BIM - A smarter way of working?

The FMA Technology Working Party meets with senior managers from the Cabinet Office to understand the Government's BIM strategy for the FM sector.

The Facilities Management Association's (FMA) Technology Working Party comprises some of the industry's leading technology FM software providers (including FSI, IBM, Innovise, Planon, Qube and Service Works Group) and was set up in the spring of 2012 with a view to communicating the benefits and future of technology to the FM sector. Its meeting in December 2012, with David Philp, Head of BIM Implementation and Deborah Rowland, Head of Facilities Management (Government Property Unit), both from the UK Government's Cabinet Office, was to understand and disseminate the government's BIM strategy and find a method of working with the FM sector to see if it can provide practical help.

So What is BIM?
As part of the government's strategy to reform the way in which it procures construction, last year it announced that it will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (Building Information Modeling - Level 2 - as a minimum) on all of its projects by 2016, irrespective of contract value. This means that project and asset information, documentation and data will need to be electronic (i.e. digital or non-geometric information) for all new government projects, which will enable each part of the supply chain, from the architects, though to construction and facilities / maintenance management to share the same data. (To clarify, this is for new buildings and refurbishments only, not retrospectively for old builds). As a result, the government will derive significant cost savings, increased value and improved carbon performance through the use of open sharable asset information, which will result in optimum asset performance.

The government plans to introduce BIM as a staged process, which will be published with mandated milestones showing measurable progress at the end of each year. However, as David Philp explains, "The UK government doesn't have a BIM strategy. It's about sharing data to get better outcomes," he says.

"BIM is very output driven and we have to change the way in which we operate and work more collaboratively in order to create value and unlock greater efficiency, which will extend through the entire life-cycle of an asset."  

Rowland adds: "the operational costs of a building are three times higher than the original build costs, but no one considers this in the early stages" and this is one of the reasons that Government Soft Landings (GSL) has been introduced.

"It's no longer just about BIM," explains Rowland. "BIM combined together with GSL gives the ultimate objective; to align design and construction with operational asset management, which means to secure complete 360 lifecycle and feedback about how an asset's being used. It's all about being purpose driven and getting better outcomes; about value creating collaboration," she explains.

"It's been developed to ensure greater use of outcome based specifications against performance criteria.  If the operational budget is set early and any issues are flagged, BIM combined with GSL ensures that any decisions are challenged and checked. It is critical to have the right people in place to take real ownership going forward and it's therefore important to involve FM early in the construction process".

GSL combined with the BIM initiative is an excellent programme and the global market is looking to UK to set an example. The British Government has already been scored as the second most progressive country in the world for having the most cohesive strategy (behind Finland) which when fully implemented will unlock the operational lifecycle.

"BIM is a common data structure that brings the whole picture together, however getting people to collaborate is the hard part," says David Philp. "The government has introduced BIM, because infrastructure (i.e. the ‘entity' or asset) is not performing in the way that they'd hoped. However standardised digital design will mean better value for money and we are on the cusp of change," he explains.

Rowland expands this further: "It's important to consider the operational element of an asset during its construction phase, so you don't end up with a first class award winning building in which you can't turn the lights off."

What Does BIM Mean to FM and How Can it Generate Value?
By bringing together digital design, digital toolsets and digital construction it will mean better quality data for improved decision making, throughout an asset's entire life. The data can also be used for risk management; something there's been little visibility of to date.

BIM will also expose the operation of buildings to enable early assessment in the design phase. (For example by testing energy strategies early in the design of a project, this may facilitate energy saving decisions which could have far-reaching consequences in a building's life cycle) and a variety of rapid design proto-typing. It will be possible to simulate performance, manage risk profiles and will ensure improved stakeholder engagement. It will reduce capital costs and the carbon burden from the construction and operation of the built environment by up to twenty percent.

However, despite the ability of BIM to change the face of designing, constructing and operating buildings, it also has a number of potential issues that need to be considered such as: achieving a single BIM model, securing one data standard / format, ownership of data, securing collaboration across a variety of professions, the cost to achieve the desired outcome (and who bears this) and managing data sets so that the output data is meaningful.

Although as Rowland points out if the strategy can be honed, "BIM propagates efficiencies at all stages of the project life cycle and reduces time wasted in obtaining information about assets and cost of maintaining or replacing items.  This also helps to manage the change of any asset."

And How About FM Technology Providers?
The final outcome of BIM will be moving towards intelligent buildings. Links between BIM, FM Software, Building Management Systems (BMS) and sensors will optimise a building's performance. The government has approximately eighteen different FM software systems across its portfolio and BIM will produce common data, bringing together the bigger picture for optimum performance and reporting. BMS companies are now also asking whether there should be BIM for BMS? And so the strategy is evolving and it appears that the technology companies are the ones to bring it all together.

From the FM software provider's perspective, they need to be delivering the right amount of data at the right time. There's so much data, how will they manage the data sets? "All the data will be held in the BIM model, but the challenge is how you present the data to make it usable," says Rowland. Key decision points will need to be decided in an asset's life so that standard checklists can be applied.

The government is also asking the FM software providers many questions.  After all, their role is vital in taking data from COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange - a specific data format that contains digital information about a building) into a fully populated asset register. "Getting to the point of standardization and driving it through to a meaningful conclusion is vital," observes Rowland.  For example:

  • Have the FM software providers grasped the opportunity?
  • Has consideration been given to how the FM will access all levels of information in the BIM model?
  • How will the data be presented to the facilities manager in a usable format?
  • How will the data be kept up to date (i.e. for change in use)? It is essential that COBie drops are fed into BIM and that the BIM data is fed into the FM software applications. (There are several early adopter projects underway that are currently trialing this).
  • Working with GSL, to develop a standard approach to take data from COBie to FM software. (In order to take data from COBie to FM software, it would be beneficial to set up a working group through either the BIM Technologies Alliance or through an early adopted project; use either route, test and learn from it.)
  • Developing conformity through transfer of data - how can the industry get to this level of standardisation?

If BIM can be successfully achieved, the benefits will be considerable. The next steps are for GSL to be tested and implemented over the next few years, in readiness for the 2016 BIM deadline. Guidance documents will be issued and updated every year until the government reaches a mandate. Subsequently, it will be important to identify standard post occupancy evaluation methods and forms of measurement to tie back to design and construction. The government will monitor and track the benefits of GSL trial projects (of which a number are currently operational) and feedback lessons learned.

The Main Message
The government can only mandate BIM within the government area, but by setting guiding principles, they are hoping that the private sector will follow suit.  In essence, it has a revolutionary idea, but is looking to the industry to deliver it (at no cost to the government), by excluding suppliers if they are unable to provide it. "It is essential that the FM sector fully embraces the benefits of BIM and increases their knowledge in this area," says Rowland, who is passionate about the BIM initiative.

The government needs practical help in shaping the standard, in addition, to running with live test projects. "We need to work together as an industry to make this happen," explains Rowland.

The FMA Technology Working Party aims to play a central part in making this happen, working with the government to provide practical help to shape the new standard. "The ideal," says Rowland, "is to have COBie import and export buttons incorporated as standard in the leading FM software providers' applications. A common integration tool is going to be vital."

The Working Party plans to host a BIM event with the government during 2013, to raise awareness of BIM, help to promote a consistent message and to add value to the development of BIM by the industry.