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A True BIM to FM Transformation

Facilities Management

27/07/21 | Rebecca Drewett

FSI Hong Kong Region Manager, Danny Ho, brings his latest article on why BIM models are not being harnessed to their fullest with existing approaches. He also discusses how FSI has achieved a true BIM to FM transformation with his client, a large, privately-owned real estate company based in Hong Kong.

Over the years Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become a standard procedure in construction and development projects throughout Hong Kong, Asia and the wider world.

As a result, more and more construction companies and developers include ‘BIM integration’ as part of their service proposition, where the models developed during the design and build phase are transitioned to the facilities teams responsible for the continued management of the building.

But what does this actually mean in practice? There’s no question that the data generated by a BIM model can make a significant difference in optimising the lifecycle of facilities and assets across the decades a building will typically be in operation. However, current practice restricts this from happening, limiting the usefulness of these models to the long-term future of their buildings.

At the heart of this issue is a lack of communication and collaboration between those responsible for the construction of a building – architects, engineers, contractors – and the FM professionals that will manage and maintain the building moving forward. A gulf that our team at FSI have sought to bridge in a recent project with one of our customers.

In this article, I intend to explain why BIM models are not being harnessed to their fullest with existing approaches, and why this project represents a true transformation in the BIM to FM relationship.

The Problems with Today’s BIM Integration

Most contractors here are familiar with a BIM Execution Plan, and the models that they produce are typically functional as a modelling guide. However, when it comes to making these models work from an asset lifecycle or data management perspective, this is often more challenging.

When contractors interact with a CAFM system, it is often very late in the overall development process. At this stage, they will simply be providing the completed BIM model to a CAFM vendor to then input into their system.

This means that there is little-to-no interaction between those responsible for constructing the building and those responsible for managing it across its lifetime until it is time for the handover. By this time, the BIM model has already been established, formatted according to the needs and interpretations of the construction team.

This is where problems emerge as, in many cases, the format, quality and level of detail in a BIM model is far removed from what the facilities management team needs for their purposes. Because there has been no collaboration from the outset of the project over what the BIM model requires to support the lifecycle of the building, that information can easily be overlooked or ignored.

The result? A massive BIM model that a developer has spent a significant amount of money to create, of which only a fraction is usable by the facilities team going forward. Little more than a good-looking model that will quickly gather dust because the building managers have little use for it, similar to old-school BMS solutions.

(On the plus side, this does inspire more communication between the contractors and facilities managers – but this is sadly in the form of arguments and complaints!)

Incomplete asset data, data that needs reworking, extensive quality checks and import/export are almost inevitable tasks that need to take place in today’s projects, even if those involved claim to offer integrated BIM FM. This takes a lot of time, money and resources – and for big developers with 100s of projects that could have these issues, this can be a massive drain on efficiency and revenue.

Making a Difference By Changing Mindsets

The root of BIM models that do not support the long-term management of a building is the lack of communication between the construction teams and facilities teams – a problem that we have been correcting as part of this project.

For context, this client is a large, local, privately-owned real estate company based in Hong Kong, who installed our Concept Evolution, FSI GO and Concept Advantage solutions in 2019. Since then I have often been in discussion with them about the advantages BIM data can have in supporting the sustainability of a building and extending the lifecycle of the assets within it.

This particular project they are working on will therefore act as a pilot of sorts, where the BIM Execution Plan will incorporate the concept of asset lifecycle at the development phases, and the Asset Information Requirement (AIR) model is defined at the outset to ensure interactive collaboration with the main contractor and their subcontractors.

In an ideal world, all stakeholders should input into a development project at the very beginning. This ensures that all perspectives are taken into account and the eventual BIM model produced will contain the right data, in the right format, so it can be smoothly transitioned into the building’s CAFM system and immediately used to guide PPM schedules and maintenance regimes to maximise asset lifecycles.

Why is this not the case already? Well, conventional working practices have always dictated that construction teams and facilities teams work separately. Different people. Different backgrounds. Different skillsets. Different languages.

As a result, the interpretation of how a BIM model should look from the interpretation of a contractor is often very different from the perspective of a facilities manager. But, if the facilities manager is not able to communicate this to the contractor, then the contractor will naturally default to what’s familiar to them.

As an example, consider the AIR model. For a contractor, they would ideally receive this at a specified date, get an idea from this what resources and materials they need to acquire, and then work with their suppliers and subcontractors to source these.

In reality, an AIR model is just a template and framework that is constantly evolving and expanding over the course of a project. Different projects will require different asset systems and types, and these will shift as new technologies and materials become available across the duration of the development.

But, as contractors typically have a “work package” mindset, it means that they will use the initial AIR framework they receive and work based on this, rather than communicate with the developer or building managers when the AIR needs to be adapted.

This is just one example of the conflicting mindsets and practices of construction teams and project teams that need to be bridged in order for BIM models to provide truly useful data to support the building’s lifecycle – a gap we are working on with our customer.

A Truly Transformative Impact

Supported by an experienced BIM consultant, we are working with our customer to establish practices grounded in communication between all stakeholders in a project, and changing mindsets to be more open to collaboration from the outset.

Right now, we are in the early stages – the first draft of the AIR was submitted to the main contractor after several rounds of meetings with both the facilities and project teams. This highlighted some gaps in understanding over how proper asset development should be, which we have helped fill through the vast experience of our consultant from FSI Middle East.

There is no question that changing firmly established attitudes to working and encouraging these previously siloed teams to embrace communication is a real challenge. But, we have benefited tremendously from the backing of both the developer’s CEO and Head of Property Services – senior management support is key to keeping everyone committed and focused on forging this new way of working.

By establishing this more collaborative, interactive working practice, this will help ensure that our customer’s contractors and subcontractors know what data their BIM models need to contain for a smooth, successful transition to the facilities team through their CAFM solution.

This will ensure that the investment that the developer is making in BIM will not go to waste as a result of miscommunication. Instead, these models will actively work to support the lifecycles of buildings for decades, improving efficiency and keeping running costs to a minimum.

Plus, it will significantly cut down the time, resources and effort it takes to input BIM data into their CAFM system. Across hundreds of projects this will be a massive time and cost-saver, empowering them to work more productively and pursue more opportunities.

Over the course of a few projects, we expect the customer and their external network will have a firm grasp of these ideal protocols and approaches, and we will no longer need to provide our BIM consultancy.

By that time, they could simply provide our team at FSI with their BIM models (with clear AIRs), and we could plug those into their BIM Manager for a truly smooth transition and integration. They will be left with a sustainable, reusable process that will transform the efficiency and prosperity of their projects forever.

The Future of BIM to FM

I am hopeful that what we are doing with our customer over this project will eventually become standard procedure for projects across all of Hong Kong, as there are so many advantages that can be gained from usable, comprehensive BIM data contained in an intelligent CAFM system.

Currently, this is being impeded by a longstanding acceptance of the separation between construction teams and facilities teams. Once these gaps are bridged, and we see more collaboration between all parties involved in a development project from the start, then the data these models offer will help maximise the efficiency of buildings throughout the country, and make life much easier for those responsible for managing them.

This I hope is the start of a true BIM to FM transformation – where waste is reduced, investments are repaid, and customer experience is better than ever.