BIM: The Holy Grail

Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 The Holy Grail

I’ve had something of a rant on this blog about COBie and the frankly bonkers * attributes that are meant to be attached to model elements by designers and constructors.

[* for a wonderfully British eccentric and a self-defining definition of ‘bonkers’, try this link or and see the benefits of a Cambridge education]

I’ve also described the tendency for too much information to obscure the important i.e to think that quantity is better than quality.

Finally, in software sales circles, there is an idea that at the end of construction, you merely press a button, and the entire shebang goes seamlessly to the owner or operator (& they will know what to do with it). Job done.

From here, the information just continues in a big loop.
This BIM holy grail is a favourite of software vendors. It is presented as the ‘BIM Lifecycle Wheel‘ at just about every BIM conference and convention you care to attend.

the BIM wheel.png

It isn’t that easy

The design and construction process produces an absolutely enormous amount of information.

This is in the form of models, drawings, databases, details, reports, options, method statements and specifications on how the thing should be constructed, and how it was constructed (fabrication models, queries, inspections, reviews, approvals, commissioning data and other records).
Very little relates to how the asset needs to be operated or managed.

For the owner and operator of an asset such as a building, bridge or railway, just a tiny fraction of the design & construction data is useful & relevant- I’m going to guess 5%, although it could well be more like 1% for many assets. The remainder doesn’t matter.

However- this 1% (or 5%) is highly valuable information.

It needs to be in a readily usable format for the audience – so that when a terrorist/other lunatic is holed up & threatening to convert himself & the surroundings to smithereens, or when the air-conditioning on level 22 packs in, or you have a new lessee who needs to know where the grease trap is, or the asset manager wants to know how many escalators there are across a portfolio: the right information can be accessed quickly and easily.

A usable format might be a searchable database, a simple model or the two linked together. The important piece of the puzzle often overlooked is how this information will be maintained after the design consultants and contractor have finished.

AM vs FM

Many people in the BIM world confuse Asset Management with Facilities Management.
As I see it (and I’m no expert) Asset Management is more macro-scale (i.e asset utilisation, productivity, income & expenditure streams) whereas Facilities Management is more micro-scale (day-day & operational issues).
Both require information about the asset- but at very different levels. The Facility Manager is focussed on the end user or occupier, whereas the Asset Manager is more concerned with the asset owners and their return on investment. Both are concerned with minimising capital & operational expenditure.
In other words, a completely different set of data is required for longer term strategic or planning purposes as opposed to operational needs.

The point is: both FM & AM do not generally involve the concrete reinforcement details or the fabrication models of the airconditioning system,. This stuff can be filed away, only to be retrieved when the lawyers come a’calling, or a when major redevelopment or  modification occurs.

Your average Facilities Manager or Asset Manager isn’t too interested in a fully rendered, navigable model including every conceivable object attribute. He/she couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the door jamb details or the reinforcement buried deep inside some concrete.

They just want the information that is important for their purposes- and for it to be updatable without employing a BIM expert each time a minor change occurs.

[As an aside- there is little need to put the detailed specification of the light bulbs in the model- the maintenance guy probably has a box of common spares under his desk. Given a choice of trawling through an unwieldy BIM system, or wandering over to the light fitting in question & taking a look, he will probably take the latter option]

The Challenge

Therefore- the challenge is to:

  • distill down the gigantic amount of BIM data produced during design and construction into important and useful information for asset owners, managers and operators.
  • present this data in a readily usable form, and
  • maintain the data during the operational life of the asset