Opinion

BIM & FM - Past, Present & Future

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From BIM Journal. Click Here to Read Issue 5

In a candid and enlightening trip down memory lane, Ivor McCauley (Facilities Manager, Glasgow Life) reminds us of the distance travelled in terms of BIM adoption and how this has been used to bolster real world implementations.

As an early forty year old I distinctly remember a time in the early noughties when the internet began to really take hold of our lives. Since then, and it was not a conscious decision I admit, but like many others I soon became addicted to this technological wonder and the promise that it held.

Back then, and it was only a decade ago, our computers would eventually start and the beeps and blips of our state-of-the-art dial up modems would kick in. This phenomena allowing me to carry out my first digital purchase (a £25 return ticket from Glasgow to Paris on a Dublin based airline) and I knew even then that the web would be taking hold of everything. It was new, exciting and everybody seemed to know that the future was going to change.

Nowadays, in the AEC world, it feels like there is a similar vacuum of technological energy that the growing influence of BIM will seek to fill.

Hitting the Ground Running

Coming from the FM sector, I noticed that when I was in a room with many other professionals the mere mention of BIM seemed to unlock a vat of hyperbole. Generally along the lines of “the capabilities are limitless” and “the industry will change beyond all recognition” and “if you don’t get on board now you will get left behind”.

Was I the only Reggie Perrin in a room full of CJ’s?

My own exposure in BIM to date is that I have been involved in the completion of one BIM capital project and another which is nearing the construction phase. My own perception from these projects has been that the technological aspects to BIM have not been nearly as influential or as dramatic as some people initially made me think.

In fact, with respect to the completed project, the impact of BIM proved to be a positive learning experience which went far and above the technological benefits, as reflected in the actual business improvements.

My own involvement on this project was that I was asked to be the client lead for ensuring that we, the client, got what we expected from BIM. To set the scene, in terms of timelines, my involvement came when the project was at around RIBA Stage 3.

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In order to get up to speed I made myself familiar with the tender documents and the client brief on BIM, and I was able to find and quickly read the client EIR.

The project had been specified with what was a very simple one-page EIR, developed by a consultant on my organisation’s behalf. The verbatim contents of the EIR are not ingrained in my memory however, to all intents and purposes it read “The client wants somebody in the process to deliver a BIM Level 2 compliant model”.

At this point I hadn’t fully realised just how scant this was, so I decided to press on and throw myself into understanding BIM anyway.

Predictably, in order to quickly reach a suitable depth of knowledge I went online, but the search engine behemoths didn’t hold the answers in one easy search and I soon realised that I would need to start from scratch. However this made my own learning style fairly simple, as I began to read all of the available guidance over and over again!

Long Story Short

During the latter half of 2014 I spent many a long and dull commute pouring over the main significant documents, such as PAS 1192 and the like. Now while the PAS suite may seem to be the antithesis of insomnia, it became clear to me that a BIM mandated project should not be as complicated as many people think.

I also realised that, unlike the many debates that I had heard about BIM, which would solely focus on the technology, it was that the software is purely a sideshow in the BIM arena. Admittedly it is a necessary and important sideshow, but a sideshow nonetheless to what the whole BIM process should achieve.  

As an end user of built assets, Facility Managers are often left in situations where new buildings do not function in quite the same way in which they were intended.  Typically, not long after the season that designers and contractors attend their award ceremonies, the frustrated FM can be found pouring over incomplete O&M manuals trying to figure out the multiple problems that have simultaneously occurred in their brand new facility.

From reading the guidance I was quickly struck by the fact that BIM was a management thought process for Capital Projects, which from a FM perspective, was potentially very valuable indeed.

Silver Lining

As I became more and more involved in the project it became clear that the knowledge that was shared between the entire design team was at considerably differing levels. As such, the actual outcomes for the BIM were unclear, which is not a shock when looking back at the project EIR I must say.

Now if there can be a positive aspect to having an unclear EIR and a differing level of knowledge on BIM across all of the stakeholders it was that, if we were to achieve anything meaningful, then a sharing of knowledge and learning would be needed in order to make progress and it would need to happen quick.

A professional spirit of détente ensued and, whilst the end BIM didn’t set the world alight, the positives were that the relationship between the client the design team and contractor was genuinely quite harmonious and collaborative.

This experience reinforced in me that the actual true potential of BIM is one of being a platform where the shared input from differing professionals should help to deliver a more cohesive and productive outcome for all.  

Lesson Learned

From an FM perspective it is clear that a member of the FM sector should have input regarding the client BIM requirements. Only then can the holy grail be realised, where new buildings are handed over with the right information that also perform in line with the design expectations.

Indeed this learning took itself into our second project, which has since reached RIBA Stage 4 and is seeing the benefits of collaboration through the development of the BIM already. One key aspect has been that the EIR was fully developed early on in the project, and that it was in sufficient detail to meet the project needs.

That said, the process of refining the EIR has also involved the design team at key stages, in order to make sure that our expectations were able to be met by all involved. To facilitate this, early design team meetings were held with all designers present, so as to ensure that our message was consistent.

Certainly the level of understanding among the design teams was different, but these meetings really helped to achieve commonality and a more holistic spirit of cross collaboration. And whilst the project has yet to break ground, I am heartened with the progress to date and I have an increasing hope that the impact of BIM will begin to bear fruit.

History Repeats

As I mentioned earlier, after the buzz created by the internet not too long ago, BIM seems to be creating a similar excitement today in specific industry sectors. So much so that I think BIM will be fully mature by the early 2030’s.

Nobody knows what we will see in new buildings and facilities in that time, but I do hope that it is a world where buildings are designed, controlled and managed on one common BIM environment, that is for sure.

As the FM sector is slowly moved from the end to the start of the ‘chain of influence’, I believe that we will begin to see less combative projects emerging. Ones that do not focus merely on delivering on time and on budget, but to a focus on increased performance and efficiency.

If we can achieve that, then well done BIM!  

Read BIM Journal in full here.

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