BIM into CAFM – the Why and the How

Paul Durant, FSI Strategic Solutions Manager, talks all things BIM to CAFM in an article for PFM.

During the design and construction phases of any facility, choices have to be made. Choices regarding fabric, plant and services equipment.

This equipment will require ongoing maintenance, refurbishment, and eventual replacement once the building is operating.

If the equipment chosen is of poor quality, if it requires a costly or high volume maintenance plan or if it needs regular replacement, this will affect the value and returns to those who build, own, buy and operate the premises.

But what if these factors can be considered from the very outset; at the building design and construction phase? The more consideration you can give to the operation of the facilities during project design the more likely it is that your facility will operate sustainably and efficiently throughout their lifecycle.

More importantly for management, the more value the site will realise. This article discusses the role that CAFM software can play in making the best use of Building Information Model data to assist decision making in the lifecycle of buildings and facilities.

3D modelling has transformed construction and fabrication practices over the years and is a critical part of building design.

Advances in technology now allow designers and the construction supply chain to engage with each other, working from a shared, centralised source of information known as the Building Information Model (BIM).

In the UK the profile of BIM in FM was raised by the government mandate to use BIM level 2 in all centrally funded government construction and refurbishment projects by April 2016. Across the FM industry, building owners, managers and service providers from all sectors are also starting to look at how they can harness BIM data.

Internationally, even in countries where there is no mandate for its use, BIM is increasingly the methodology of choice for projects of all sizes and complexity. However, this sophisticated and collaborative flow of data can break down at the point where design and build ceases and the operational life of a building commences.

Up until very recently it is common that the service providers responsible for the management of the facilities were not involved in BIM projects until the building is handed over.

Often FMs are provided with just a digital output (e.g. IFC or COBie) from the BIM authoring software and then left to work out how to use that data operationally on their own and they will have had little chance to influence the BIM model's creation so as to help optimise its value after handover.

Why involve FMs & CAFM before handover?

BIM is designed to improve efficiency throughout the entire lifecycle of the facility, not just the design and construction phases.

The operational phase of a life of a building will far exceed the design and build phases so it's critical that the needs of the facilities managers responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the facilities are considered as early as possible.

A quality BIM output will provide the FM team with a wealth of type-specific asset data and additional O&M detail, such as product specifications and expected lifespan.

Typically, BIM projects will adopt a universally recognised categorisation standard for classifying facilities, spaces and assets. Even if they have not had the chance to be part of the BIM collaboration, it's very likely that this data will have value for Facilities Managers.

BIM provides ‘as-built' facility data which would otherwise have been entered in to the CAFM system via more traditional (and potentially time and resource consuming) methods like spreadsheets and manual data entry.

If the data has also been defined to a level of information that's optimised for the needs of operation then the value of this data increases exponentially.

However, it isn't just a case of simply dumping BIM data into the CAFM database, the data must be fit for purpose.

Many BIM outputs contain information which isn't necessarily relevant to the operation and maintenance of the facility, and will often use terminology that is unfamiliar or doesn't match up with established asset naming and classification terms.

Excess detail in an unfiltered BIM output can also be overwhelming when imported directly into a CAFM asset register. The primary benefit of utilising BIM in CAFM should be to improve operational efficiency.

Data is critical, but it's the operatives and resources that will play a key part in the successful implementation of efficient processes.

So, while the underlying data should allow for much more advanced analysis of asset performance and will lay the groundwork for more efficient maintenance practices, any complexities must be almost imperceptible to day to day users of the software.

The efficiency savings from mobilising the CAFM system from a BIM source will mean nothing if the system being mobilised is too complex, unwieldy and confusing to the day-to-day users of the CAFM system But if you get it right, you will realise time and cost savings of mobilising CAFM from BIM data, as well as to realise tangible benefits from using rich BIM data in practical FM operations.

Given that the cost of creating a BIM model is small in comparison to the design and build process, it makes good sense to derive maximum value from it by using it for the transition to FM operations and beyond.

Some projections for BIM Level 2 estimate that every £1 spent on the BIM model saves £10 in construction and can save £100 in operation.

BIM to CAFM

The transition from BIM to CAFM does not need to be challenging or complex. Almost all of the facility and asset data in a BIM model will have a suitable home in any modern CAFM system.

By simplifying the data flow between BIM software and CAFM it will become much easier to demonstrate the practical benefit to FM service providers.


At FSI, we developed a BIM Data Transformation tool that can take a BIM authoring software output such as IFC or COBie and automatically create all of the Facility and Asset information in the CAFM system, such as buildings, floors, locations, areas, assets, asset systems, asset classifications, asset connections and networks.

The import process is configurable, agile and repeatable so users can run, discard and then re-run different versions of the data. This means the FM team is able to preview the results of the import or quickly revert changes if they are unhappy or want to rerun it for any reason.

To ensure that the Asset Register is not swamped with unnecessary detail the imported data can be filtered so that only information which is relevant to FM reaches the CAFM database.

For many FM providers with established CAFM systems managing multiple clients and facilities the data provided by BIM will need to be reconciled with the 'legacy' pre-BIM data in existing asset registers.

FM providers also usually have their own standard terms for asset categorisation, often mapped directly to their expected maintenance regimes.

To allow for this scenario, and to cater for FM service providers that just need to simplify asset categorisation, standard BIM object classifications (e.g. Uniclass, Uniformat) can be mapped and translated to the terminology used by the FM client.

Assets are grouped and classified in ways that not only make sense to FM teams, but will fit with existing maintenance strategies while still retaining reference to universal asset categorisations.

Simplifying the transition from BIM to CAFM in this way makes it easier for FM teams to obtain a clear picture of how BIM data maps to the software and business processes used in the day-to-day operation of the facility.

In turn, this also makes it easier for FM teams to get involved much earlier in a BIM project. As BIM data can be imported into the CAFM system at any stage of the BIM project, FMs can visualise the data in a working CAFM system and analyse whether the model data is being structured in a way that allows efficient maintenance.

Visualisation

The 3D models in BIM outputs allow FMs to visualise asset size, shape and position in the facility rather than relying on 2D floor plans or location tags Outside of CAFM, most BIM authoring tools or specialist model viewers have been developed to suit the needs of the design and construction collaborators.

Rather than reproduce these features FSI have developed our own integrated 3D BIM Model viewer that's been designed specifically for use in practical FM scenarios rather than just the design or construction phases.

It's available in a web browser and fully integrated with the CAFM Asset Register allowing users to access all of the current CAFM asset information by clicking on an object in the model, including service history, PPM requirements, documents and attributes.

Users can also instigate new breakdown work orders for the selected asset and highlight assets that are in the same network or have parent/child relationships.

Unrivalled performance intelligence to shape the future

Depending on the level of information defined for the facility, BIM outputs can contain a lot of supplementary data specific to the type of asset or the client's requirements.

As the data will vary based on the asset type and from project to project it can be challenging to accommodate as it will often extend beyond the fields permitted in the standard CAFM database schema.

In FSI products, all of this data can be retained in CAFM solution through the use of our Smart Attributes feature. It allows an unlimited number of additional fields for any entity in the database.

The new fields can have specific data types, lookup options or default values and can also be organised in to Groups to make them easier to manage.

Using this data, FMs can analyse asset performance to a unprecedented level of detail (for example, reporting on trends right down to model number, dimensions or colour) to influence decisions on future construction or refurbishment projects.

Over time, this data will help identify the cause of maintenance inefficiencies or highlight common issues at specification or component level.

BIM is More than the Model

In some ways the adoption of Building Information Modelling by Facilities Managers may have been hindered by the name itself.

The 3D model is the flashy visual face of BIM and will probably be the eye-catching centrepiece of any presentation of BIM in CAFM but experienced FMs may need more that this to convince them that BIM can add value to their CAFM system.

There are many practical uses for 3D models in operations but, while visualisation is a critical part of the process, focusing on the model itself risks undervaluing other aspects of BIM that are important to FMs.

All these tools are all in service of much simpler principles; Collaboration, Data Quality and Efficiency Investing FM time and expertise early on in the project will mean that BIM data contributes significant decision-making intelligence to enhance the performance and efficiency of the facility throughout the lifecycle.

Paul Durant is Strategic Solutions Manager at FSI, developers of the Concept Evolution CAFM / IWMS range.