Building Information Modeling – When should Facility Managers get involved?

A short while ago I was talking with a Head of Hard FM at a large international organization who has a good understanding of Building Information Modeling (BIM). He understood that the surge of BIM adoption is something Facility Managers (FMs) cannot ignore, but was unclear as to the involvement an FM should have. He also suggested that the large design and construction (D&C) companies should be detailing standards based on FM best practices in order to deliver a model that is easily integrated into an IWMS. This sparked a long discussion and I thought I would share my thoughts here.

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BIM is widely accepted in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry as a technology and process that provides substantial benefits when compared to the traditional 2D design methods, such as AutoCAD. A BIM not only provides the benefit of an enhanced 3D graphical representation and the ease of assimilating how the geometric properties work as a whole, but it also provides tools such as clash detection, model walkthroughs, and project visualization. Utilizing 4D, 5D, and 6D BIM—planning and management, quantity take-offs, costs, lifecycle management, and data capture (through the use of strategically installed sensors) can be realized and mapped out even before any plant reaches the building site.

But when should FMs get involved? Should the contractors just design and construct the building as per the client’s initial Employers Information Requirement (EIR) with no ongoing involvement from the people who will ultimately manage the building for the next 60+ years? If so, would the design teams then be responsible for making all decisions that may impact the maintenance and ongoing cost of operations? Wouldn’t FMs want to challenge and be involved in these decisions as early as possible? This leads to the realization that FMs should be involved and incorporated into the D&C teams even in the initial stages of a project. This will provide FMs the chance to detail their requirements while keeping operational maintenance and overall lifecycle costs to a minimum.

FMs should also work to ensure that the finalized “as built” model can be integrated into their Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) with minimal alteration. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring data formats are specified at the earliest stage and standards are created to meet the framework of the IWMS. This approach could save considerable time and cost at the later stages of a project.

With the increasing legislation regarding the use of BIM, D&C teams will be more apt to listening, understanding, and acting on the client’s requirement. The GSL’s objective is to align the interests of those who design and construct an asset with those who subsequently use it. This is key for FMs in order to gain the greatest benefit from a BIM project. As buildings will be designed based on how they will operate and performance benchmarking can be established, remedial control processes can be put in place to hold the D&C teams accountable if the asset falls below the predicted performance.

FMs have a great opportunity to leverage the technology and data associated with a BIM project. However, in order to do so, they must be integrated into the design teams. They must have enough confidence and understanding to challenge the D&C teams if operational costs are increasing and be able to ensure a thorough specification is in place for all contractors to adhere to. Ongoing collaboration between all disciplines leading up to the operational phase of a building is key for the long term success of the built environment. Different organizations will require different operational data and data formats. Therefore, it is up to the client’s FM teams to collaborate, drive, and take ownership of what “as built” model will be delivered, ensuring it will provide the greatest strategic and operational benefit throughout the lifecycle of the built asset.