The advent of BIM, or Building Information Modelling, has been widely talked about as a game changer in real estate. But the development and adoption of formal standards offers even broader applications. The digital integration and upkeep of building models mean they can play a key part in the entire building lifecycle, rather than just the construction phase.

What is Building Information Modelling?

The simple idea behind BIM is to have a model of the building that is kept up-to-date through the building process and through the entire lifecycle of the building. This model will be available for everyone from architects to a building’s end users, accessible through simple user interfaces, and with a variety of data that can be edited and used in conjunction with the model.

Boiled down to a few key principles, BIM represents an effort to encourage collaboration, organization, and information from multiple disciplines into one readily available data source. This information will ideally cover both the layout of the building and its contents, including plans for all systems. This information can then be applied in facility management for maintenance and enhancing the user experience, as well as being available for general use.

BIM maturity levels

While definitions of the different BIM maturity levels differ slightly, they are consistent enough to have become specific targets for governments and institutions. The lowest levels of BIM have been retroactively defined to describe practices which most companies have had for many years.

BIM Level 0

Commonly described as Unmanaged CAD, Level 0 describes only the most basic use of CAD and paper plans in construction. This is informal and often used by individuals or teams, with no networking or even standardization. Plans are 2D and lack additional levels of digital data.

BIM Level 1

Managed CAD, introducing elements of standardization and greater data complexity. Level 1 includes both 2D plans and 3D models, as well as supplementary information such as conceptual artwork. Despite the increased capability that comes with BIM Level 1 it is still not collaborative, existing in isolation for individual team members. Each member may have their own version of the model with different information pertaining to the specifics of their role.

BIM Level 2

Level 2 is the standard many businesses are currently aiming for, with government mandated compliance in many countries. BIM Level 2 still uses models distinct to each team member but combines them into a single asset for general access. Compiled information may include construction sequencing and costing, known as 4D and 5D respectively. Datasets can be overlaid on the model, enabling basic observations for future maintenance and design.

BIM Level 3

The pinnacle of current BIM technology, Level 3 delivers a single, network-accessible model with all relevant available data, including current and predictive data on the project lifecycle. Multiple datasets can be applied and compared with each other simultaneously, drawing much clearer correlations. Level 3 aims to be a major weapon in the FM’s arsenal, simplifying preventative maintenance through effective visualization.

BIM Level 4

A somewhat undefined future standard, Level 4 has been vaguely determined as providing a better user experience and social outcomes through big data and advanced analysis. Advanced data visualization techniques such as using virtual reality and augmented reality have also been lumped in with Level 4. These are already being experimented with, but require some catch-up on the software side and more widespread adoption to become truly viable.

Current implementation

The gap between what management systems are capable of and what is being done with BIM is obvious. Yet despite encroaching deadlines on BIM Level 2 compliance, the majority of Europe is still stuck on Level 1 BIM or below. And the handover from construction to occupancy is often so disordered that the plans and protocols used in construction are not made available in a format that is easily parsed, if at all.

While construction has moved beyond the point of physical plans, building design and usage are constantly evolving. To create real value from BIM one needs to go beyond the limitations that governed pencil and paper and reap the benefits of BIM accessibility and richness.

Even Level 1 represents an extremely basic application of information models, simply copying an architect’s CAD plans straight to a CAFM system without digitizing the data. This ‘bare minimum’ approach to BIM has a knock on effect on the reactiveness of the facility manager and potentially impacts on all occupants through the inefficiency of having to hunt for data.

Level 1 of BIM is much akin to Web 1.0, the early form of the internet where each page had to be updated manually. This approach to BIM is similarly static: all of the information is there, but it’s difficult for everyone to access, locate, edit or interact with it. The idea behind BIM Level 2 and above is to take BIM from being a pure construction phase design tool and merge it with CAFM, forming a synchronized process for sharing and using information.

CAFM began as a means to apply CAD tools to keep track of rudimentary building information, and gradually assumed a variety of hard and soft FM roles. Level 2 and 3 BIM represent an overdue effort to bring CAFM back in line with modern CAD, recombining the two disciplines which have developed along separate lines. The trick is to find a way to expedite this process, without necessarily jumping straight to Level 3 implementation.

Preparing for BIM

To get to Level 3 and beyond, however, we need to start with Levels 1 and 2. The issue for FMs and C-suites is that this represents not just an investment of money, but of time. BIM has myriad different software solutions, and the levels merely pertain to how data is organized, shared and utilized across a building portfolio and between staff.

Often the lack of BIM integration is not a conscious choice. Advanced BIM capabilities may be available as part of a CAFM software package, but they may be buried in the software, or use an interface or format unfamiliar to the FM. It’s vitally important to establish the capabilities of BIM integration with your CAFM vendor as well as your FM, to make sure that the data is widely available and being fully utilized.

If your CAFM does not offer BIM integration you may not be future-ready, and you might consider changing vendors. In this instance, you would want to compare a wide range of capabilities and consider whether the benefits across the board are worth the cost of migration. Alternatively, you might look to external solutions that can then be integrated into your network infrastructure.

While the benefits of BIM are often ignored due to the perception of initial install costs, it’s easy to forget how long you will be needing the data it holds. The average FM lifecycle is 20 years or more, and the data available through digitized and navigable maps will be vital in reducing long-term maintenance costs, among other unforeseen uses. Having it be readily available will prove invaluable when making reactive structural changes.

Practical benefits

Consider the benefits of having building data which is not just navigable in a 3D space, but also interconnected:

  • Information from sensors can be added to a static model, showing exactly where a certain issue is occurring. A malfunctioning heating system is highlighted alongside the position of pipes, and other elements of the infrastructure that might inhibit access, all without having to go out and survey the area.
  • Suppose that a manufacturer issues a recall on certain assets. You can then search for all instances of that specific model and locate them immediately in an as-built BIM model
  • If there’s a problem with a certain asset, you have immediate access to its documentation via a catalogued link. And once you’ve made those changes to the infrastructure, they can be accurately logged for future reference.
BIM visualization

Embedded BIM enables FM teams to search, visualize and interact with assets in a 3D environment

At Level 3, this information is instantly updated and freely accessible. A single shared online model eliminates the need to update models separately and merge changes. Hosting on a server also allows for larger file sizes. And an online interface using a freely accessible, browser-based protocol such as WebGL can make these models available on even low-end computers and tablets, democratizing access and allowing for extra data input. We are not quite there yet, but the future of BIM is rapidly advancing.

 Interested in learning more about BIM in FM? Contact us for a free demo.