BIM4FM’s Christine Gausden: ‘soft landings must be mandated’

It is almost a decade since the beginnings of what would become the BIM4FM group, one of the UK BIM Alliance communities. The group’s chair Christine Gausden talks to Denise Chevin about the on-going struggle to persuade asset owners of the benefits of embracing digital asset management, why sticks rather than carrots could be the answer, and why the ‘Golden Thread’ cannot be a substitute for soft landings.

Tell us more about the BIM4FM community

We are an eclectic bunch, clients, practitioners in every respect, academics, students and end-users.

Our principles and aims very much remain as they were when the group, representing various different professional bodies, first came together almost a decade ago. BIM4FM remains focused upon the sharing of best practice across the wider industry.

We are also involved in supporting the wider work of the UK BIM Alliance and the BIM Framework. I became chair of the group in 2017 and I am a member of the UK BIM Alliance Communities Leadership Team; I am also a CIOB trustee and I seek to bring a wide industry perspective to the table.

I have worked in the sector for several decades, much of that time as a project manager, but over the past ten as an academic. I am starting a new role as an academic within a virtual learning environment this month and I am excited to have the opportunity to enthuse a new generation of construction management professionals.

A digital world is second nature to this generation of younger people, and I am confident these new cohorts will be readily able to manage complex digital solutions within the worlds of facilities and asset management. There will be no need to change the culture: this generation quite literally has no baggage.

I am a firm believer that the activities of the BIM4FM community group should be for the greater good, rather than to promote someone or something from a commercial perspective, and so we seek to provide live case studies and to recommend best practice.

While the majority of FM providers now operate within a digital world, this is very different from the use or application of a digital model of asset information.– Christine Gausden, BIM4FM

What comes out from numerous BIM+ surveys and roundtable discussions is that the take up of digital assets in the FM seems to have been woefully slow. How do you see it?

I agree. While the majority of FM providers now operate within a digital world, and likewise us all, even more so by virtue of covid-19, this is very different from the use or application of a digital model of asset information. Many end-users apply the digital model to better plan the use of workspaces and this may have benefits, such as financial savings for example. However, there are only a handful who are using an information model to better manage the asset in terms of efficiency, relative to the most efficient use of assets, building services and energy consumption, for example. 

It is disappointing so few people are stepping forward from the FM world to provide examples of best practice. I am hopeful the publication of ISO 19650 Part 3, which covers the operational perspective, will finally prove the catalyst for this to change.

What might you hold up as the real beacons in digital asset management?

From my perspective, good examples can often be found from infrastructure providers, in particular nuclear, rail and highways. I think this is because these are industries that presently work to protocols and are using information in a structured way to realise tangible benefits. They tend to be proactive and because they tend to be large organisations delivering big projects, they have the resources to enable this way of working.

Meanwhile the smaller client base remains largely reactive relative to FM, providing first aid when building services need fixing and often outsourcing to third parties who do not have an interest in the strategic benefits of asset management. 

That said, there are some good examples of digital asset management for buildings: for obvious reasons, these are predominantly public sector clients, who have to be strategic and who have more resources to focus attention on digital asset management. All of the three case studies provided at the recent BIM4FM Operations and Asset Management virtual conference are great in this regard and all are at differing stages in their journey.

The Department for Education is early in this journey, seeking to apply the premise of soft landings. Portsmouth City Council has been proactive for some time and wants to incorporate the provision of an asset information model as integral to all new projects. Then you have the Scottish Futures Trust, which now has some detailed information models that are being used in practice to deliver new projects.

Will the requirement for the golden thread of information provide a game-changer?

Soft landings, the protocol devised a decade ago to ensure the transition for clients from construction to occupation is ‘bump-free’ and to ensure operational performance is optimised, was the original golden thread I would say. While this phrase has been further adopted and adapted by Dame Judith Hackitt, this has somewhat diluted the message in my view.

Soft landings requires the client to address the future use of the asset upon the outset of project delivery, this thread is continuous from outset to the end of asset life, not concluding at handover, not simply in design and deliver terms, but relative to the most effective and efficient use of the asset. This may be from the building services perspective, from an energy perspective, from the sustainability perspective and from the wider stance of corporate social responsibility.

So, in a nutshell, the golden thread will not be a game-changer for providing the most effective digital asset management in the more holistic sense.  

Apart from the case studies, what were other highlights of the recent BIM4FM conference?

Hearing CIOB’s chief executive Caroline Gumble outline the Construction Playbook, which addresses in detail how the government will work with the construction industry to ensure public sector works are delivered faster, better and greener. While focused on the public sector, the good practice the Playbook advocates can still be applied to all clients.

That said, at present, this is all talk, and there is understandably concern this will go the way of past initiatives like Latham and Egan. However, I remain ever hopeful the recommendations particular to the use of soft landings and the provision of information in digital formats to the client on handover will be strictly applied. 

The overwhelming conclusion from all of the contributors at the conference, and this is my view too, was the government should mandate, to legislate for best practice, including the use of soft landings and the provision of a digital information model. The industry can no longer hide behind the façade of the lack of skills, nor the need for cultural change.

What else would you like to see change?

The expectation that sophisticated software will solve everything. Software will assist in the better design, construction, and delivery of an asset. However, these tools all too frequently take centre stage, understandably perhaps as technology is sometimes seen as the more interesting perspective of FM, or asset management, and is fast moving.

We need to constantly remind the less-informed client base that software is simply the tool to enable the better delivery and subsequent use of assets; there is still a need to get ‘back to basics’ to remind industry of the key drivers and the fundamentals of FM and asset management. Too often information is thrown at clients, who do not know how to best use this, and they feel overwhelmed by both the information and the software and subsequently do not fully apply either.

Industry needs to take a holistic perspective, to consider the whole life of the asset, and to always ‘start with the end in mind’. 

‘Back to basics’ is the focus of a current UK BIM Alliance Communities Leadership Team initiative, which will hopefully serve to remind the wider industry of this premise. 

Watch the virtual conference:

Main image: 38475792 © Sophiejames |

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