With BIM (building information modelling) comes the drive to provide greater efficiencies at all stages of the building lifecycle. If a client wishes to benefit from these efficiencies then they need to be instrumental in insuring appropriate working methods and technologies are adopted.

Creating a working environment

Historically, in certain situations clients have provided design offices in which their projects are to be undertaken. This has sometimes been the provision of multidisciplinary offices which have included a hardware and a software provision. This aligns with the Japanese lean concept of "Obeya", or the big room. These "big rooms" are provided to achieve efficiencies. Clients can also provide computer based environments for their design and construction teams to achieve efficiencies. With the growing adoption of BIM, there are new opportunities for the client to control and develop a more efficient design processes for multiple design teams.

Achieving efficiency

The BIM development process can be considered as one of assembling and adding additional data to objects. This is an oversimplification. Irrespective of the BIM software used, a considerable amount of time can be taken developing and configuring the digital working environment and user interface. This configuration can enable automatic generation of drawings from the BIM model or apply certain constrains to certain objects along with many other forms of automation. Such configuration can be critical to control the quality of artefacts and outputs generated from the BIM model.

Provision by the client of the objects that the designer and contractors are to use can also save time and build standardization into the BIM deliverables. Through reducing the tasks that the design team needs to undertake, the client can reduce the fees paid to the design team. The design team can also then focus on those tasks which add value to what they give to the client. Through providing a working environment the client is more likely to achieve a BIM model which seamlessly flows through the design, construction and facilities management processes. Custom environments can be developed for many of the BIM authoring tools available. The client needs to determine which working environment they should customise and what tools are to be used by their design/construction team. Object libraries developed may be transferable between BIM authoring tools.

Achieving visibility

Although deliverables may still exist in the integrated delivery process, BIM enables assessment to take place more easily though out the design, construction and operation process. In Lean Philosophy there is the concept of lowering the water to expose the rocks (problems) which then can be eliminated. Within design, construction and operation projects there is a similar need to make potential problem visible so they can be addressed. Object clash detection is one form of problem that can be visualized using BIM. Activity clashes can be revealed using construction trade line of balance charts. Gradually more dashboards are being developed to show the multiple facets of projects and problems that cross over between the different areas of analysis of the project. Through using the visual aspects of BIM projects can be managed more successfully.

Achieving control and flexibility

Both the design team and contractors in their different ways are fulfilling the needs of their clients. Central to this is the provision of effective, efficient and useable buildings. Yet the accepted best practice in all of these areas may change within the design, construction or commissioning phases.

Normally in the development of a building design there is a progression from the generic description to specific description. This may be by specifically determining the actual item or it may be specified in terms of the performance required. This information maybe contained within the graphical BIM model or the associated specification. It may be as late as when the product is ordered that the manufacturer and type are finally determined.

To enable agility within the development process, static briefs can no longer be regarded as an effective tool. The developing knowledge of those managing and maintaining such facilities needs to continually inform and impact on the development process. Just in time decision making if you like. So what has this got to do with BIM, I hear you ask?

BIM is the most recent manifestation of how ideas, decisions and as built records are communicated. A key facet of BIM is bi-directional associativity. This basically means if, for example, the size of a window is changed in a schedule it will also change in plan, section, elevation etc. The information about objects can be contained with the object but it can also be supplemented using a URL link. If this link is to a managed client database, the client can change an object and all schemes being developed in multiple design team offices. Is this technology being used? The answer is yes. Supermarket clients already use this technology.

Deciding on the nature of the FM BIM model

Historically, building operators have been often provided with Operations and Maintenance manuals in hardcopy or electronic form. Many times this has been provided several months after the building has been in operation, and may also take considerable time to be integrated into the systems used by the facilities managers.

At this point it is worth considering several questions:

  1. What systems does the facilities manager use at present?
  2. In the building type in question, is FM mainly facility maintenance or is the role of facilities management more important?
  3. Does the FM team wish to update and maintain a living graphical BIM model or is data to be extracted into a CAFM tool?

More effective collaboration and interoperability are key elements in all stages of a project. Although it is possible to use a multi-disciplinary federated model, it is more normal for models to be extracted and validated in a range of software products either provided by a single software vendor or multiple software vendors. If the facilities managers wish to manipulate the models in a similar way as occurs at design stage, licences for these individual tools maybe necessary.

Final thoughts

Building Information Modelling has the potential to radically change how design and construction are conducted and major benefits have been demonstrated. Yet the cost savings and potential benefits that exist in the building operation stage are considerably larger than those within the design and construction stages.