What’s BIM got to do with FM?

We have been here before. In the mid ’90s much was written about the potential for the Private Finance Initiative to raise the profile of facilities management.

The argument was that, with PFI contracts of 25 to 30 years, the cost of running buildings and providing services was now just as important as the build cost. Suddenly everyone was interested in lifecycle costing.

Well, PFI didn’t quite transform the fortunes of the FM profession but it did raise awareness and sharpen arguments about the trade-off between the quality and performance of building components as well as the importance of the management and maintenance regimes.

Now we have Building Information Modelling or BIM. Not a new concept but given added momentum by Paul Morrell’s report into the construction industry. The IGT report identified BIM as “having the greatest potential to transform the habits – and eventually the structure – of the industry.” Quite a claim.

The Government is keen. The Cabinet Office is introducing “a progressive programme of the required use of BIM” and the industry was asked to establish “a collaborative forum – leading to an outline protocol for future ways of working.” The mandatory use of (low level) BIM on public projects by 2016, as set out in the Government’s Construction Strategy, has concentrated minds.

There is a danger here, as well as a major opportunity. BIM could be seen as simply a way to streamline and concertina the design and construction process. Certainly the presentations and communications so far don’t encourage the involvement of FM, with operations disappearing somewhere off the right-hand side of the screen.

The real opportunity is to bring FM experience right back into the briefing stage of a project; to develop a model of the building which can be “stress tested” against operational scenarios and to deliver much more accurate and useful information to the team managing the facility.

Three cardboard boxes?

The adversarial nature of the UK construction industry may sometimes be exaggerated but asking a lawyer to open a workshop on building information modelling does appear to play to the stereotype!

An impressive array of acronyms, led by BSRIA, Constructing Excellence and the UK Contractors Group, organised the one-day BIM 2010 event at the Barbican last Tuesday (2nd November)

In truth, Grainne McCormack of Eversheds did an excellent job in setting out the issues around ownership of “the model”, protecting designs that might be used on future projects, liability and contractual frameworks.

These concerns do seem to be a barrier to adopting what is essentially a technologically enhanced form of collaboration. If everyone contributes to and uses the model, then responsibilities are blurred; if they don’t, then the potential won’t be fully realised.

Mike Baker of Skanska Infrastructure and Development saw BIM as offering a “common focus” for the client/developer, builders and facilities managers to “agree their information needs at the very start of the project.”

With suggestions that PFI operating risks may have been under-appreciated generally by the industry, the ability to learn from mature projects, manage information through the supply-chain and understand lifecycle costing is more important than ever for companies like Skanska.

Baker said: “The output for the FM/O&M phase typically consisted of three cardboard boxes.” He was talking about the past but I’d be surprised if there aren’t projects where this is still the case.

As presentations and discussions continued, it quickly became apparent that the real potential for BIM is downstream from the design and construction phases, in FM. ASDA’s civil engineering manager said, “Our FM guys will be taking over the BIM strategy.”

Succinct as ever, Paul Morrell, the Government’s chief (are there others?) construction advisor, concluded, “It will be asset management that drives the adoption of BIM.”

For the presentations from BIM 2010 go to http://www.bsria.co.uk/services/design/bim/bim2010/