BIM – The Intelligent Choice for O&M

July 28, 2011
Streamline facility management with BIM.

Building information modeling (BIM) has the power to create a better building, but did you know it can help you operate a better building too? These 3D intelligent building models have more to offer facilities management than you might guess.

“Owners understand what BIM can do for them during design and construction, but 80% of their costs are tied up once the building goes live,” says Jim Lynch, Autodesk VP, AEC Building and Strategic Technology Group. “Owners want to know what BIM can do to help them with that 80%.”

BIM’s benefits are twofold. By presenting information visually instead of conceptually, complex structures or data become more accessible. Imagine showing a contractor a rotatable 3D layout of a room as opposed to a series of square footage numbers. Take the guesswork out of cumbersome spreadsheets or inventory lists by replacing them with an interactive representation of a space.

BIM also has the ability to house information from separate systems in one place by connecting to your other software tools, such as energy dashboards, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), and building sensors. You know your HVAC system is affected by your lighting level – why not get those systems “talking” to each other?

Use an interactive building model to find new ways of simplifying facilities management for:

  • Ongoing maintenance and repairs
  • Inventory and asset management
  • Energy monitoring and forecasting
  • Space inventory and lease negotiation

Knock Out Your Inventory
How many months did it take you to compile your inventory? How many hours do you spend generating work orders? How many times does your maintenance crew run into accessibility issues?

If that answer is “too many,” BIM is ready to facilitate better and more efficient use of your time. Whether it’s keeping up-to-date records or combining maintenance logs with real-time performance data, BIM will pave the way for smoother facilities management.

For new buildings, BIM can be deployed during commissioning to quickly and painlessly populate your inventory records.

“The key benefit of BIM for maintenance and repairs is for the design engineers and AEC firms to be able to communicate to the operational side what actually went into the building,” says Marty Chobot, VP of product management for FM: Systems. “By integrating BIM with the operational system, you facilitate a visual handoff of that information.”

Lynch has found it usually takes facilities management almost a year to finalize inventory manually. “By automating this process alone, companies are telling us we’ve created significant savings for them.”

Modeling What’s Overhead

While BIM excels at the whole building level, it also shines when managing all aspects of one specific asset. Roofing, with various components and ongoing maintenance needs, is a prime example.

A BIM roof model puts relevant information at your fingertips with inventory data. “You can reverse engineer a roof system in BIM to gather as built data – construction materials, age, fastening techniques, overall conditions, defects, maintenance history, warranties, and square footage,” says John Eaton, director of marketing and sales for Building Technology Associates.

This may require a little detective work or help from your roofing manufacturer or contractor if your building is older and the original blueprints are out of date or unavailable.

Once you have a model in place, you can use it to support an ongoing maintenance scheme. A robust roofing model will provide dynamic information to help you determine your deterioration rate and lifecycle reports. By analyzing conditions and work order trends, you can stay ahead of the repair curve.

“Most clients think a roof can be out of sight, out of mind for 10 years, but that’s a poor practice,” Eaton cautions. “Just by setting the default to a roof inspection every 5 years is overlooking a great opportunity to extend the life of a roof by applying a diligent and proactive maintenance scheme at the onset.”

BIM can also make work orders and repair reporting more efficient. “You can use condition data to not only drive lifecycle forecasting and life extension opportunities, but it can also be directly tied to a CMMS tool to generate a work order or maintenance response,” says Eaton.

This combination of existing conditions and repair history data allows you to analyze the state of your roof readiness. Not only will you have a more accurate forecast of when upgrades are due, but you can quickly identify your roof’s ability to integrate new projects or whether an upgrade will pay off.

“If you can establish how much your current R-value contributes to your energy usage, you can calculate how your energy formula would change if you were to add a cool roof or replace with a new one,“ says Eaton.

For example, energy-efficient replacements like cool roofs or sustainability add-ons like solar panels typically require changes to your roof’s structural load. Before putting the capital down or securing funding for these green initiatives, confirm that your roof is up to the job. The data from the model will reveal what is feasible and what is out of range.

This way, you can forgo binders and cut sheets and upload the BIM data directly into your CMMS. You can open your building with every asset precisely documented and an established maintenance program ready to deploy from Day 1.

Clean Up Your Work Flow
BIM can also significantly impact your maintenance program. Particularly during significant upgrades or renovations, you can confirm that changes to layout or new equipment won’t hamper accessibility.

“Many times there is a disconnect between the design of the building and its systems and with the accessibility and maintainability of the equipment. I’ve heard horror stories of people having to cut holes in fire walls just to clean or pull a coil,” says Chobot.

You should merge work orders with performance history in BIM by having a live connection between the model and your operational system, he says. If you’re still keeping information in an Excel spreadsheet and importing/exporting information between the two, your information could become out of sync.

Take advantage of the inclusiveness of BIM and access from one browser window how many times a piece of equipment has received maintenance, how many repairs have been completed, or how much has been spent on a unit.

By doing so, you can more fully evaluate a system’s performance. Let’s say you have an air handling unit that has 10 work orders on it and is consuming more energy than expected. You can triangulate that information and ask the model to show you trouble spots in the system. For example, it can color code or highlight elements that are underperforming or have had excessive maintenance done on them.

By dialing down to individual parts, you gain a clearer understanding of what could be wrong. Because BIM can be populated with parts data, you can predict which elements could be a problem before having to tear apart a piece of equipment.

You can also use BIM as an advanced scheduling tool. Plug dates directly into the model and map out routine maintenance, upgrades, inspections, and replacements ahead of time. Not only does this keep your program on track, but it can assist with budget planning as well so costly projects don’t overlap.

Get Energized
With energy accounting for such a large portion of your operating budget, any way to make more sense of metering and usage information can help you cut back. The problem with dashboards and controls is not that they aren’t accurate or don’t provide useful data, only that they work in isolation.

Dashboards are typically static in the sense that they are tied to one system or section of your building. You can access stats and data, but only respond to that information reactively. A dashboard can tell you that Furnace #1 is underperforming, but not what is causing the inefficiency or how that affects your other systems.

BIM, however, can take multiple pieces of information and combine them into one. This sets the stage for developing predictive trends, which you would have to compile manually from a dashboard. By seeing how your systems are trending, you can make adjustments proactively instead of reactively.

One trend you can focus on is occupancy levels. With BIM, you can merge occupancy data with energy reports to understand these patterns more fully. You can then combine that data with other information, such as repairs or occupant feedback. A number of thermal comfort complaints may lead you to evaluate how well the ductwork is delivering airflow to an area.

BIM also provides a feedback loop between the design intent and the actual performance of a system or the entire building. “You can then use that design intent information, make it the baseline, and track the actual performance against it – giving you great directional guidance for debugging problem areas,” says Chobot.

He recently worked with a building that had energy usage far beyond what was expected. Once they had confirmed through BIM that all of their systems were working properly, management discovered plug loads had never been included in energy forecasts. Instead of a system problem on their hands, they needed to reach out to occupants and modify behaviors.

Leave Behind the Tape Measure
Do you know the square footage of your lobby? How big the rental space that just opened up is? How wide your hallways are on the 4th floor?

In the past, you may have trudged through an extensive paper list or flipped through 2D drawings to answer such questions. With BIM, you can simply open your model and access the information from one computer screen or mobile device.

With changing ways of working and shrinking spaces, it’s not enough to know your total square footage alone – now you need to have dimensions for spaces as small as bathrooms and utility rooms. Ditch the measuring tape and manually generating headcounts and turn to BIM to calculate what type of spaces you have, their occupancy percentages, and how they are being used.

“From a space management perspective, you can determine if you’re using the space to its fullest potential, analyze occupancy and vacancy, adjust energy usage, consolidate operations, and shed unnecessary space,” says Chobot.

For potential tenants, a building model can help seal the deal for a new lease. Instead of telling prospective clients they have 10,000 square feet to play with, show them. An empty 3D environment is infinitely easier to visualize layout and flow in than a 2D drawing.

BIM can also help facilitate office or equipment moves within your building. If you’re moving a department to another section, you can easily access stats on hallway widths and ceiling heights so an efficient route can be planned. This can also ward off potential problems, such as if a piece of furniture won’t fit in a corridor or if computer equipment is too large for a stairwell.

Use the model to explore reconfigurations for a space and confirm your vision will work before sending out a moving or construction crew. Whether you simply need to adjust the layout of your cubicles or enlarge a room by removing walls, know what you are getting into ahead of time and what kind of problem areas you could run into.

Building from the Ground Up
If you have a new building in the works or even a major renovation, start talking to your design firm about having a model set up. It’s critical to let the team know what you want from BIM; otherwise you could end up with an expensive tool that doesn’t serve your needs.

“People stumble when they ask for BIM without really understanding what they’re asking for,” explains Chobot. “They’ll get what they asked for, but they won’t know how to use it or have the type of information they really need.”

An AEC firm isn’t going to hand over the same model used during construction. These models are filled with details unconnected to facilities management, such as the thickness of the concrete flooring in the basement.

Instead, you will be provided with a modified version that is relevant to operations and maintenance – but it’s up to you to decide how detailed you want it to be. A basic model might show square footage and major building systems, while an advanced model can include the brand of furniture in your lobby or the paint number used in the bathrooms.

If you have existing buildings and no models, your budget may dictate how much of an individual building or what portions of your portfolio you can begin to model. Chobot finds those with portfolios are taking an incremental approach, modeling one building at a time.

Others can ask for a model to be developed during remodels and additions. You can also start with one key area of your building, perhaps your roof or mechanical rooms (see sidebar on p. 33). You can map your facility by combining existing building data with reality capture, which uses laser scanning to capture millions of data points within a space.

A Model Choice
If the thought of managing an intelligent building model makes you nervous, you’re not alone. “A building owner or the management team may not have the necessary expertise to go deep into certain building systems,” explains Eaton. It can be intimidating to negotiate such a complex tool, particularly one with a learning curve that forces you to tackle O&M in new ways.

If this is the case for you, AEC firms are more than happy to manage your building model as an ongoing service. The model is typically made available online and can be downloaded to your computers or mobile devices. Updates are a joint effort but finalized by the design team.

If your company is large enough, however, it may make sense to keep the model in-house. If you own a large building, are in a campus setting, or have a portfolio, you may have staff on hand who are experienced with BIM.

Regardless of who manages your model, know that you are ultimately responsible for keeping the model current – you’re wasting money if you let it become stagnant. Create a workflow for information so data can remain dynamic, suggests Lynch.

Harness the Power
A model may also be rendered ineffective if you curb its potential. BIM helps you to view your building holistically and respond in kind. It’s about supporting the lifecycle of your entire building – not only a portion of it.



  • Learn how BIM improves your maintenance schemes
  • Identify ways BIM supports energy monitoring
  • Understand the types of information that can be included in a model
  • Assess if you have staff to manage BIM or if an AEC firm can help

Visit the CEU Test Center to take this test and receive credit

“A limitation of BIM is to remember that many of your building systems don’t work in isolation,” advises Eaton. “The envelope or the roof may be a static or inert system, but active systems can contribute to or decrease its life expectancy. For example, workers climbing and walking on a roof to work on HVAC systems can unintentionally do enormous damage to the roof.”

You don’t want to install new boilers only to find your workers can’t access them easily for routine maintenance or change your office layout without understanding how thermal comfort is affected. BIM will help guide these decisions and reveal limitations, helping you to avoid compromises or wasteful spending.

“In most organizations there is a tug-of-war between strategic objectives, which can often be subjective, and operational needs, which are realistic requirements derived by FMs,” says Eaton. “BIM offers data that’s actionable and timely so that you can make good decisions about where to spend your capital down the road.”

Jennie Morton ([email protected]) is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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