’s life, there are at least six areas that are proving valuable.
Information about building mechanical equipment stored in BIM models is valuable in creating the database needed for ongoing preventive maintenance. Equipment that requires regular inspection and upkeep, particularly heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment and life safety systems, are of particular significance. Additionally, information about air and electrical distribution systems that undergo periodic modification is valuable to facility managers.
BIM models provide a useful starting point for space and occupancy management. Organizations that occupy large amounts of office space will benefit from this information. By integrating building data with human resources data, organizations can reduce vacancy and ultimately achieve major reductions in real estate expenses.
Energy efficiency initiatives
Since commercial and industrial buildings are responsible for almost 20 percent of the energy consumption in many countries, there is a mandate to analyze options to improve energy performance. BIM plays a significant role by facilitating the analysis and comparisons of various alternatives.
Base of ongoing changes
Managing accurate record drawings has long been a challenge for building owners and facility managers. Although BIM does not preclude the effort required to maintain accurate building data, it does provide two advantages over traditional CAD technology:
- BIM provides an easier means of representing three-dimensional aspects of the building. This is particularly important for representing mechanical systems.
- BIM models can carry extensive data about assemblies, finishes and equipment items.
Life cycle management
Recent emphasis on sustainability has raised the profile of building life cycle management. Responsible owners are realizing this makes sense both economically and ecologically. BIM provides value in managing relevant data about current building conditions and facilitates the analysis of alternatives. Some building design professionals are embedding data on life expectancy and replacement costs in BIM models, thereby helping an owner understand the benefits of investing in materials and systems that may cost more initially but have a better payback over the life of the building.
Building automation systems
Building automation systems (BAS) provide real-time monitoring and control of the sophisticated electrical and mechanical systems used in today’s buildings. Experience has shown that effective building operation is critical to achieving the potential energy savings. Although work is still in early stages, integrating BIM with BAS will provide significant benefits, particularly for technical buildings such as hospitals and laboratories.
Keeping BIM alive
It is common to hear discussion about the BIM handover, implying that useful information will be exported to standardized formats for import into other systems. While there is value in this approach, the one-way migration of data all too often results in the BIM model “dying a premature death.” A better approach is to use technology that works bidirectionally between the BIM system and other building management systems. This enables the BIM model to retain its usefulness throughout the life of the building.
Although BIM technology has the potential to provide tremendous benefits to facility managers and building owners, there are challenges to overcome.
Deciding what to track
Although BIM makes it much easier to track building information, there is still effort required to develop and maintain information that is current, accurate and relevant. For some building information categories, the cost of doing this simply will not be justified by the value.
Changes in deliverables
The challenge for facility managers and owners is to write contracts that are effective in defining the delivery of useful information. Design intent information is not the same as as-built information. When architects and engineers prepare BIM models for design, bidding and construction, materials and components are defined generically. Specific decisions on manufacturer and product selection are left to the general contractor, the subcontractors and the specialty suppliers. Subject to complying with the design documents, contractors are expected to use this freedom of selection in order to achieve a more competitive cost. Although typical construction procedures call for record documents to be provided to the owner at the completion of a project, this information typically is provided in the form of paper or scanned documents.
BIM has the potential to change this with contractors providing “live” BIM models as part of the commissioning process. However, there are many challenges in defining the best practices for BIM deliverables.
Changes in FM technology skills
To achieve the real benefits of BIM, facility managers will need to attain a basic level of familiarity with BIM tools. More significantly, facility managers will need to develop greater proficiency in information management, learning how to evaluate the importance of different types of information and establishing procedures to keep information accurate and current.
Changes in business relationships
Although BIM can be used with traditional competitive bid construction practices, it provides extra value when the architects, engineers and contractors are all part of a collaborative team. Hence other forms of contracting, such as negotiated bids and integrated project delivery, are enhanced by BIM. In addition, new cloud-based computing technology provides an effective means of sharing building data with all participants of the design-build team, regardless of physical location.
In past decades, new technology would be used first in North America and Europe with Asia, Latin America and Africa following. However, BIM is being adopted in locations around the world, particularly in the fast growing cities in Asia. For example, the 128-story Shanghai Tower, due to complete construction in 2014, was designed with BIM tools. The government of Singapore is promoting BIM for all new construction projects.
Rather than use older technologies that make maintaining accurate building records difficult, Asian countries are finding the advantages of using BIM technology. Industry practices for maintaining BIM models of record still are developing. It will be necessary to gain more experience in how this rich source of potential information can be best used before best practices emerge.
BIM technology applied to facility management is in early stages. Although the ultimate application of BIM to facility management still is being refined, there are ample benefits today to justify the effort. Architects, engineers, contractors, building owners and facility managers who begin using BIM data today and bridging the information divide will reap the greatest benefits. FMJ
- BIM Handbook, Eastman, Teicholz, Sacks, Liston, John Wiley & Sons, 2008
Michael Schley is the CEO and founder of FM:Systems, a leading developer of facility management software based in Raleigh, N.C., USA. He is responsible for overseeing FM:Systems operations and guiding the company’s product direction.
Schley is recognized globally for his expertise in FM technology and has spoken at numerous conferences throughout the world. He was recognized in 2008 as an IFMA Fellow, chairs the FM Advisory Council for Cornell University and serves on the IFMA Foundation Board of Trustees.
He can be reached by email at email@example.com.