16 March 2013

What BIM should Owners ask for?

There is an assumption in current BIM guides that owners will, and should, direct BIM on a project. But owners are not experts at construction, and not necessarily experts at FM. After all, that is why they employ others to produce their building. But owners have a stake in BIM use. Out of all the participants they are the ones who have the most to gain. So if owners shouldn't get involved in matters they are paying others to do for them, how can they influence the BIM process?


It is critical that the owner is the one who defines what they want. There is little point getting the lead consultant to do it as a "return brief", or engaging a BIM evangelist (sorry - "Expert") to do one. Owners  need a clear idea of what they want and what they need, because there are costs associated with making BIM demands. It is true there are some benefits they will get for no cost if BIM is used, but they need to know what these are, and which are the ones that will cost.

BIM is actually not a precise term - it means different things to different people (a topic I explored in previous posts What does BIM mean to you? and Its OK not to do BIM). In simple terms there are two versions: BIM as a design and construction process (which I prefer to call VDC - Virtual Design & Construct), and BIM as a facilities management process.
Owners will probably be more interested in the FM BIM, although they may want to use a design and construction team that utilises BIM because they believe they will get a better quality building.

This is where owners need to make their first decision, the options are:
  • I want BIM for facilities management.
  • I want BIM for a better quality building.
  • I want BIM for facilities management and a better quality building.
  • I don't need BIM.

BIM for facilities management

If it is decided to go for BIM for facilities management it is important to be clear about why it is wanted.
Doing it because it is a "good idea", is "future proofing", or "experts recommend it" will not cut it. Asking for BIM that "is suitable for" FM (don't laugh, this is very common) is so imprecise it is highly unlikely anything of practical use will be delivered.

How FM will be delivered must be defined:
  • only raw BIM models provided for future FM use.
  • provided to owner's in-house FM people.
  • provided to owner's FM contractor/consultant.
  • provided as turn-key system by the contractor, including hardware and software.

As-Built BIM model for future works on the project may also be desired. But this is different from FM, as an FM BIM Model is rarely editable. That is, it is very difficult to make changes to its geometry. Data can be changed, like what door lock is on a door, but that door can't be moved in the FM model (and normally you wouldn't want anyone to).
So if a BIM as-built is wanted the BIM model will need to be delivered in an authoring software format, like Revit, Archicad, Bentley etc, as a deliverable in addition to the FM model. If this is not clearly defined CAD as-builts linked to the FM model are likely to be delivered.

A note on IFC. IFC is often recommended to owners as "the" universal future-proof format. But IFC is NOT an authoring format. It is an exchange format that requires authoring software to convert it into their own format. Import an IFC file into Revit and it turns it into a Revit file. And currently very few authoring softwares do a very good job at this conversion, partly because IFC doesn't contain the sort of information that make authoring software efficient to use. Those that claim to do it well are closest to the IFC format - and therefore have the least authoring capabilities. The worst thing you can do is mandate an authoring software solely based on its ability to handle the IFC format.

And a note on COBie, another deliverable being recommended to owners. Construction-Operations Building information exchange (COBie) is standard for communicating information about assets in a building. It only contains data, not a 3D model of the building like IFC. It's usually delivered as a spreadsheet, which can be generated from BIM as well as filled in by human (so information not in BIM can be added), yet be automatically read by FM databases.
Mandating COBie without defining what is required within it will achieve little. It is like ordering a sandwich. If all you ask for is a sandwich, you are likely to get a Vegemite sandwich (but be charged for a caviar sandwich).
If all that is after is information already available for construction COBie requires little additional definition  and is probably the most cost effective way to get FM data delivered.
But an FM system must be capable of making use of COBie data as soon as the project is finished, otherwise that data will be out of date by the time it makes it into the FM system.

BIM for a better quality building

What aspect of better quality is wanted? It is important to keep in mind there may be costs involved, so only those that are actually needed, and there is an appetite to pay for, should be included.

Some areas that might be considered:
  • better understanding of spaces and facilities by stake-holders (through 3D visualization) .
  • better understanding of staging of works (if the project is in stages, e.g. a refit)
  • a range of optimised building performances - thermally, solar, daylight, pedestrian flow, etc.
  • cost control - ongoing measurement for costing.
There is a trap of thinking that forcing the design / construction team to use BIM will automatically result in a better building. More on that below.
Once a list is made it should be reviewed to ensure BIM can actually contribute to better outcomes, and at what likely cost. BIM can do a lot, but not everything.

Don't need BIM.

If  the benefits of BIM are not needed directly by the owner it is still possible to encourage BIM use for construction by requiring evidence the design / construction team are utilizing BIM.
But if  this choice is made it is important to ensure the selection process is able to identifying consultants and contractors experienced and capable of utilizing BIM in their processes. More on that below.


What Information is needed?

If it is decided that BIM FM is wanted there needs to be a method to describe what information will be required to be embedded in the BIM model. If FM BIM data is to be delivered to the owner's organisation they must have adequate in-house expertise. There is no point delivering it to the person who works from a room full of filing cabinets and only use the computer to look at porn. If it is to a FM contractor they must be on-board early enough to contribute. At the end of the project it will be too late.

Who provides the Information?

The more information that is wanted the greater the cost. If information required is restricted to information likely to already be in the BIM model (i.e. that is used for construction) the cost may be modest.
But if what is wanted requires more information it is clearly more effort for some-one. If this is the case it is best to consider who is the best party to put that information in. Are the architects the best people to put costing codes in their BIM model for the costing consultant or contractor? Will they know what they are doing? Will they take sufficient care with what they are doing? And will making the consultant team input additional FM data slow them down and so impact on the projects timing? Would it be best to leave it to the FM team at the end of the project?
It is always possible to make some-one contractually obliged to do something, but that does not guarantee the best outcome for the whole project.

Selection Process

Including BIM will make selections processes more complex because an extra requirement has been overlaid. So an owners organisation's manpower demand and time to complete the selection process will increase.
By deciding to use BIM the range of consultant / contractors that can select from may be limited. It may also restrict the range of prices that can be obtained, and it may restrict the range of quality. This trickles down to sub-contractors and trades. If BIM shop drawings are mandated the range of sub-contractors that can be selected from may diminish. As BIM becomes more common this will be less of a problem, but it is important to be aware of it.
Forcing BIM on to consultants / contractors selected on low fees will not magically make them more skilled or competent. And do you really want them to learn BIM on your project? Sounds like a no brainer, but this scenario happens a lot.

Cost & Time

By its nature BIM requires more effort earlier in a project. A developed BIM model is required early in the project to get the most benefit, and it doesn't get put together without some effort. Owners need to appreciate that consultant cash flow requirements will tend to spread towards the beginning of projects. BIM shouldn't make any difference to contractor cash flow, but it might increase the percentage they apportion to preliminaries, particular if they are doing 4D (time scheduling) & 5D (costing).

The time taken by consultants to produce their work may increase, as they are actually doing more. Note, however, that research has shown construction times can be less on BIM projects, so the overall time to completion may not increase.


BIM Wash

The first thing is to be wary of BIM Wash. Particularly from academic 'experts' who may try and push processes that have yet to be used, or may even be impossible to achieve. I've experienced an 'expert' employed by a naive client who created a list of requirements that could not be achieved with the software mandated to be used on the project.
Consultants and contractors are also not immune to producing BIM wash. Beware of glossy brochures.

Consultant Selection

BIM can be learned, but beware of inexperience, or experience not relevant. I have seen surveyors claiming they could do an existing conditions BIM model based on their previous experience of importing Rhino models into Revit and calling it BIM.

It is important to pay particular attention to selection of the lead consultant (usually the Architect). A BIM savvy lead consultant can be critical to a successful BIM project.

Collaboration is talked about a lot in BIM circles, and whilst it is somewhat overblown, BIM works best when the consultant team collaborates on creating unified BIM models. It is hard to enforce collaboration, but one way to make it easier to achieve is to select consultants who use the same software. The software doesn't need to be mandated, but it is important to be aware that collaboration will be more difficult if consultants using different software are selected. But that doesn't mean that some-one who doesn't normally use a particular software should be forced to use it for the project. The difficulties they will experience learning to use it will overshadow any collaborative benefits.

It is best to select the project BIM manager from within consultant team, or make the lead consultant  responsible for their selection and management if appointed from outside the project team. BIM Managers are most effective when they work from within the project team, collaboratively, not as an external auditor only responsible to the owner. If oversight is desired a different method should be used (reporting deliverables, milestone issues, auditing, etc). The project team shouldn't be denied an effective manager of BIM processes.

Contractor Selection

Contractors don't so much create BIM as use it.  So their in-house BIM skills are not as critical as consultants. Contractors can always buy in BIM skills, including utilising those of the consultant team. They do however need to appreciate the benefits of BIM and integrate it into their processes.

It is important owners don't try and be a contractor. It is best when selecting contractors to get them to describe their BIM processes, not mandate what they should be. To ensure an effective BIM process let the contractor use processes they believe are worthwhile, and let them explain why they are beneficial. Not all contractors will use BIM the same way, but by getting bidders to explain what they do and why will enable a more effective selection process.

There is currently a tendency to request a separate price to 'do' BIM. My favourite is a hospital in Australia that had a 'BIM option at no additional cost' in its request for tender.  If a contractor is using BIM processes they are doing it for their own benefit.  By separating BIM out it invites costs to be put to processes that would have occurred anyway. I've seen a D & C project where the new owner wanted BIM on the project, so sub-contractors were asked to provide a price to 'do BIM'. Most were already doing it, or at least partly doing it, but of course they still put a price in.
The only reason to request a separate price for 'BIM' is for BIM deliverables that are in addition to what is normally provided for construction purposes, and that are actually required by the owner.

BIM Agreements

I don't intend to go into the nuances of contracts, but obviously it is important BIM expectations and deliverables are included in them.
The Australia AIA has produce a quite good discussion paper on this issue, BIM in Practice L - BIM, Legal & Procurement  (requires free registration), and I've written a response to it in my post A REVIEW: BIM IN PRACTICE - Legal & Procurement

One of the things BIM agreements try and enforce is collaboration. This can be problematic as some interpret collaboration as getting those involved with authoring BIM to put the work of others into the BIM model. Although BIM authors may be best placed to do this, they may not be best placed to take on the responsibility.
If the architect is modelling structural components, there needs to be a mechanism whereby the structural engineer is still responsible for the design of those elements and their correct representation in the model. This becomes critical, for example, if the steel shop drawer is relying on the BIM model to produce their work.

Collaboration is actually not about getting others to do your work, it is about getting others to do things that help you do your work. I explore one example of this in my post Should engineers model accurately?
Collaboration is difficult to mandate, but including clauses on fulfilling reasonable requests from others on the project team might help. But it is still important to ensure that responsibility remains with those with the appropriate expertise.

Is IPD necessary?

In short, No. There is a lot of talk about true BIM not being possible unless Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) type contracts are used. This is simply not true. The advantages of BIM are there for any contractual arrangement.
There may be other reasons you might want to use IPD, but don't do it just because you think the BIM will be better.

The BIM Brief

Critical to owners getting what they want is how it is described to others. What is needed is a clear, consistent method that flows through the whole project from start to finish.
The best way to do this is to integrate owner requirements into a project BIM Management Plan.
But I don't mean a single BIM Execution Plan as advocated by the many current BIM guides. It is unrealistic to expect a single document to encompass all BIM requirements for every participant over the whole life of a project.
What I mean is a series of inter-related documents that together form the Project BIM Management Plan. A topic I explore in my post Single project BIM Execution Plan: a good idea?

The first of which is the BIM Project Brief. This is a document the owner authors and that sets out what their BIM deliverables and BIM expectations are.

A BIM Project Brief (BPB):
  • is a short, high level document.
  • is created before project starts and anyone is appointed (and ideally included in consultancy bid documents).
  • sets out BIM deliverables only, avoids describing how they are to be achieved.
  • describes required content of the other BIM plans that make up the BIM Management Plan.
  • should never need to be revised (unlike some of the other BIM plans).

The BPB should be the only, and guiding, document for BIM requirements on the project. Other documents, like consultant agreements, construction contracts, FM contracts, and BIM plans should refer back to this document.
Because BIM means different things to different people it is not uncommon for a different definition, and therefore intent, to be used in the various contracts and agreements used on a project. The classic is an FM contract that assumes FM data is already in the provided BIM model, but there is no requirement in consultant or contractor agreements to include it.

What does a BPB look like? I've explored it a little in my previous post BIM for Owners: the BIM Project Brief  but I'll flesh it out more in my next post.

I'm also hoping to consolidate my ideas at this years RTC Australasia conference in Auckland 16th to 18th May, where I'm presenting a talk called "BIM Execution Plans: Avoiding the Noose".


  1. In general, this post should be of great value to owners and developers pondering how to set up their next project.
    One omission might bear comment: The list of whether, and why an owner might "want BIM" near the top of the article does not include construction cost savings as a possible reason for an owner to want BIM. "Better quality" (item #2 in the list) suggests that better quality can be had at the same price though the use of BIM. By inference, one might conclude that the same quality building could be had at a lower price. Case studies of Contractor BIM, if you will, support that inference with claims of significant (double digit percentage) savings attributable to BIM.
    This reduction in cost of construction is likely to appeal to some types of owners (particularly developers). The remainder of the article is, to some degree, structured around the reasons to use BIM as set forth in that initial list. Consequently, what an owner needs to ask for in order to realize such savings is given little direct attention.
    Otherwise, thank you, Antony. I may find uses for the arguments youj have presented here.

    1. I purposely didn't mention the potential cost benefits of BIM for two reasons.
      While it is true utilizing BIM adds a bit of upfront cost, it has the potential to reduce costs during construction through more coordinated effort and reductions in time. The problem is, at the beginning of a project, these savings are through a lessening of future risk, which is not quantifiable saving.
      The other problem is the owner may not be the one that benefits. The savings are all during construction, which, depending on the contract, are likely to be taken by the general contractor or the various sub-contractors. It is only when the owner takes on some risk, via IPD type contracts, that they might get a share in the savings.
      Of course there may be savings in a better FM system, and a BIM project may deliver FM more economically, but that is a calculation the owner can make themselves.

  2. Hi.
    I have some doubts about BIM FM. What beneficts has a company that already uses CAFM or CMMS by changing to BIM FM? How can the BIM model improve the performance of maintenance? How does it help reducing the maintenance costs?

    It´s easy to understand that the information contained in BIM model helps a lot on comunication and improving the quality of information exchange, but how to measure the value of that in money?

    best regards

    1. Joel,
      You may very well be right. Capturing data generated during design and construction is one thing, but does that data really have to go into a BIM type FM system? Do those doing FM really need pretty pictures to go with the data? I'm not qualified to answer, but like design and construction, those in FM should be asking the hard questions and not just accept BIM wash as gospel.

    2. At this moment I´m doing my final course work and it consists in implement BIM FM into a company.

      I think for a new building that already had a BIM model used for design and construction, it worth use BIM model to FM, but in my case, that company already have a FM system, how can I show them that BIM FM will bring savings cost to them? They are very practical, they don´t want to know that BIM FM will improve the comunication, they want to know where and how they will have saving cost using BIM FM instead of FM.

      I´m having some serious dificulties on this stage of my work and i´m very worry about it.