Opinion

How BIM is making facilities management smarter

12 January 2021

With the BIM model integrated into facility management software, where all maintenance, operation and repair activity is performed, BIM can begin to pave the way for smarter buildings. Ibrahim Iman, PlanRadar

Facilities management has much to gain from BIM - and its rapid adoption will pave the way for smart buildings, says Ibrahim Iman.

With its collaborative model for shared working for all stakeholders in a building’s design and operation, it’s easy to see why BIM’s popularity has increased so much in recent years. The federated 3D model provides a single source of truth in a tangible format. Yet, despite its popularity, relatively few facilities management teams are using BIM. This is despite the fact that most of BIM’s success stories actually occur in the operations phase.

A recent PwC report into two government projects showed that BIM generated savings of up to 3% over the total life cost of the projects, but 70% of the benefits were seen in the operation phase. By creating more robust common data environments, there is the potential to generate even further savings and operations benefits.

Now with covid-19 as a consideration, there is an increased responsibility for facilities managers when it comes to keeping buildings clean and safe, while facing the likely challenge of having fewer employees. By providing integrated solutions, next generation software is making the case for BIM for facilities management to help solve these challenges.

So, what are these benefits of BIM for facilities management, and how can facilities managers access them?

When a building is completed, the contractor passes over the BIM model to the facilities manager as part of the as-built documentation. This digital twin, sometimes called the asset information model (AIM), will contain all information relating to the building, its construction, and every asset. This 3D model then becomes the blueprint for the building and its facilities management.

With all the data in one place, the AIM model operates as the single source of truth, with the ‘golden thread’ of all actions and decisions safely stored. The digital file eliminates the need for paperwork and duplicates, as all the information can be attached to the 3D design. Asset data can be included as part of the model, with the documentation attached to its location in the digital twin.

BIM also provides a safe place for testing. New layouts can be tried with trouble-shooting and design modifications all tested and signed off in the digital twin before they are implemented in the real world. Linking the model to facilities management software reduces the time needed to locate faults and automatically schedule maintenance or arrange for repairs.

Most advanced facility management software now comes integrated with BIM ready for managers to use. Normally, facility managers will not need more than a smartphone, laptop or tablet to access and manage the building. Using the BIM viewer, users can view 3D digital versions of assets, and store and locate all relevant data relating to them in the model. This includes linking installation dates, materials used and the manufacturer’s information. This saves time and makes life easier for the contractor to find faults and fix them.

With facility management software like PlanRadar that is integrated with BIM, for example, users can mark defects and audit failures directly on the BIM model and automatically send tickets to the relevant contractors. Tickets can include any additional documentation, images of the problem, or written or audio notes. These can be sent with deadlines that will produce push notifications for senior managers when the work is complete or the status changes.

With the BIM model fully integrated into the facility management software, where all maintenance, operation and repair activity is performed, BIM can begin to pave the way for smarter buildings. This transition will help realise greater efficiencies in the operational phase, reduce the impact on the environment and reduce the significant operating costs that building owners currently face. With automation and data feedback, facilities managers can make intelligent, information-based decisions to improve the safety, security and comfort of buildings for their users. 

What makes a building smart is the way its core systems connect and communicate with one another, from the water meters all the way to the lighting. The idea is that the main features of each building can intelligently work to help reduce the expenses of the building for managers. Sensors can be used to monitor footfall and turn off lights or heating in unused rooms, while collecting data for managers on which parts of the building are being used and helping to allocate resources accordingly. Smart buildings generate lots of valuable data, which will be key to finding more valuable ways to save energy and improve efficiency.

One day soon, we will live and work in buildings that will provide continuous feedback on assets and efficiencies. In time, facilities managers will be able to stress-test different settings and layouts on a digital twin. Using information technology, these buildings will connect a variety of subsystems, share information and optimise the building’s total performance. Lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, security devices and specialist assets will all be controlled in the digital environment. The evolution of smart buildings has already started, and its green shoots are in BIM. With continued progress, facilities managers will be able to automate more of their processes and increase their efficiency gains, while paving the way for smarter buildings.

Ibrahim Iman is the co-CEO and co-founder of PlanRadar.