Last reviewed 27 November 2017

Laura King explores how FMs can get up to speed with BIM.

Research shows that although the majority of the whole-life cost of a building sits within its operational phase, most of the decisions that will affect its running costs are made early on in the design process. As custodians of buildings, Facilities Managers (FMs) are in an ideal position to advise and influence decisions affecting how a building will be used. Increasingly, this means getting to grips with Building Information Modelling (BIM), especially as BIM Level 2 is now a mandatory requirement for all government-procured projects and is also becoming commonplace in the private sector.

BIM has many advantages. It is a process that allows buildings to be designed and built in a collaborative way. It does this by creating a data set that can be interrogated, shared and used throughout the building’s lifecycle — from its initial conception through to construction and operation.

This way of working essentially creates a “digital twin” of the building which can be examined, changed, broken and fixed: a much cheaper way of resolving problems than trying to solve issues once a building is being built or has been handed over. The process also gives FMs a say in what data they will get when construction finishes — providing them with the best information possible to manage both the asset and the transition from a building undergoing construction, to one that is being used.

Lacking clarity

Despite these advantages, a survey published by the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), in partnership with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland and Liverpool John Moores University, reported that 72% of respondents believe that “the FM industry is not clear what BIM is”. A further 67.7% disagree or strongly disagree that the FM industry is well prepared to deal with BIM projects.

There is clearly more work to be done within the industry. As a result of the Government’s mandate on BIM, it is becoming the norm in the fields of architecture, engineering and construction (AEC). So why are FMs perhaps behind the curve?

Naturally, the first adopters of any new process will be those industries that are immediately affected. Simon Ashworth, Researcher at Zurich University of Applied Sciences and co-author of the survey together with Dr Matthew Tucker, believes that this factor had a notable impact.

“The drive during the early stages of the introduction of BIM as a process was to get the construction industry on board,” he commented. The ACE industries have had to invest in new technologies, training and processes, but FMs are not authors of the data, they don’t generate the models. As a result, they have sometimes been left out of the loop”.

Stepping up

However, FMs are keen to get involved and Ashworth agrees: “There is a great willingness from FMs and increasingly a good base understanding of the BIM process.”

Pointing to the results of the survey which showed that strategic decision making about asset maintenance and management was seen as the top benefit of BIM, he commented that people are beginning to recognise that the process can be a useful tool to elevate FMs to a more strategic position. When considering that up to 50% of organisations do not have a written strategy for dealing with their assets, BIM could become a positive driver for change.

To realise the full benefits of BIM, the FM industry need to be engaged from the outset. To do this, FM teams need to produce several key documents.

First, the organisational information requirements (OIR) need to be developed. These essentially outline what information is needed to achieve the organisation’s objectives. From this, the asset information requirements (AIR) can be developed. The AIR are a much more practical set of stipulations that look at the specific data sets and information needed to manage assets properly.

Once these documents have been drawn up, they can be used to input into the employer’s information requirements (EIR). The EIR are a part of the pre-tender requirements that define what the building needs to do and what information the FM will need from the building once it is completed. Producing this pre-contractual information will mean that the full potential of BIM can be achieved.

As Ashworth commented: “If FMs are not involved in defining the scope very clearly at the beginning then they will only get the best will of the rest of the design team, which may not be what they really need.”

Once the EIR has been developed, FMs should stay engaged in the process to review the design, comment on models, and also to test the quality of data. Testing is paramount to ensure that when the final data sets are handed over, they can be inputted into computer-aided facilities management (CAFM) systems and other enterprise management systems used by FMs as required.

Time well spent

Fundamentally, this level of involvement is not dissimilar to what FMs need to do during any design process; BIM is simply a different way of working. In any good project, you need to put the time in to get the best outcome and BIM is the same. “How much time you spend is not necessarily defined by the BIM process,” Ashworth explained. “If you have a good grounding in BIM, getting involved is like getting involved in any project. Before BIM came along, this was no different. If you wanted the best information at the end of the build project, you had to get involved at the beginning.”

Regardless, any new process carries with it a level of apprehension. In 2013, the BIM4FM task group conducted a survey that asked what concerned FMs about BIM. Fifty percent stated cost, with a further 50% stating that integration with technology was an issue. This year’s BIFM survey identified that barriers continued to revolve around the transfer of data between BIM and CAFM as well as training. Although cost was mentioned, it was seen as less of an issue.

Certainly, funding does not need to be a significant barrier. FMs do not need to purchase the specialist BIM software — that is an investment that the architects and designers need to make — and much of what the FMs require can be done using free viewer tools.

Learning curve

So what can facilities managers do to get involved? “FMs need to invest in time, and they need to invest in training,” said Ashworth.

As a start, there are some comprehensive guides produced by the BIFM, including:

  • The Role of FM in BIM Projects — advice on where FMs sit within the process

  • Operational Readiness Guide — consolidated advice and signposting for FMs

  • Employer’s Information Requirements (EIR): Template and Guidance — a working example of EIR with standard wording.

In addition, the Government Soft Landings guidance documents and PAS1192:3 are good starting points. PAS1192:3 is part of a suite of Publically Available Standards (PAS) that are designed to help the construction industry adopt BIM Level 2. PAS1192:3 specifies the requirements for achieving BIM Level 2.

BIM is here to stay, and with the Government looking to develop BIM Level 3, it is only going to get bigger. Some FMs will be further ahead than others; however, all FMs need to start thinking now about what they need to be able to contribute in this new digital world.