BIM for Facilities Management: 4 Tips to Improve Lifecycle Performance and Reduce Costs

by Jeff Link
- Aug 24 2015 - 5 min read
The Ohio State University campus

Numbers and models just don’t lie—especially for facilities management, both before and for years after the “grand opening.”

Take the facilities-management department at The Ohio State University. Using BIM, the department began creating 3D, digital, intelligent project models of more than 500 buildings and 35.4 million square feet of interior space on its main campus. Because BIM enables OSU to involve building users earlier in the renovation process (for adjustments before incurring construction costs), as well as provide energy-use analysis to help meet carbon-neutral goals, the savings are adding up.

Then there’s Xavier University, which constructed four new buildings and expanded its campus portfolio by 25 percent. As a result of the project—one of the first bidirectional integrations with BIM and space-management software—the school’s administration raised the maintenance budget from $750,000 per year to $12 million. Why? BIM data served as empirical proof of the need for new room finishes, flooring, roofing, and mechanical equipment that had previously been left unaccounted.

Smith Hall, a building part of Xavier University’s project with BIM and space-management software. Courtesy Xavier University.

In turning to BIM for facilities management, a number of universities, hospitals, and private companies in the U.S. and abroad are using building-design software as a facilities-management tool to make use of vast amounts of information—everything from occupancy data and energy reports to equipment serial numbers and make and model data—to plan for new construction, guide renovation decisions, and track the energy performance of their buildings.

Here, industry expert Michael Schley, founder and CEO of FM:Systems and an International Facility Management Association Fellow, shares the advantages of BIM for facilities management and tips for how building owners may apply the software to capture structural, system, and performance information about a building and put it to good use.

How BIM Helps. So, first, a little history. Prior to BIM, general contractors often handed a building’s keys to the owner, along with a complicated paper trail left to disentangle: blueline drawings tucked in file boxes, binders and brochures of parts and equipment, and PDFs collected on CD-ROMs.

“Before BIM, if a truck backed into a curtain wall, and you were looking for materials to repair it, the answer was often bound in files, not searchable, not indexed,” Schley says. “BIM is well-populated, searchable, and easy to query. It is a better source of information about make, model, and potentially the serial number so that the owner understands what’s in the building and can make repairs.”

BIM for lifecycle management also reduces renovation costs by providing owners a kind of historically intelligent X-ray vision of the building’s internal mechanics.

“We’re not good at keeping up with buildings as they change over time,” Schley says. “BIM serves as a tool for keeping this information updated and accurate so that owners know what lies behind the walls. Contractors working on a repair or renovation often charge built-in fees as a de facto insurance policy against the risk they will find hidden electrical conduits, water pipes, or hazardous materials that require additional expenses and drive up costs. If owners know this information ahead of time, they can eliminate these expenses.”

And that’s not the only way BIM can help owners save money. Closely monitoring energy and water use to reduce building-operating costs is another benefit, Schley says. By allowing owners to monitor and analyze the performance of multiple systems—air-conditioning levels, lights on automatic dimmers, water usage—BIM can lead to more thoughtful energy use, lowered expenses, and increased asset value.

So with all these benefits in mind, Schley shares these four tips for a successful BIM integration.

1. BIM Is a Conversation: Make It Inclusive. Much of the challenge in translating BIM to lifecycle management lies on the front end—essentially making the system as user-friendly as possible for facilities managers who need to understand how to use BIM for equipment and mechanical maintenance and operations.

bim_for_facilities_management_teamSchley’s advice is to define, prior to integration, a clear set of deliverables and to make sure facilities and management teams are part of the conversation. For a new building, facility managers must decide what data is relevant to track and tag and what can be eliminated. For an existing building, decisions need to be made about what custom and lifecycle features should be added to BIM to create an ongoing model. “You have to know what it is you want and how to ask for it,” Schley says.

Data collection will, of course, vary depending on the mission and goals of the owner or asset manager. Inviting everyone to the table—from IT teams to facilities operations and maintenance staff, and getting their buy-in early in the process—is crucial to success.

2. Right-Sizing: The Five Pieces of Information You Need to Collect. The BIM visualization model captures an extraordinary amount of information: room square footages; brickwork and window details; and building elements graphically represented with accompanying quantities, sizes, shapes, and orientations. But many of these details, though useful in selling a new project or renovation to upper-level management and investors, may be irrelevant to facilities departments and maintenance staff. Worse, they may be difficult and time-intensive to maintain.

Start simply, and set modest goals. For those new to BIM integration, Schley recommends collecting only five pieces of building equipment and systems information: make, model, description, serial number, and asset identification number.

3. Hire a Software Pro. BIM should not only account for the facilities teams using the information on a day-to-day basis but also designate a role for the person responsible for translating these changes to the BIM and facilities-management systems whenever renovations are made or equipment is replaced.

bim_for_facilities_management_software_expert“Say a pump breaks, and a new equivalent pump is installed; a software expert needs to be available and disciplined enough to update the system,” Schley says. Syncing room and equipment ID numbers between the BIM and facilities-management platforms is critical to limiting inaccuracies and unnecessary duplication, according to Schley.

4. Integrate Data; Don’t Transfer It. This raises the question: What’s the difference between integrating and transferring data? According to Schley, facilities management is a better source of information for fulfilling work orders and compiling space reports. It is the authority on actions: occupancy, use, leases. BIM, on the other hand, is the authority on a building’s physical characteristics: materials, mechanics, and equipment. Ideally, the integration should be bidirectional, meaning data should flow seamlessly from one system to the other and not need to be entered twice.

“I strongly believe in integration of the BIM model with facilities management,” Schley says. “Some people believe in transfer, which can work initially but causes problems down the road because the information can never be updated. BIM and facilities management are two systems, and neither should try to do the job of the other.”

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