On March 19th the International Facility Managers Association (IFMA) hosted a BIM Pre-Conference Event at their annual Facility Fusion event in Chicago. This was the fourth annual conference specifically designed to address BIM for owners, facility managers, and service providers with a theme of providing Practical & Effective BIM for Facilities Management (FM) and beyond FM. Speakers shared key insights into the reality of BIM and related technologies, workflows, legalities and case studies reflecting the current state of BIM.

The conference began with an overview of a recent IFMA survey to better understand how facility mangers are taking advantage of digital data. The survey’s initial findings revealed only 32% of facility managers are using CAFM or CMMS applications and most are simply using AutoCAD and Excel as their way to manage digital data. While there is an appetite for BIM in FM, adoption continues to be slow. With most current BIM activity relating to new construction, it is our current existing building stock that represents one the biggest challenges in the implementation of BIM for FM. This coupled with the fact that most facility managers are currently manually updating their facility information, making it difficult to keep digital data current and thus the forward thinking use of BIM for FM is strained due to capabilities of current staff.

Even though we realize these are existing challenges, the group also shared strategic ideas to help facility mangers better understand how to move forward with BIM for FM. Many of these conversations revolved around the idea that implementing BIM for FM should not be a technology conversation, but instead a discussion focused onprocess. One speaker quoted Barbara White Bryson’s book The Owner’s Dilemma: Driving Success and Innovation in the Design and Construction Industry.  During the book, Barbara shares that ‘ours is the only trillion dollar industry in the history of the world in which misguided owner’s demand processes that increase cost and reduce quality.” She also provides the perspective that “BIM is the perfect complement to collaborative teams, especially ones that care about the fluidity of information sharing and the coordination rather than the sanctity of drawings.”

Both of these quotes very clearly outline the need for owners to better understand the BIM handover process so they can fully leverage BIM in operation throughout the lifecycle. To accomplish this, many speakers challenged facility managers to identify and articulate their goals for what they want as a project deliverable, not the process or tools to get there. This idea of being descriptive and not prescriptive is the exact approach our VDC team took in working with the Ohio State University on their BIM Project Delivery Standard and was shared by one speaker when highlighting the quality of this standard and the 7.1% potential cost avoidance opportunity through its ongoing implementation.

The development of these guidelines is essential to setting up the “fluidity of information sharing” that was discussed earlier. In addition, this gives the facility manager the opportunity to define a meaningful data capture strategy that can and should start in design and construction phases (not at handover) so it can more immediately taken advantage.

One final recommendation for facility managers stemming from the conference was to watch out for misunderstandings with data requirements, especially when dealing with the idea of the Construction Operation Building Information Exchange (COBie) as a deliverable, where the old adage of just because you can doesn’t mean you should comes in to play. It was echoed by multiple presenters that COBie is a schema and its intended use is a simple one-time data load, nothing more. A value point of interest is to start small with the information you need, then grow from there. Expanding beyond just COBie, facility managers always need to keep in mind that best intentions can also cause confusion if the specifics are not clearly defined. The last thing you want to require are blanket statement like a full COBie, LOD 500 model or UK BIM Level 2 deliverables without a specific understanding or use case for the information, because those best intentions can turn into the truth of BIM…a specific ambiguity, which only drives confusion.

It was an important and engaging discussion and I appreciate IFMA continuing to offer a platform through which it can take place. Advancing our collective understanding of the BIM for FM will only strengthen our built environment into the future.