Building Information Modelling and the digital representation of built assets offer many advantages, but one area which can easily be overlooked is BIM's impact on building management and operations.

Yet advantages associated with digital built models throughout the operational phase of a built asset life cycle can be significant.

Digital models, for example, can provide an intuitive mechanism through which facilities managers can easily identify the location of non-visible items such as pumps or air handling units which might require maintenance or inspection. They can also be used to gain an understanding of physical environments which FM managers may be about to enter and to determine whether or not risk assessments are needed or the tools and ladder size required. The conducting of simulations for fire evacuation or new employee induction is another possible use.

Whilst much of this can be achieved through 2D drawings, 3D models provide a more intuitive method of working in these areas.

This will be especially powerful, Autodesk digital infrastructure leader Brett Casson says, when combined with mobile technologies such as augmented reality, which will enable managers to point their tablet or mobile device toward a piece of equipment on site and access information such as what parts it was made of, when it was last serviced and when it was due for further servicing.

For a number of reasons, however, the notion of FM managers receiving BIM files or other 3D models upon handover remains the exception rather than the rule. Whilst becoming more common, use of BIM at the earlier stages of design and construction (and thus creation of BIM files in the first place) remains patchy. Much of the information produced using BIM is geared toward design and construction, and may not necessarily be produced in a form which enables FM managers to easily access the type of information which they need. Since contracts rarely require handover of BIM models, there is no obvious incentive for project managers or building contractors to expend the resources and money in order to make this happen from a contractual viewpoint.

There are other challenges as well. In order to fully capitalise on BIM, facilities managers need to be receiving similar types of files across their portfolio and cannot receive BIM files for some facilities but not for others. Likewise, digital models would have to be made up for older buildings within the portfolio – and someone would have to pay for this to be done.

Getting the full benefits out of digital data – such as automatic call-outs, asset register updates and invoices when a light breaks down, for instance – would require massive effort (and costs) with regard to interoperability. Even when BIM files are handed over, keeping them up to date can be problematic. With maintenance often being performed on a task basis, meanwhile, questions regarding who would pay for greater levels of IT sophistication with regard to asset maintenance would need to be answered.

Moreover, Turner & Townsend associate director and facilities management specialist Rogier Roelvink talks of a need to raise awareness amongst facilities managers themselves about how they can use data and information across their portfolio. Working at this level, Roelvink says, will create a kind of pull-through effect whereby FM managers indeed demand BIM files.

“We need to get facilities managers to better understand the benefits of having data and information as well as of having an accurate digitised representation of the built environment available,” he said. “To me, that then creates demand in facilities management discipline for digital information. Industry then will have no choice but to respond and start to gear up and deliver relevant digital information.”

Of course, Casson points out, it should be acknowledged that some of the most important ways in which facilities management will be impacted by technology revolve not so much around BIM but rather around using the data and information contained within the building management system to move toward predictive maintenance and the triggering of forward warnings about repairs or maintenance before they are needed. BIM is simply a digital version of as-built drawings, and it is use of data and information rather than necessarily the BIM file itself where some of the most significant gains will be made, he said.

Going forward, Casson would like to see greater thought amongst the AEC industry in terms of how maintenance personnel might play a more integral role in the design process up front (and thus in determining what type of digital models might be produced and handed over). FM managers themselves, meanwhile, might consider learning about the type of information they can access using BIM, how this can be used and accordingly the type of information they would like to receive, he says.

Roelvink says better appreciation about the benefits of data and information combined with digital models on the part of FM managers will help drive demand for these models to be produced and handed over. It might also be useful, he suggests, for practical completion of the building to be determined not just in terms of the end built form but also in terms of the accuracy of the actual building compared to the digital representation of the building.

For FM managers, BIM and digital built models offer a number of advantages.

In order for these to be realised, however, a number of things have to change.