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BIM – Do they mean us?

Author : Kath Fontana, managing director ISS Technical Services and chair RICS, professional FM group

07 June 2017

The Government aims to make BIM level 2 business as usual, which should be good news for FMs. Why are they so sceptical?

Paradoxically for a methodology designed to be collaborative, building information modelling (BIM) has the potential to divide opinion like nothing else across the entire design/build/FM industry.

On the one side are the early adopters, mostly architects and major contractors, by now becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of BIM. On the other is the remaining 95%.

These mainly work for SMEs, untouched by the demands of the 2016 government mandate (which requires Level 2 BIM to be used on all public sector construction projects).

Also included in this mass are those working downstream in the design/build cycle – the facilities managers.

For many on the outside, there’s still the notion that BIM is for others – not them. However, the government has now asked for BIM Level 2 to become ‘business as usual’ across the entire industry.

So it’s difficult to see how this situation can continue. The Government Soft Landings (GSL) initiative made it clear that FMs should be part of the whole BIM transformation.

So how can this situation be resolved? For a start there are many damaging assumptions on both sides that must be challenged.

For example, there’s much detailed BIM talk that most people, including FMs, just don’t understand. Not because they’re not smart enough, just that some of the arguments are too deeply technical.

FMs have their own ‘prop tech’ issues to concern them, not least the huge impact of smart buildings and the Internet of Things.

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.

Yet FMs aren’t blameless either. It’s easier to close down discussions by talking about lack of budget, without considering the long-term but silent costs of a poor handover.

This might include time spent searching for documents such as supply chain warranties, creating databases from diverse analogue information, including PDFs, 2D and CAD drawings and subsequent long-term costs of lacking key information.

There’s also a common supposition that BIM means investment in expensive software and training, when in fact, FMs can take advantage of several free, downloadable viewers.

There’s not necessarily a need to invest in a full-blown 3D modelling solution. BIM has the huge potential to solve this poor handover problem because the information is accurate and reliable – and easy to navigate.

It doesn’t involve examining the building itself, going above the ceiling, for example, for information; it’s all contained in the model.

Data – such as manufacturers’ information can be linked to all the objects for use throughout the building lifecycle.

If contractors are compliant and keep to BIM standards, then all the information is validated and verified and FMs can be confident of using it.

But unless everyone is prepared to collaborate more closely, we’ll miss the opportunity to enable BIM to transform the industry for the better.

This means the experts upstream of FM translating the jargon and processes so everyone – including building owners – can easily understand. In doing this they will help acknowledge that BIM is just one of several major technological challenges FMs are dealing with at present.

In turn, FMs must continue to put aside their native scepticism and recognise the benefits of BIM. The whole industry also needs to consider procurement processes which make it difficult for a client to ‘buy’ 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 – and in return, professionals must show a respect for everyone’s contribution and an understanding of their challenges.

BIM doesn’t mean more, it just means better. In the long run, this results in better buildings that are easier and more efficient to manage.

If this doesn’t encourage FMs to get involved, nothing will. The BIM Alliance is the latest evolution of the UK BIM movement for the digital formation of the built environment and wants BIM Level 2 as business as usual by 2020.

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