Opinion

BIM & FM - It’s a Circular Thing

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From BIM Journal. Click Here to Read Issue 5

In this article Steve Owen (Managing Director, FM180 Ltd) highlights the psychology between the less than harmonious relationships that can occur among project participants and what can be done to solve it.

There is an aspect of human nature that guards us against the things that we do not like and the things that make us feel uncomfortable.  In terms of FM, this most often manifests itself in the usage and sharing of data. Furthermore, we see this most often in areas relating to contractor/client relationships, where information that could be used to improve a particular issue is hidden or held back for fear of either the individual or their organisation being viewed as incompetent, hostile or any other scenario potentially resulting in some form of financial dispute.  

This happens on both sides of the equation of course, and for many similar reasons.

However, while it is unheard of for an FM provider to openly admit to keeping secrets from their clients (and vice versa) we all know that this happens. So what is my point?

There have certainly been numerous studies about the contractor/client relationship and how accidental adversarial relationships may arise - complete with how to potentially avoid these pitfalls in order to ensure contractual harmony and shared benefits. In the past this has largely relied on both the contractor and client being more open, honest and allowing for a certain level of transparency between one another.  However, and it is unfortunate, but we often find that this only goes as far as each side feels comfortable. Consequently, there is an invisible and indeed unquantifiable barrier that has been established here.

The advent of the use of BIM for design and construction has been a difficult evolution.  Partly due to the way that traditional contracting has worked and partly because BIM changes the way that we develop and share information during the project lifecycle.  The conventional wisdom of ‘we do it this way because it works’ has been well and truly challenged by BIM and, to a large extent, the status quo has been overturned.

Granted, although we now share information via a Common Data Environment (CDE), there are still many gates to pass through before the data is truly shared. But even with this in mind, BIM has still seen financial savings (in reduction of waste, conflict avoidance and joint working) of anything up to 30% during the Capex element of a project.

What we have yet to prove is how this translates into the Operating phase of the life cycle (the traditional ‘home’ of FM delivery).  

Positively, there have been some excellent examples of using BIM enabled information to aid FM delivery (such as the UBS Broadgate project, the work of the MoJ and Sydney Opera house etc) and it has to be acknowledged that the FM teams have noted several benefits in both time and cost. Which I believe is largely due to the quality of data produced using the BIM process and the accessibility of that data to aid FM teams in their day to day operations.

So let us begin to expand this further, by considering how much more beneficial it would be for all if FM were to be involved in the BIM process from the beginning.

Early Involvement

During our contact with numerous organisations involved in design and construction, reading the literature available (the PAS 1192 series, GSL guidelines etc) and our own experience in the field, it is clear that we understand generally that any project should ‘start with the end in mind’.  Yet in truth this seldom happens.  

How many architecture or construction organisations have had any involvement from FM before the handover stage?  How many of us have been asked to join a BIM project team at the concept stage?

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BIM brings about a potential change to the status quo in the FM sector.  We are now in a position to receive an unparalleled quality of data on the buildings that we receive - which goes far beyond a mere 3D image of a building.

Indeed FM personnel should be involved in the BIM project from the start. Why? Because the value of their experience of the Operate and Maintain phase is second to none and simply not present within the design and construction disciplines (to a larger extent).  However their involvement usually begins if not at practical completion then at the end of the agreed defects period (snagging).

It is not news that FM has generally been left out of the loop, left to live with the building delivered ‘to’ or even ‘at’ them.  The only feedback they have is during the defects period, which often results in a very adversarial relationship between the main contractor and, if not the client then certainly the FM provider.

I believe that FM could bring more than a spanner to the party.  Not least in the fact that we have an extremely long history of what works and what does not in an operational sense.  

Sure there are applications that provide ‘hard’ clash detection features in order to reduce waste and improve design. However FM can provide what I call ‘soft clash detection’ or ‘operational clash detection’ which is something that you cannot really write into a programme.  This being the concept of looking at a model and its associated data whilst placing yourself virtually in that space and time and thinking about how things will work in reality.  For example, ‘how am I going to service that piece of equipment?’ at the top of an Atrium or ‘how can I clean the inside of my glass roof?’.  To carry out this sort of activity you need somebody with the actual on the ground knowledge and the real world experience.

It is also important at this point to identify and understand that this may well be a person or organisation that will have nothing to do with the eventual running of the building.

So how do we get FM involved in BIM?  A good place to start would be at the end.  When thinking about a new asset, an FM entity needs to be involved in an advisory capacity as a minimum (if only briefly), with their influence duly taken into account.

Saving Money

This now introduces the interesting and crucial aspect of the FM entity being able to know where to save money and where to spend money in to save even more over the longer term.  

For example, if we take a really simple case of door furniture, it may be that there are a number of choices open to the designer/contractor.  Some will be of a higher quality and tend to cost a little more, whereas others will be cheaper and of a lower quality with a subsequently reduced life expectancy, as you would expect.  During the Capex stage however, we may need to place much more emphasis on the real world value here because, more often than not, this will result in the cheaper option being selected, simply to save expenditure during the construction phase.  

Thereafter, and this is unfortunate again, but for FM this mindset can only ever increase the maintenance burdens in the Operate and Maintain phase later on.  The result is clearly a short term gain at the expense of a much longer term loss. Consequently, when these sorts of decisions are combined holistically, the results can greatly increase the revenue costs throughout entire the life of the building.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg – not just in relation to MEP equipment and the like but extending this to floor coverings, cladding, ceiling tiles, luminaires etc the list goes on and the costs soon become frightening.

At present, there is no-one embedded in the process that fights the FM case.  Which needs to change.

What do I know?

By utilising the operational experience available, this means that subtle changes to positioning or flow or the like can be made in order to improve the use of a particular object or space for the benefit of the operator and the visitors alike.  

One example of this is something that I have seen myself many times.  The layout of specialist spaces such as kitchens, which are often left to a designer who has a list of items to fit into a space and this is seemingly all there is to it.  

Now, without disregarding the skill and knowledge of the designer for one moment, we very rarely ask a chef or a cook just how they would like their kitchen to be laid out.  Indeed I have spoken to many caterers in the past who, given the chance, would like to re-arrange their kitchens to function much more efficiently that what was designed for them.  The advent of BIM not only gives us the opportunity to ask the caterer how they would like to position their equipment but, it actually allows us to design spaces and flow around the very people who will use it, rather than deciding the size and shape of a space and asking the people to fit within it.

I have used catering above but the criticism relates to any space and function.

Of course we have to accept that changes to working cultures will not happen overnight, but surely we should be designing the workplace/workspace around the people who will actually use it, based on the function(s) that they will carry out?

Changing the Status Quo

A more radical idea that BIM brings to the fore is the fact that we can now change the status quo in respect of the client/contractor relationship.  Traditionally, we have (even as clients) accepted that a 3rd party contractor will service our assets and send us the bill without receiving any form of asset information that we can hold onto (ok, so we will receive a worksheet but you know what I mean).  

Consequently, when a contract ends (either naturally or prematurely) the service provider will move on without leaving us with anything other than the financial records and some paper.  When the new provider takes over, quite often the first cost to ourselves as a client is to pay them for an asset verification and/or condition survey.  This is seen as a must have in order to mitigate risk on the part of the incoming provider.  

Worse still is the fact that this can happen multiple times, with different specialist service providers looking after their own areas of expertise.  This can be an extremely large chunk of the first year’s outlay on the contract mobilisation, and subsequent renewal thereafter.

We have at our fingertips (with BIM) the opportunity to keep the data associated with our assets exactly where it belongs, with the asset!  Imagine buying a new car and leaving the service history with the dealer.  Imagine getting a new service history at each service from a different garage and then leaving it with them.  When we come to sell that vehicle, its value would be greatly reduced as we have no proof that we have looked after it. A crazy idea? This is exactly what we do with our buildings currently.  If we accept that a car costing a few thousand pounds is worth more with an intact service history, then why do we not apply the same rationale to buildings which are often worth many millions of pounds?

Obviously it was more difficult in the past to achieve this, but we now have the technology and the experience that is needed to implement the change.  However the question now becomes, do we have the will?

Our contention is that if we accept that the value and accuracy of the data provided by BIM is much greater than a conventional survey, we have the opportunity to de-risk contract handover/mobilisation, better understand our building (and asset) performance and use that information to better effect when considering life-cycle and procurement decisions.

The technology we have today allows us to share access to data in order to carry out tasks, record works done, get parts replaced etc without having large holes (and costs) in our knowledge between service providers.

So What’s in it for me?

Should FM be afraid of BIM? Should FM service providers be afraid of BIM?  

I would argue not in the case of both, but then the idea of sharing what I know with my clients is second nature in my line of work.  If we move forward with the attitude that we want to work in an open and transparent way with our counterparts, then we have nothing to fear.  The concept of mutually beneficial contracting is not new. It may be rare, but it is not new.

If we are open and accept that we all have to make some form of margin to survive in business then we really can develop that ‘win, win’ scenario.  Many of our current arrangements are designed to hide, and therefore ‘protect’ us from risk, but if the data is clear for all to see then these risks can finally be identified and mitigated for the benefit of all.

BIM gives the world of FM the opportunity to receive the most accurate information about the assets that they must then manage.  

We must ensure that we do not waste this opportunity.

Read BIM Journal in full here.

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