Opinion

Richard Saxon: Smart ways to get clients into BIM

13 June 2017 | By Richard Saxon

The latest NBS survey of BIM uptake and usage says that only 25% of clients where BIM is being used are actively engaged with it. Lack of client demand is blamed by many suppliers for their own slowness in committing to using BIM.

The fact is, however, that the case for client demand is not being made as many designers and contractors continue to focus on their own issues with BIM and insist on being paid extra to use it.

The right commercial arrangements for BIM appointments are still evolving and the idea that suppliers should be paid more to cut their own risks will work itself out in due course. What needs attention is the message to clients. 

This slow client awakening to the advantages of whole-life asset data is in contrast to their apparently stronger response to the promise of the Internet of Things in the built environment, so-called “smart buildings”.

The developer community, among the most resistant to active BIM usage, is keen on the potential to attract tenants to smart buildings, and to manage their multilet assets through digital applications running on the flow of data from the systems in the buildings.

Smart buildings seems to be relatively digestible concept to clients, with little effort apparently needed to take it up. The promise of transformed facility management, with much better building performance and space utilisation, makes sense in the smart buildings message in a way that it doesn’t from a BIM perspective. Smart building implementation may well advance rapidly as a result, in new and existing buildings.

Yet proper smart buildings must know their own geometry and construction product information to be more than building management systems. Workplace management and maintenance optimisation needs the asset information model (AIM) to be part of the database.

Consideration of the client’s asset information requirements at the briefing stage is the key to achieving both a workable AIM and the complementary smart building system. Common data environments for building life-cycles, such as EcoDomus, can integrate all data flows, from the AIM, the building management system and the occupier’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) to enable analytics showing how the facility is supporting the occupier’s business: what is working and what is not. Better outcomes for lower expenditure is on offer.

What has rarely been achieved at briefing stage is client awareness of the whole-life aspect of their investment. Capital spend has been the focus of key performance indicators and benchmarks, while other managers will inherit the asset and make the best of it during its operating life.

The barriers between capital expenditure and operational expenditure thinking are crumbling now, in both public and private sectors. Public clients are being encouraged to think about occupier outcomes in use, as old PFI schemes show them how costly it is to ignore revenue expenditure up front. Commercial developers see the attraction to tenants of high building service levels and lower management costs. 

So, can smart buildings draw more clients into asking for BIM and taking their role in it seriously? I hope so, but it needs advisers to help clients into the “active” BIM-using role, translating the jargon and stripping their task back to its essentials.

That’s what I’m advocating in my book, BIM for Construction Clients, published by NBS last year. It’s what I’m doing for those I advise.

Image: Haiyin/Dreamstime.com

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