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The Value of BIM in Handover and Maintenance

Design and construction teams are typically contracted to deliver a structured information handover package to support a client’s asset operations and maintenance at a project’s end. How often is this handover information checked for completeness, accuracy and appropriateness at the point of receipt? It’s very likely the answer to this question is ‘never’!

This goes some way to explaining why asset owners and facilities managers can often struggle to ensure an asset delivers against its expectations (cost or scope) in the early years. So, there’s a case to be made that facilities managers can be more upfront to clarify all preferences and expectations of the information they need on day one. BIM and a collaborative approach to building design, construction and handover can play a crucial role in taking us even further along the path towards better executed built assets and less headaches for all.

When they are handed the keys at the end of a construction project, what a facilities manager (FM) will be typically given is a box, be it virtual or physical, filled with information and data. That box should contain explanations on building maintenance, equipment warranties, security operating instructions and asset lists among other things. This information may be in all kinds of formats, including paper and digital media like CDs and USB keys.

To complicate matters further, vital building-related information risks being lost during the handover of that box. When the facilities manager notices that there is information missing, they will need to spend unwanted time tracking down historical project information. This is a waste of efforts, not least because of the labour involved. The information that is resurrected after the ordeal often might be inaccurate or incomplete. In the worst-case scenario, that data can’t be recovered and the FM then must undertake a fresh survey of the building or part to capture its as-built condition. The result of this is a cost paid twice over by the building owner for a survey (and for the maintenance contractor) which should only have to happen once.

On the other hand, assume that every piece of data handed-over was proper, complete and future friendly. Not only that, but it was relevant with all immaterial information either filtered out already or organised so that it could be easily sorted and made usable for the next twenty years. Then, the information could contribute to the improved ongoing operation of the building, not just now, but for years after the handover.

What’s all of this got to do with building information modelling (BIM)? BIM lets information flow seamlessly from the start of a construction project all the way through to facilities management. It articulates to the client everything from floor plans and layouts to materials used, asset shelf-life and required maintenance schedules – essentially, it depicts what products are in the building, where they are, how they work, and how they all fit together. It relates objects in a model and links them to each other for the greater understanding of all parties involved in the design, construction, operations and ongoing upkeep of the structure.

What this means in the long term is enhanced predictability and the opportunity to take early steps towards proactive FM action; they can realise the full value of their asset over its useful life through cost-, sustainability- and time-effective operation and maintenance. With BIM, facility managers can visualise facilities being created, helping them to understand project intent. BIM lets them see into the future – it lets them see the effect individual design features will have in the immediate future, that very evening and in the days following.

BIM can also act as a bridge between different stages of the handover process. Where teams implement Common Data Environments, such as Aconex, workflows can be automated on a shared, neutral platform, whilst providing a comprehensive information resource accessible by interested parties and shared during or after the project. In this way, the risk of losing asset information created earlier on in the project is lessened. Accurate information should have been recorded, verified, and submitted in a timely fashion throughout the process, not just collected at the end.

It is common for FMs to be concerned that they haven’t been involved in contributing to the design of the building and that this makes their job harder. What BIM will mean for them is working not harder, but smarter. New working practices encourage, through embracing BIM, a need to involve asset owners and facilities managers to understand the information they require on handover. It will mean bringing people together. Facilities managers do not have to know everything about CAD technology or 3D modelling – but they can still have an important say during design, can impact the result, and can ensure the information handed over by the contractor fits their specific needs.

How do we achieve this collaborative way of working? By encouraging open conversation between all disciplines. The direction of travel in the industry will eventually lead to a point where facilities management experts can help and educate others within the design and construction stages on the long-term benefits of using BIM to aid the asset lifecycle. A specific role comes to the open BIM formats like IFC (Industry Foundation Classes). It’s an international data standard for BIM which allows communication between parties during the project, irrespective of the software platforms they use, and makes sure that the data can still be read in ten years and more. It creates rules and foundations for collaboration to ensure that everybody is speaking the same language.

Without sophisticated digital handover tools, contractors are scrambling to retrospectively gather project information at practical completion to deliver to the owner, or risk penalties or late payments. Even then much of this information is inaccurate and/or incomplete. BIM gives owners a multidimensional model of the as-built asset, but more importantly, the opportunity to develop a structured digital information source of the asset so that the design can be modified and approved while testing its constructability. In the future, the facilities manager has the opportunity to influence the quality of the information they receive, including a complete digital representation, and a geospatial view, with all relevant project and handover information detail included.

Education affords many things. In our line of work, it opens doors and windows so that clients are fully conscious of the data they will need to make their lives easier. With more meaningful insights added every day, digital twins will emerge as the digital replica of physical buildings. Harnessing that sort of cutting-edge technology can elevate facilities management to a new space.

By Steve Cooper, General Manager UK & Ireland at Aconex