The UK government has grand ambitions for building information modelling (BIM). While the construction industry looks set to fall short of the target of using collaborative 3D BIM on all government projects by 2016, as April's Civil Engineering Contractors Association survey revealed, contractors and designers have nonetheless made impressive progress.
And the government continues to drive forward the digital construction agenda, with the publication of its BIM Level 3 strategy document, Digital Built Britain, in February, with an eye on international adoption of the technology.
But one area of the built environment sector has so far struggled with the demands of BIM – facilities management (FM).
"Among the promised benefits of BIM is that knowledge transfer between the construction and operational phases of a project will be significantly improved."
The argument runs that FM teams will be given all of the knowledge generated and fed into the BIM model during construction, and use the model to overhaul the efficiency of their management operations. As the project lifecycle moves forward, the same model can then be handed back to design teams when the project is due to be refurbished, again capturing all the knowledge from the whole operational phase.
BIM has been adopted by key public sectors clients, including HS2 and the Highways Agency, to build BIM processes into their projects.
But Capita, like many companies, has discovered that this post-construction knowledge transfer process is not always as effective as we might hope. Since the announcement of the UK Government’s BIM mandate, which requires the use of Level 2 on all central government projects by 2016, we have seen a rapid adoption of BIM within the construction industry. However, the FM market – which has different priorities and ways of working – has not engaged with the drive for BIM in the same way.
Our multi-disciplinary experience means that we understand that this challenge is due to a fundamental difference of approach between the two industries.
It is unrealistic to expect clients and FM teams to invest in the necessary software, processes or expertise to accommodate BIM models, particularly smaller organisations. Many FM teams don’t currently use any specialist software at all – and so expecting them to invest in niche design and modelling software is unlikely. A minority of the larger organisations will – but we believe the best results can be achieved by working with that side of the industry to design processes that suit both ways of working.
Data – rather than models – is the key to this challenge. FM teams generally work with databases, and structure their processes around them. There is no reason why BIM models can’t be converted into a form that clients and FM teams can instantly build into their approach.
We have started a number of pilot projects to overcome this challenge, including two of the UK’s largest utility companies. Another is a major transport infrastructure project. Instead of expecting facilities management and clients to adapt to our new way of working, we are adapting the BIM information we supply into a format that fits into their existing best practices. Data – rather than a 3D model – is platform-agnostic, so FM companies will not have to invest in expensive software and training. This way the knowledge captured by the construction team is adapted and adopted, and the FM team can build on it, rather than having to throw away the model or park it on a shelf and start again.
The operational benefits of BIM – lower running costs, better efficiencies – can only be realised when FM teams have access to the data they need in a format they can use.
This will also help us build BIM into the full life-cycle of a project. We are working with clients to design customised, exchangeable solutions which can transfer the BIM model information back and forth into databases When it comes for the design team to approach refurbishment – in five, 10 or 15 years – all the operational information captured since construction can be transferred back into a BIM model derived from 3D laser scanning and used as the bedrock of a refreshed design.
This is early exploratory work, and our acquisition of data and technology firm AMT-Sybex is allowing it to move quickly. However, the further we explore the more we realise that the true benefits of BIM have yet to be realised anywhere in the industry – and that the Government’s ambitious 2016 target is only the beginning.
Mike Turpin is head of BIM for Capita’s property and infrastructure business.
Capita Real Estate and Infrastructure work with public and private sector organisations to design, build and optimise their real estate and infrastructure assets. From thought to finish, we apply our combined expertise to achieve more from the entire built environment.
We build competitive advantage through intelligently applied real estate and infrastructure solutions and enhance our clients’ standing in a forever-changing world.