3D views: COBie and FM – Life begins after hand-over

Katy Dowding

Martin Ward

Mike Packham

It’s the start of the journey for many facilities managers who are tackling BIM ahead of the government’s 2016 deadline. Some FMs already have been involved in BIM from design concept stage through to using the asset data management system COBie. But others – in the words of one facilities manager – see BIM as “something from Mars”.

To judge the so-called “maturity” of the sector, CM sought the views of three construction professionals focused on asset management who either use BIM and COBie or have knowledge of their use:

Katy Dowding is managing director of Skanska’s Facilities Services Operation. Previously a commercial manager, she played a key role in a number of Public­Private Partnerships including the £352m refurbishment of the Ministry of Defence’s headquarters in Whitehall and the £ bn redevelopment of St Bartholomew’s and The Royal London hospitals in London.

Martin Ward is managing director of iSite, a UK software company and the technology division of property services group Styles & Wood. He has 25 years in construction and property management, including site work, architectural design and CAD management.

Mike Packham is a partner at FM consultancy Bernard Williams Associates. He is a chartered surveyor with over 30 years’ experience in the property, FM and construction industries.

What has been your involvement in BIM or your knowledge of it?

MP Unless they are involved in the government’s asset hand­over process called Soft Landings, most FMs will have little involvement in BIM. First contact will be when the design and construction team hands over the completed building, saying “look what a wonderful model we’ve provided you”. The poor FM will wonder what to do with it.

KD In late 2009, Skanska global headquarters mandated BIM use on projects where Skanska influenced the building design. Skanska UK went further, using it for FM too. We’ve learned that for BIM to be successful it needs a higher degree of FM involvement during design and construction than traditionally is the case.

MW My first engagement with BIM-type modelling was in the mid-90s when I inherited an Intergraph [plant management and dispatch] system for a major UK retailer. But it was killing our supply chain which lacked capability to use it and it wasn’t meeting our internal customers’ needs.

For what are you or your clients using BIM?

MP The BIM model is good for populating the asset register so during, say a refurbishment, FMs know about cable runs, duct routes, etc. But until there is a direct link between BIM and CAFM systems – BIM won’t help FMs operate buildings.

KD My FM team uses BIM to influence building design to make the asset more “FM friendly” and improve “soft landings” for projects through electronic asset information. We started using BIM for asset data and information standards and a standard CAFM configuration at Walsall Hospital, with similar use on all new projects since 2011. These data and information standards were retrospectively applied on existing projects – no mean feat!

MW For us BIM would be a tool, but one with limitations. We need not so much to have the 3D model as the CRE [commercial real estate] and FM data throughout the life­cycle of a property, or properties, to make smarter decisions about running the assets. We need space and vacant space measurements, employee headcount, desk numbers, asset depreciation, energy consumption, etc. We predict headcounts and estate running costs. For example, what the energy consumption will be over 20 years if the 1980 HVAC is replaced now. For this, we pull data from an organisation’s supply chain, we don’t care what systems they use.

What has been your experience of COBie UK 2012, or that of your clients using it?

MP COBie isn’t perfect but a good start for FMs to set benchmarks for asset performance comparisons. But data must be classified in the same way from project to project.

KD On paper, COBie UK 2012 looks very useful, but it’s too early to tell. Our FM team is collaborating with other Skanska UK teams to ensure asset information via COBie also fulfils our internal data and information needs. We have an FM employee working on the panel to publish the British Standard BS 1192­4 (Collaborative production of information – Part 4: Fulfilling employers information exchange requirements using COBie – Code of practice).

MW COBie is a neat way to extract and input data into BIM models and also to centralise data into our own data hub. For example, if the BIM model is updated, so is our centralised data source. But for me the weakness in BIM is that the intelligence is held within the model. There is little value in having a model when I have an estate of, say, 800 properties.

Have you had, or do you see coming, savings in time and/or money in your asset management?

MP The government’s BIM Task Group website has good examples of savings that can be made, but these are one­off rewards. However, we need to see what savings can be expected on whole life­cycle costs. But this is some way in the future.

KD With BIM, cost savings were achieved immediately when new data/information standards and standard CAFM configuration were implemented. CAFM set­up activities were brought in­house, delivering savings on each new FM contract. CAFM training was also brought in-house, resulting in savings. Implementation of standard operating processes, data and information standards and a standard CAFM configuration have improved work efficiency. Operatives can be deployed with minimal training on the use of asset identification and CAFM systems. So we confidently predict BIM will further improve productivity and reduce cost and risk.

MW Data analysis has helped some clients slice 10% or more off property operating costs. Clients increasingly ask about the value of building intelligence, which will be the norm within 10 years. I don’t think people will obsess about BIM, but they will insist on capturing the right data in a structured format and start to treat data as an asset. This will lead to a lot more long-term strategic management of assets, but very few of our clients are at this point yet.

How would you rate BIM and COBie on a scale of 1 to 10 on its usefulness to you or your clients?

MP For the design and construction team I suspect that BIM/Cobie is approaching a 10. But for FMs, the jury is still out, so maybe a 5 or a 6.

KD Difficult to rate COBie until it’s properly tested. But we rate the potential of BIM very highly for collaboration between designers and construction teams, mobilisation of FM contracts and management of assets. BIM also provides valuable information back to design teams so they can cost and design better-quality buildings.

MW I’m not sure I would class us as a user of either.

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]


  1. MP says above ‘But until there is a direct link between BIM and CAFM systems – BIM won’t help FMs operate buildings.’ We at ARCHIBUS have a direct bi-directional BIM/CAFM-integration and a Cobie 2.4 certificate. So, it is already out there. We FM’s only have to start using it…..

Comments are closed.

Latest articles in Analysis