By Chuck Mies,

The success of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for building delivery is fueling the push towards the use of BIM for building management. Owners are now starting to reuse the models and information created during design and construction to streamline their own operations.

Often, however, the models resulting from BIM building design and construction processes simply do not contain the information necessary for building operations. This problem can be solved by recognizing the issue and asking the right questions that will help you better understand the challenges you face and, in turn,  define a solution that provides data integrity and confidence.
First,  however,  some background.

Building Operations vs. Delivery

Owners contemplating the use of BIM often incorrectly assume they can simply use the building models and data created during design and construction for their facility management. Unfortunately, they sometimes misjudge the usefulness of that information. Propagating this misconception, many architects and builders assume that Owners need as-built models.

Contractors’ as-built models are complex fabrication-ready models that can contain everything from duct hangers to structural rebar.

From a geometric point of view, building models used for design and construction are extremely detailed. This is necessary for drawing creation, clash detection, and other geometry-intensive activities. For facility management, though, the main purpose of the graphical components of building models are to help Owners visually navigate to building data, thereby providing a graphical means to access and organize information.

In addition, design and construction models often lack even the most basic information required for operations and are cluttered with data that the Owner does not need. In fact, what Owners usually need are models— and data—that have been right-sized for their operations. For example, if an Owner does not need to tag a piece of equipment, a representation of that equipment probably does not need to be included in their model.

Surely, it is the ‘I’ in BIM—information— that holds the key to BIM’s potential for building management, operations, and maintenance. The ability of Owners to realize that potential hinges on the use of standardized data streams throughout design, construction, and commissioning; as well as a thorough understanding of the end use, and users, of that building data.

Begin with the end in mind

Using BIM for facility management is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Different Owners need different types of data and use different systems for different operations. How BIM fits into this picture is unique for each Owner and each stakeholder within that Owner.

For example, facility managers usually need a floor plan with associated room numbers. But how about room names or floor finishes? Certainly, the latter can be important when planning moves, because move managers need to know if the space traversed by heavy moving equipment will require protection. But is this information important for a factory facility?

And how are square footages of a specific area calculated? Building Owners define and classify space differently, based on regulatory, industry, or internally developed standards. Educational facilities, for example, may rely on grants for partial funding of their operations and BIM helps them create space inventories to develop financial analysis for indirect cost recovery. Hospitals, on the other hand, may use BIM to streamline the reporting of space utilization for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. The standards used to calculate square footage by these two very different Owners should guide not only their BIM implementation but also their digital requirements for commissioning.

Overall, when you begin planning for BIM, you should accurately assess your information needs based on input from your own IT and facilities groups. Facility management usually requires the aggregation of data streams as well as integration with systems such as maintenance management or HR. Without a clear definition of the problem, these integration efforts often flounder. Therefore, you should ‘begin with the end in mind’ by documenting your organizational needs.

As well, answering these three questions will frame your facility management challenges and guide you to a solution.

Q1: Who will use the data?

The best way to define what data you need is by talking to the people who will actually be using BIM data for their day-to-day tasks. Find out their roles and responsibilities, why they need the data, how they will use the data, and what systems and tools they use to do their job. Keep in mind that many of these employees may have little or no exposure to BIM, so some initial level of BIM education may be required beforehand.

Some organizations tackle this question by developing “use cases” to represent different employee types that will use BIM in a similar way. For example, what systems do HVAC maintenance managers for your organization use and, from their experience, what are the good points and bad points of those systems? The development of this employee use case might uncover that your HVAC manager spends a lot of time trying to locate equipment because the existing HVAC building management and work order systems have limited information about equipment locations.

By taking the time to talk to the people who will ultimately consume the data from the building models, you can better understand the problem and take the first step towards defining the solution.

Q2 What data is needed and how will you collect it?
When data is easily accessible, people can do their jobs more efficiently – but only if they have the right data. Once you understand the roles and needs of the people who are going to use the data, you can work with them to uncover the right data that they need, from the make, model, and serial numbers of assets to square footages and finishes for space.

Asking what data is needed also helps you think about your facility (and building models) as “as-maintained” instead of “as-built”. Since the models and data needed to build a building are very complicated, the complexity of building models and data requirements significantly shrink when moving from construction to commissioning, handover, and O&M. For example, a project team may have captured 41 pieces of data for a specific piece of equipment during design and construction, but for O&M, you may only need eight (and two of them are not even in the contractor’s as-built!).

Now that you know what data you need, how are you going to capture that data? There are multiple stakeholders involved in the delivery of your facility that add or capture data when it is available. Therefore, you have to put in place a plan that can address when the data is available, who is the best stakeholder to capture the data, and how it is moved downstream. By doing so, you create work processes that can capture your data and transfer it into your facilities systems even before you take occupancy of the building.

Q3 How will the data be maintained?

The delivery of incorrect or out-of- date information will risk the perceived integrity of the entire system. So this last question might be the most important, as it can help ensure the integrity of your solution and instill confidence in the data.

The first step is to realize that you are maintaining two separate types of data: graphical data and attribute data. For example, at some point in the life of your building, an HVAC maintenance manager will replace a glycol pump, but unless there is some other significant change to the chilled water system, the old pump may simply be swapped out for a new one. Once that new pump is in place, do you need to update the model? In most cases, the answer is no. However, the attributes need to be changed because the pump has a new serial number, installation date, warranty, and so on. Most Owners have maintenance management systems in place to capture that update. Instead of duplicating that effort, an integration that automatically synchronizes your maintenance management system and your as-maintained building model might be a better approach.

When Owners implement BIM, many view it as a software/technology implementation. In fact, it is a process change. Talk to people in your organization to find out who is using the data, what they need, and how the data can be kept up-to-date. These three important questions will form the basis of your BIM project plan, your model development specification and handover requirements, your data collection and transfer formats, your system integration efforts, and your data maintenance plan.

As well, to optimize the value of BIM, Owners should begin with the end in mind—helping them better understand the business issues of the people who use the facility data, and address their data and workflow needs.