Friday, June 9, 2017

Debunking another BIM myth: FM enabled BIM models do not automatically pop out of Construction BIM models

For years I’ve been consistently preaching that BIM can be started at any point of a construction project lifecycle and it can be successful. Unfortunately, the level of success is closely linked to skills, motivation, depth of participation etc., but regardless of the multitude of variables, I am still comfortable to state, that given the right tools, people and attitudes any BIM (started at any time in the project) can be made at least cost neutral if not a significant source of savings in time and/or money.

With the potentials of early ‘clash detection’ wearing off a bit, and contractors staying lukewarm on fulfilling their ‘mandated BIM requirements’ let alone strongly leading the field of adoption, promoters of BIM tools and services are nowadays returning to the easiest of ways to convince clients (building owners) to put their money into the black hole of BIM, that is the ‘final’ outcome of the process, the FM-ready models.

In all mainstream BIM strategies, FM models sit at the end of the chain of Ds – numbered from the 6th D onwards, following the 3 spatial Ds, cost and time.
They are often used as the motive (excuse) for forcing BIM onto projects in the first place – i.e. during design and construction. Especially in cases where BIM is not mandated, the contractor not skilled in it and/or the client is reluctant to take the risks associated with the approach, the carrot of an 'FM ready model popping out at the end of the process' is often the one to tip the scales towards doing BIM.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with this approach, especially when one believes in any of the zillion carefully crafted ‘BIM lifecycle diagrams’ on the internet (and presented at conferences by respected BIM specialists - see a random selection below) most of them circular and never ending.

Unfortunately, principles and theories are often at odds with reality and there is a fundamental flow in the above line of thinking, that ‘a’ model will roll around the colored circular board of the host building's lifecycle without a significant ‘waste’ of efforts.

‘Waste of modelling efforts’ is a major ‘thing’ among those that know little of the realities of BIMming but are deeply invested into it. I recall many horrified faces of the past, when I suggested a model get built ‘from scratch’ for one reason or other. One such event I am reminded of daily, as I drive past on the way to work is related to the now almost fully finished Mafraq hospital.

Some 6 or so years ago, there was a huge push to make history with the ‘full BIM-ing’ of the project, mandating it across all disciplines during construction. Having surveyed the skills, capabilities and general environment, I did ask the Project Director of the Main Contractor what was the primary goal of the exercise. (apart from rocketing two shiny-suit BIM experts into regional BIM stardom and discrediting anyone that was brave enough to ask questions – like me).

Her answer was, that the main reason to do BIM, while the construction was going on is ‘to end up with an as-built model ready for FM’.
My suggestion to her then, was to employ a carefully crafted 2D/3D environment for the creation and assessment of shop-drawings (yes, I already was hooked on the concept of ‘virtual’ skeletons) and then, just before the completion of the building, build a NEW FM ready model.
Needless to say, I was laughed out of the door, and soon enough, I lost my involvement on that particular project.
But as I drive past the building complex these days, I do wonder if they have a working/operational FM model in place.

Rather than taking a ‘I told you so’ moment, let me illustrate my point in two ways – one a bit flippant, then with some substantiation;

BIM models are not transformer-action figurines and one must understand that the ‘Horses for Courses’ rule definitely applies when one gets into BIM. A good design BIM does not necessary leads into a good construction BIM (model or process) nor does a successful construction BIM effort finish off (automatically) with a FM ready BIM model.

Therefore, FM BIM models must not be thought of as construction models with another coat of data added to them
It would be like gradually dressing up a bride with all detailed, heavy accessories, jewelry, make up, hairdo, shoes etc. etc. and once she is fully geared up, make her run a marathon in this attire.

On a more serious side, let’s really look at the ‘type’ of BIM models.
I crudely classify them under two groups:
A/ Hi graphics, low data
B/ Hi data, low graphics

In Group A, are the ‘standard’ models most people are familiar with, the ones that change through various LODs from design through construction. Walls modeled by architects morph into construction elements created by contractors, conceptual trusses get replaced by full Tekla models done by steel subcontractors, mechanical zones allocated by designers, filled by highly detailed HVAC elements provided by specialist software used by D&B parties.
Meta data (the non-graphics stuff) can be added into these models but it is rarely done and even less in a controlled manner. (forget COBie).

In Group B, are the models that are rarely made, but have their purpose especially post construction for FM. They are light in graphics for ease of manipulation, but have lot of meta data connected to elements, in various forms, Word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, website links, movies etc.

In an ideal world, an A type (say LOD 5) as-built-construction model would easily convert into a B type (LOD 300) FM model, but this is not the case, even though various software developers and library manufacturers promote the ability to scale up or down their model parts. Even the concept of ‘purging’ down a construction model to an FM-one is not very practical in reality – once man hours needed to this are compared with those necessary to build a model from scratch.

There just does not seem to be a lot of interest in understanding and resolving this issue within the industry.


  1. Zolna it is always a pleasure to read you: simple, clever, documented. Thanks for sharing your terrific knowledge.

  2. The issue may be more basic....owners just don't have the skills to efficiently manage the built environment.

  3. Zolna, appreciate your work and particularly this article. If i might let me ask you though, in the article i get a sense your talking about a holistic BIM FM model, i.e. delivering Geometry and data to be used in the owners CMMS/CAFM solution. Yes delivering both is required but from my experience many owner don't currently have a CMMS/CAFM that can use the geometry, and in more cases my experience indicates they actually don't want 3D in their operations solutions. Is this also your experience?

    So in a delivery to an owner, and where the owner is only interested in the data it is very possible to easily deliver the data requirements out of a construction model. I say that with the caveat that owner has indicated what elements and what data is important to them and during the project the BIM data is being checked to meet those requirements. So the data delivery is a much more scaled down deliverable than the heavy weight 3D model. Would you see this as a possibly solution?

  4. An internationally recognized schema for contractable, testable handover information may be found in the COBie standard.

  5. I kept asking myself "Yes, but why can't BIM work that way." while reading this article. I think that's because I've started to transition myself from simply specializing in BIM, to more a digital designer. That's actually been a much bigger help in strategically coordinating all different aspects of a BIM project I think. That BIM can start at any point in a construction project is totally true. And I think I would only be open that that idea if I took a high level digital design perspective. Thanks for taking the time to write this piece.

  6. Nice and very informative....

  7. I enjoyed that article! "BIM experts discrediting anyone that questioned" struck a chord also the use of shop drawings suggestion.

  8. I enjoyed that article! "BIM experts discrediting anyone that questioned" struck a chord also the use of shop drawings suggestion.

  9. A great piece of insight! As the one responsible for defining and checking for the requirements on BIM handover, I am now facing this challenge of procuring models that could be used for FM by minimum efforts.

  10. Great article - and very true. We have yet to see a 3D model (exported to IFC) in which the Asset Names and properties can be extracted in FM friendly terminology. Object names extracted from Revit generally contain lots of unnecessary characters and underscores used instead of spaces requiring manual input / update.

    1. What if the company that provides the FM BIM platform pulls in the files and does it for you? Basically data collection falls on the BIM software company but can occur during construction or right before handover. Would that be worth it?

    2. David, absolutely. As they say 'many ways to skin the cat' - the importance is to get an FM model that will suit its purpose

    3. Thanks! I work for a company that does exactly what I described. I want to make sure we are avoiding any potential pitfalls that can happen from relaying our message incorrectly or accidentally reaching out to the wrong people.