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Why FMs Can’t Ignore BIM

Why FMs Can’t Ignore BIM

With so much happening tech-wise, it’s easy to let BIM slip down the agenda. However, FMs do so at their cost says Kath Fontana Managing Director ISS Technical Services and Chair RICS, professional group for facilities management.

Today’s FMs would be excused for thinking that technology is taking over their lives. A thriving ‘PropTech’ sector has coincided with the rise of ‘smart buildings’ and the Internet of Things - and all are providing tools to help manage buildings and make better-informed decisions. Yet, at the same time, changing workflow, processes and culture to take advantage of these advances means more work and disruption.

It’s not surprising then that Building Information Modelling (BIM) is not always top of the FM agenda – but rather seen as someone else’s responsibility (that is, someone further upstream in the design/build/manage cycle). Yet BIM is the only one of these technologies that has the driving force of government behind it.

The government mandate that BIM should be used to Level 2 on all public sector projects over a certain size came into force last year. However, this still left the majority of AEC companies, mostly small businesses who work on smaller or private sector projects untouched. The UK BIM Alliance has been set up to help facilitate the government’s aim that BIM Level 2 becomes ‘business as usual’ for the industry by 2020.

Initiatives such as the Government Soft Landings (GSL) and the Digital Britain report have made it clear that FMs should be part of the whole BIM transformation. The report discusses the development of new commercial models that link design/build/operate contracts and requiring FMs to deliver against BIM standards.

Crucially, most FMs are still sceptical about COBie and there is minimal evidence of take up at handover stage. There's been a lack of engagement on the development of this exchange format - it was developed in a silo and more or less imposed on FM - so there needs to be much more collaboration around how it will be implemented. In other words there is often too much emphasis on the technical and creating very complex building standards and not enough on the value proposition.

Despite the natural and healthy scepticism many FMs feel towards BIM, it does have tremendous potential for the profession. If a contractor is compliant and has kept to BIM standards, data held in the BIM model will be validated and verified and FMs can be confident of using it. It can contain key information for ongoing management of the building – such as names of manufacturers of building components and other products and maintenance schedules. This will save, for example, going into the ceiling to check for information as everything needed is contained in the model and can be updated throughout the building’s lifecycle. It seems that the management of data – whether it emanates from smart buildings, BIM or other sources, will become an increasingly important part of the FM’s work

However, there are still uncertainties and assumptions surrounding BIM and the world of FM. Some can be easily addressed, others and particularly those that are valid, will take a while to get right. The most important is probably the supposition that BIM will mean investment in expensive software and training. But FMs don’t necessarily need to invest in a full-blown 3D modelling software solution. Instead they can take advantage of several free, downloadable viewers.

On the other hand, there’s no use talking about lack of budget without considering the long-term, but hidden costs of a poor handover. Invariably the FM will need to factor in time spent searching for documents such as supply chain warranties, creating databases from diverse analogue information, including PDFs, 2D and CAD drawings and the subsequent long-term costs of lacking key information.

At the same time, the architects, engineers and others working hard to promote BIM do need to take FMs more readily into account. In general there’s just too much BIM talk that’s detailed and complex and that most people, including FMs, just don’t understand. In other words, there is often too much emphasis on the technical and not enough on the value proposition.

The whole industry also needs to consider procurement processes. Current practices make it difficult for a client to buy into a collaborative approach. For example, FM services are often procured separately from design and build. We need to make it easier for a building owner to choose collaboration. There are also issues around data ownership – and who owns the building model? Hopefully questions such as this can be decided at the contract stage, as if not, they can cause friction further down the line.

But the will to collaborate more closely must be there. Otherwise we will miss this golden opportunity to transform the industry for the better. Different professionals must show a respect for everyone’s contribution and a deeper understanding of their challenges.

FMs must stop seeing BIM as purely about design, build and construction and instead consider it a tool for digital FM. Nor is it about more work – only about working better. It should, in the long run, lead to a far improved way of working and more efficiently managed buildings. FMs can’t really ask more than that.

Reader Reply Number 203033
UK BIM Alliance

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