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Are you ready to popcorn? A plea for more BIM in facility management

Alar Jost 01.12.2020

BIM is gaining ground – at least in theory. In practice, the Swiss construction and real estate industry still largely lacks the necessary competences, but the tipping point is inevitably approaching. This also increases the pressure on facility managers to familiarise themselves with the BIM methodology, expand their own ordering competences and get involved as early as possible.

We live in a culture of choice. Individualisation is the basis of the western social structure and therefore touches us in almost all aspects of life. Surprisingly, the construction and real estate industry is one of the few sectors that is still very much oriented towards collective patterns, especially when it comes to the operation of buildings. For example, energy costs in many residential properties are charged to all the parties in equal proportions, regardless of individual consumption, or cleaning in office buildings is carried out according to a fixed roster rather than when needed.

But does this really bode well for the future at a time when efficiency is increasingly being replaced by effectiveness?

BIM tipping point: When does the corn pop?

Anyone dealing with Building Information Modelling (BIM) will inevitably be confronted with complex questions. Although automated process chains, digital twins and predictive maintenance are still largely theoretical constructs in the real estate industry, a will to change is increasingly noticeable and the notorious tipping point is fast approaching. This is best illustrated by the preparation of popcorn: As soon as the corn kernel can no longer withstand the heat pressure, it pops. Symbolically, BIM will sooner or later become the standard – the pressure on market participants is increasing.

Relevant industry players such as SBB have been further contributing to this by ordering projects above a certain construction volume only with BIM as early as 2021, Combined with the steadily advancing technical possibilities and increasing user acceptance of BIM models and applications, these changes are creating a momentum that must now be exploited. This requires all of us to familiarise ourselves with the topic of BIM and gain a deeper understanding of it.

From PIM to AIM and back

There is still a considerable way to go before visions such as Connected Everything and Smart Cities are widely implemented. The pioneers in the market have begun to use the necessary tools of model-based collaboration, such as modelling guidelines, BIM project execution plans or data field catalogues, which leads to better visualisation, automatic quality checks, and a more efficient transfer of data from planning to management, especially in the FM sector. This is because the machine-readable mapping of operationally relevant data saves the time-consuming manual processes of transferring the building documentation into CAFM systems.

The tipping point in facility management is thus likely to be reached within the next five years. This increases the pressure on the individual market participants – those who want to be ready when the corn kernel pops must now prepare themselves. First, it is necessary to deal in depth with the process of transferring data from the project information model (PIM) to the asset information model (AIM) and, second, to display ordering competences: Only in this way can employer’s information requirements (EIR) be formulated as required and systematically transferred from the AIM to the PIM.

BIM2FM vs. BIM4FM: the current challenges are mainly found in digital ordering competence

EIR in the digital shopping cart

“Employer’s information requirements” – what at first sounds like a tongue twister is easy to explain and is regularly practised by all of us as a matter of course: When was the last time you ordered something online? Let’s take the online ordering process at Digitec as an example to illustrate an end-to-end digital process model: We select the desired product in the online store and place it in the digital shopping cart. Then, as the customer, we define our requirements such as delivery location and time, pay by credit card and can track our order online thanks to the barcode. As soon as the postal service has put the package in the letterbox, we receive an email.

In combination with BIM, a similarly stringent, automated data exchange will also be possible in FM in the medium term. The delivery service of our Digitec package represents the BIM2FM process and already works quite well today. In the reverse case, however, there are still numerous challenges. The digital mapping of the employer’s information requirements (EIR) corresponds to our “online ordering in the shopping cart” and is currently still causing difficulties because neither the technical possibilities nor the ordering competences of most providers have been fully developed. This is where we need to start in order to continuously develop both levels.

Acceleration of commissioning

It is undisputed that digital process consistency offers a number of advantages – and this is particularly true for the management of a building. If, for example, different tenants move or their space requirements alter, such changes are ideally recorded once in the organisational information model (OIM).  The AIM and other relevant programs such as the security system automatically access the information they require. This not only generates much less effort, but also reduces the error rate and simplifies the correct evaluation of building utilisation. A prerequisite for consistent system links is the definition of target systems and determination of the relevant data requirements and formats.

For BIM model data to be used effectively in operation later on, facility managers have to get involved as early as possible – ideally from the initial planning phase. This is because not all data that is relevant in building operation also plays a role in the construction phase. Without FM expertise, area information, manufacturer information or warranty data, for example, can quickly be forgotten when data is ordered.

BIM as part of the strategy in a digital world

The individual compilation, preparation and provision of the required data is not only vital for a successful transfer to subsequent operation, but also enables precise simulations in facility management in support of planning and construction and thus already during project development. This is particularly relevant in view of the increasing focus on life cycle costs. For the development of cost-efficient real estate, attention must be paid at an early stage to how the building is to be used and how it is to fulfil its brief.

With yields and earnings having already been closely monitored for some time, the potential of occupancy costs and thus operational management have now also moved into the spotlight. Reliable calculation of the follow-up costs of investments is correspondingly relevant for the market value, conservation of resources improves the sustainability balance, and optimisation of the quality of accommodation leads to higher tenant satisfaction and fewer vacancies. It’s no wonder that operating and maintenance costs account for up to 40% over the entire lifetime of a building.

It is therefore hardly surprising that the pioneers in the industry increasingly see BIM as an integral part of a strategy in the digital world and less as a measure from a digitisation strategy. This is also confirmed by the results of the 5th Digital Real Estate Study by pom+, which was published in March this year. The survey of 250 executives and professionals in the real estate industry – 11% of whom are from the FM sector – revealed that digitisation is now accepted as inevitable and, in particular, the collection of data and its use is predicted to have a high added value for the future.

The study results make it clear that the stove is on and the pan is hot! It’s not yet possible to predict exactly when the corn kernel will pop, but there is no question that it will – and the bang is likely to reverberate quite loudly through the construction and real estate industries. That’s why now is the time to prepare: Salt, butter or, optionally, caramel still need to be ordered. After all, you want to make sure the popcorn is to your taste.


About the author: Alar Jost has since 2019 been Head of Service Unit BIM/LCDM at pom+Consulting AG, a Swiss consultancy specialising in the real estate industry, and for many years Vice Chair at buildingSMART Switzerland. For him, BIM means thinking today about what will be possible tomorrow. With his team of openBIM certified employees, he implements BIM projects as part of a strategy in the digital world for clients from different industries.