BIM-FM Integration: A Primer on Virtual Facilities Management

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Minding the FM Gap – Setting the Stage for a Successful BIM-FM

A building is only as good as it operates; the most sophisticated creation made with the most cutting-edge digital tools remains a fantasy if it cannot be operated within the means of the owner/operator in the real world. Today’s facilities are demanding complex and intelligent Facilities Management (FM) workflows and systems that are able to address a diverse set of functions: asset management, operation, maintenance, just to name a few. This requires an intense amount of data. However, the low-tech nature of traditional Facilities Information Management (FIM) creates an analog bottleneck between the digital processes of building design, construction, and operation. It is therefore no surprise that FM has faced numerous information management challenges and considerable financial losses as a result of industry silos and insufficient data interoperability. These challenges are driving the industry to search for platforms that facilitate more integrated, sustainable, and automated workflows throughout the lifecycle of a capital project.

FM Yesterday

From an information management point of view, FM requires access to credible, timely data on a large number of components that comprise the facility. Traditional FM starts with searching for information in piles of paper documents that are handed over to operations at the end of construction and later manually entered into FM systems.

FM heavily relies on the information that is gradually created in earlier phases of the lifecycle of a capital project, in which FM stakeholders typically don’t get involved during this time. Therefore, FM needs are neglected and design and construction deliverables do not match the needs of the Owner/Operator. In such a fragmented and low-tech transition of data, a number of risks and inefficient practices emerge:

  • Facility and asset data that is not accessible or usable
  • Data that lacks a standard data structure
  • Receipt of incomplete, irrelevant, inaccurate, and ambiguous data
  • Mapping, retrieving, and validation of data is a time-consuming and error-prone process

FM could benefit from a workflow that establishes a common understanding of the Owner’s needs among design and construction teams. Upfront identification of required asset data, the appropriate format, and structure according to FM task and system needs allows gradual creation of data starting in design phase and construction, and sustainable exchange and reuse in operation.

At the turnover of a capital project, operations commence and facilities and assets begin to age. The amount of FM data becomes even more intensive, resulting in further complications in managing it. This overwhelms FM workflows and results in significant challenges for the Owner/Operator. Therefore, Owners are interested more than ever in finding data-driven processes and technologies that align with their FM and operation goals and objectives.

Enters BIM!

In today’s AEC industry, Building Information Models (BIMs) are standard practice as Architects, Engineers, and Contractors have become more adept at technology-driven workflows. The momentum that BIM has gained in the AEC industry raises the possibility of extending the life-cycle of these models into post-construction workflows; however, it alters the conventional methods of data exchange, documentation, and analysis. With a clear direction of the Owner/Operator’s needs and requirements for FM, the BIM has the ability to provide a repository for both geometric and semantic information, allowing it to supply data-rich FM deliverables in the form of interactive record models.

BIM as a consolidated repository of facility data on the Bowie State University Project. Photo: VIATechnik

Establishing clear model development and implementation protocols can facilitate automated data retrieval from a BIM and generate FM deliverables in the Owner’s/Operator’s desired format.

Automated data retrieval from BIM for FM (Dynamo and Revit). Photo: VIATechnik

But that’s only the start! BIM is transitioning from a simple information database to a platform capable of performing different types of analysis based on raw data. Examples of FM tasks that may utilize BIM include move management, emergency planning, space management, asset management, energy analysis, and maintenance work orders. 

BIMs can also integrate with other FM technologies like Internet of Things (IOT) sensors to provide a virtual environment to manage real-time data. BIM can provide various streams of information such as space temperature for heat mapping, energy consumption, equipment operational metrics, and lighting in a 3D environment. This cloud-based integration of real-time data from IOT sensors and the FM-BIM:

  • Facilitates access to and the organization of sophisticated building data
  • Empowers more targeted building operation in support  of occupant’s needs
  • Creates a continuously updated “digital twin” of the physical building and assets
  • Helps build a library of data to predict future operational needs

Setting the stage

Today, more owners are becoming interested in the integration of BIM within the context of FM.  Setting the stage for improved modeling and information documentation efforts is therefore critical to facilitate sustainable, automated workflows in project closeout and operation phases. The key to the successful integration of BIM-FM is upfront clarification of the owner’s task and system needs. Early considerations for FM needs and requirements can help determine strategies for the successful implementation of BIMs for FM. Further, early involvement of FM stakeholders, and considerations for FM needs/requirements can help determine strategies for the successful implementation of utilizing BIMs for FM.

From a technical standpoint, limitations of commercially available solutions are a driving factor. But more complicated problems at the semantic level of interoperability are related to the varied modeling conventions of different AEC firms. In other words, to leverage the value of BIM for FM and streamline automated workflows, the Owner’s/Operator’s task and system needs should drive the model content, format, and structure. Such items must be documented in a BIM Execution Plan and organizational BIM standards. This establishes a shared foundation for BIM-FM integration and a set of prioritized values that keeps all stakeholders on the same page. Buy-in at this level ensures that designed values come through in the daily operation of the facility, and that the transition from digital model to real building performance will be more streamlined.

Setting the stage to mind the FM gap. Photo: VIATechnik

Marjan Sadeghi, VDC Engineer, VIATechnik

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