by By Ellen Valentine, Pete Zyskowski — For hundreds of years, the vast majority of information about a building has been contained in blueprints and file cabinets. Whenever facility managers and other building operations personnel needed information about a room dimension or a lighting fixture, someone had to go and find the dusty roll of prints or the hard copy manual that contained the needed information. The entrance of the computer era changed everything—providing much needed computer-aided design (CAD) systems that have allowed facility drawings to be stored electronically. The Internet has also made it easier to access operational manuals and replacement part information. While these upgrades provided needed improvements, the electronic drawings and manuals still do not provide a mechanism for recording and managing all of the information about a building.
As a result, this critical shortcoming has given rise to a new generation of systems and processes that today are commonly known as building information modeling or building information models (BIM). BIM encompasses many tools, processes and methodologies. Instead of a mere drawing and labeling tool like a CAD system, BIM provides a threedimensional representation of a building and contains database storage mechanisms for properties about all of the elements of the building. For those in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) community, BIM represents a completely new approach to design. While the change from a CAD system to a BIM system for design and construction takes time and effort, the migration offers substantial benefits with regard to time-savings, cost and information retention.
Because of this, BIM is experiencing explosive growth—since the centralized approach to developing and maintaining information about the building allows increased teamwork and collaboration during the design and construction process. Many firms report significant reductions in costly field changes and dramatic increases in productivity. When one takes into consideration that BIM is a catalyst propelling the AEC industry through its biggest evolution since the introduction of the personal computer, it is hard to imagine that facility management in the 21st century will remain the same. Facility management can mean many things to facility managers, from asset management and allocation to facility maintenance and operation, not to mention fast-track move planning and management. BIM presents a simple, centralized facility management data solution in one relational database— eliminating redundant information and linking 3-D geometric building data to its function and use.
Accessing the data
If you are managing facilities that have been built in the last five to seven years, there is a chance that the design and construction team may have used BIM to construct your facility. Even now, most within the AEC community only think of BIM as a tool for use during design and construction. But there is an ever-increasing number of savvy building owners who are realizing that BIM can be of great use during the entire lifecycle of the building’s operation. These owners are requiring that BIM be turned over to them upon completion of the building project. Owners are also realizing that the richer the data in the BIM model, the more valuable it can become to the facility managers in improving the effectiveness of building operations.
There are multiple ways to access BIM data, but one of the easiest is for the owners, facility managers and their internal teams to learn the software so they can add and modify the proprietary information on their own. Once they have been able to learn how to use the parameters and know what their capabilities are, there is a possibility the team could create its own starter BIM template. Almost all BIM applications have some sort of a starter file that can be used for a new project. There is no reason that a large property owner should not have a template containing all the pertinent parameters needed to efficiently manage a building. In addition, all designers can use this template when creating a project for the owner. It may sound intrusive to the design team for the owner to do this, but if the owners are getting involved in specifying the level of detail that should be built into the BIM during design and construction, then it is actually quite courteous and more efficient for the owner to supply the design team with necessary parameters at the start of the project. This sets a precedent for the level of communication expected throughout the project, which will hopefully lead to a well-constructed and usable model.
Working with existing buildings
Even if you are not managing a newer inventory of BIM-designed buildings, BIM is still very feasible. BIM models can be constructed from existing, as-built records. If as-built records do not exist, dimensional information can easily be captured using 3-D laser scanning devices. Many facility managers who do frequent moves will find it easily justifiable to capture as-built information and build the BIM. If you do not have the capabilities, specialty design and survey firms can capture the data and model the building for you. It is also important to note that you do not need to own the building in order to benefit from all that BIM has to offer. For instance, if you are in a long-term building lease, you can still benefit from having a BIM for the building or even a BIM of the floors that you lease.
One significant advantage that BIM provides to facility owners is improved visualization of the space. Let’s face it, many of us have difficulty looking at dimensional drawings and visualizing how that dimension would be put to best use. Because BIM is naturally three-dimensional, it is much easier to see how the space would work. In the BIM model, you can place furniture and even have a person virtually walk through a space. Of course this visualization is very useful during new design and construction, but it is also a fantastic tool for designing and constructing renovations and remodels. It allows one to get departmental buy-in and approval for the new layout more easily.
Beyond three-dimensional visualizations, many BIM applications allow for phasing. While phasing is more commonly viewed as something that happens during construction, it is also something that can be used for the life of the building during remodels and space reallocations. This would allow owners to see and track assets through multiple moves over time. For many reasons—such as insurance purposes or dispute resolution—it is incredibly helpful for an owner to be able to see and reproduce what their building looked like in previous years before all of the remodels and expansions took place. BIM can do this—tracking data over time visually and parametrically. Another substantial benefit of BIM is information analysis. Numerous add-on solutions are available that support important analysis such as energy, sustainability and code compliance. The beauty of these types of analyses is that they can be performed on the data already in place in the BIM.
The future of BIM will bring increasingly sophisticated analysis and reporting on all aspects of a building. Over time, BIM will support data collection on all building operations and provide a platform for optimizing the operations of a building. These techniques will help reduce operational costs, maintenance expenditures, repair budgets and energy utilization. Two-way interactive interfaces will also allow BIM data to be integrated with maintenance, operations and asset management systems. This will enable facility managers to increase their responsiveness and effective ness and better link the information about the building to the actions necessary for lifecycle support.
Getting on board
If you are managing a newer building, see if your owner received the BIM at the conclusion of construction. If not, go back to the design firm, construction firm or both and see if they have kept the BIM model that they created during construction. Since designers and contractors may use and therefore build the model differently, one may be more viable as a facility management model over the other. If they have it, ask to take possession of the model. If more than one model exists, you can have an independent review of the models done to validate which model may be more appropriate for your use. For future projects, you may also want to add some wording to your request for proposals and contracts informing the design team that you expect the project to be created with a BIM application and will take possession of the model at the end of the project. If you do extensive moves or remodels within your facility, consider building (or having someone help you build) a BIM of your existing facility using your 2-D as-built drawings supplemented with 3-D laser scans.
Once you have BIM, enrich the BIM data with the operational data you need to support your facility operations processes. Consider investing in analytics applications to learn more about your energy consumption, space management, asset management and operational metrics. While there is much that can be done directly with BIM, there are other applications that can interact with it and provide specific facility management tools and functions.
Keep up to date with new trends, add-on programs and techniques that will leverage BIM for your organization—it represents a significant change in how buildings are designed and constructed. BIM also provides a tremendous opportunity to increase the efficiency of building operations. Getting on board with it now will allow your organization to not only realize benefits today, but to also quickly capitalize on new approaches to facility management in the future.
Ellen Valentine (left) is vice president of marketing and Pete Zyskowski (right) is director of technical services for Applied Software. Applied Software helps architects, engineers, construction firms and owners realize the benefits of BIM, providing software, training, modeling and consulting services. More information on Applied Software can be found at www.asti.com.