Could BIM to FM be outdated by 2025?

If technology development gives rise to a BIM to FM process (i.e. using a Building Information Modelling data gathering process for use in Facility Management), thus; why can’t technology enable an approach to replace a BIM to FM process?

All references in this article are within the Australian Architectural, Engineering, Construction, Operation and Maintenance (AECOM) industries.

The current BIM to FM approach.
At the time of writing the use of BIM to FM in Australia is relatively rare, and in comparison to the huge number of construction projects, it is just a blip on the radar.  Being able to count successful completed BIM to FM projects on one hand, for every capital city, is not many projects. Yet, there are many independent accepted reports on the cost benefits on BIM to FM; so why the slow take-up?

BIM has been used in the industry now for over a decade, yet it appears to remain an elitist process. BIM evangelists seem entrenched in a culture where utopian outcomes are sought, Execution plans are overly complicated, re-inventing processes when available known approaches would suffice; and the exact method of gathering and checking data from Design, through to Handover is poorly considered as to how it will be managed. This has lead to clients being overwhelmed and lacking in confidence in the new approach. The bottom line; the industry has failed in a Keep It Simple and Straightforward (KISS) approach.

No Government Intervention:
A major uptake of BIM to FM can only occur; when the construction industry works on a standardized data structure and systems platform. BIM breaks down without specific data structures and lacks efficiencies in a non-standardized platforms.  The Government is the only body capable of delivering and implementing such a standardized platform. To date; despite Governments demanding productivity gains, the elimination of construction cost overruns, and greater GDP growth; they are unwilling to: add red tape, overburden small businesses, unsettle the Unions and provide upfront funding and governance to reform the construction industry. Australia also has the extra challenge of having three levels of government (if you look at all countries who have mandated BIM, they only have two levels of Government). With proposed BIM rollout models presented to date, the Federal government would bear the brunt of cost outlays, with State and Local governments reaping potentially the greatest benefits. If such a national system was a deliverable on all Government funded projects over $10 million; after a few years experience, the efficiency gains by designers and contractors using these free systems would organically start to flow onto private sector projects. This is on the premise the system would include free, accessible and quality industry education, robust user-friendly systems and software applications relevant to both small and large businesses. It could be said, that if the government does not intervene; the design and construction industry could become a two-tiered environment, between BIM capable and non-BIM capable businesses, resulting in many small businesses having little BIM capabilities and becoming unsustainable.

Poor Software development:
For anyone who has worked on a BIM to FM project, you quickly start to understand how poor BIM authoring software is at managing data. Software Vendors boast how good their BIM applications are, but the “Out of the Box” versions have little to no methods of: automatically tracking changes and who made the change, checking data against benchmark and previously issued data sets, pulling data in from relevant sources, recalling information on deleted items and mass data manipulation. They can’t even push data back and forth between simple spreadsheets, i.e.; the most basic form of data entry and review. To do all of these tasks you need third party plug-ins. From the above you start to realize very quickly, a live model environment can be a risky place to store large amounts of data. The only way to overcome this is to develop or use a third party; “program management tool” (e.g. dRofus, Codebook and BuildingOne). These applications to date are only used on large complex projects. They become questionable to use on small to medium sized projects due to the investment firms need to put into them. Governments; such as the UK, where project BIM outcomes will be mandated by mid-2016, are providing such user-friendly tools which will facilitate these functions. However for us in Australia, we will need to rely on the Vendors greatly improving the core BIM authoring product’s functionality, before real change can occur.

So what would be the alternative method in the future of pulling together the required data a building manager would need to operate a building, and yet maintaining some of the outcome benefits of a BIM to FM approach?  Surprisingly, the technology is already available:

The Internet of Things:
As you are reading this article you are using a device connected to the internet. In your house you may have several connected devices, which may include: Smart Phone, Tablet, Laptop, Gaming Consol, Foxtel Box, TeVo Box, Smart Electricity Meter, Possibly a Smart TV, and soon maybe even a Smart Fridge. These are all part of the Internet of Things. The definition below is a direct extract from Wikipedia:
“The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices. Each thing is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure”
According to Cisco, there are currently (2015) around 2.9 billion items connect to the internet. By 2020, this is estimated to grow to 13 billion. We are starting to look at a future there a huge amount of digital devices will be connected to the internet, providing data to the Manufacturer and Operator. Consider how many items are currently digital, or, are going to go digital. In your house, this could extend to; your water heater, central heating boiler, and thermostat, solar inverter, air conditioner, dishwasher, washing machine, cooker, and microwave. Wireless connectivity would be sufficient.
The  Manufacturing industry is starting to struggle worldwide. Margins are tight and with cheap labor drying up and production costs growing. It is well documented the world is changing from the manufacturer based to service based. Manufacturers are looking to other incomes. They are in an ideal position to provide the ongoing service requirements for their products. Having a product connected to the internet opens up new opportunities. Manufacturers could track; switch on (start up) dates, hours of operation, data on faulty parts, servicing information, environmental conditions, and product efficiencies. This could enable manufacturers to provide extended warranties, advice customers of faults when services are required and organize the service for the customer. Through the data collected, equipment design and longevity can be improved, and reliability data can be developed as a marketing tool.

RFID Tags:
While writing this article, I looked through my wallet, to find several items with RFID tags. They included my “payWave” Credit Cards, Miki (Transport card) and Work building security access cards. Wikipedia defines RFID as:
"Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information."
RFID Tags have been used for identification for pets since the 1990s. They are used in the healthcare sector to automatically track the movements of equipment around the hospital facility. They cost from a few cents up to about $5 to produce and small enough to be placed within most products. There are many different formats of RFID tags and readers, and some of these readers (NFC RFID) started to appear in smart phones since the iPhone 5S, and Samsung Galaxy 3. Tags generally hold 2KB of data. The aerospace industries currently wants to store parts histories on high memory tags, and are starting to use a passive UHF tags that stores 4KB or 8KB of data.
The data held within the tag, could be used for many items, but being able to uniquely identify a product, and forward you to the relevant section of the Manufactures website would be the primary goal. Now at your finger tips using your smart phone device, you have all the relevant manufactures details about “your” specific product including; purchase dates, warranty details and end date, insulation and specification information, maintenance regimes, spare parts availability and lead-in times etc, etc.   

The missing link:
Some of the current challenges of the Internet of Things and RFID tags for use in gathering data for FM use are: Software platforms to between the manufacture and operators, standardisation of RFID tags, frequencies and tag readers within mobile devices. I don’t believe these are a big step. This approach would also be driven by the Manufactures, and not the operators and government which a BIM to FM requires. Thus I believe it is easier to achieve. If you consider the advancements made in the past decade with device connectivity, it is easy to see in a decade an environment where builders and commissioners using the Internet of Things and RFID tags can install, start-up, and commission facility assets and easily hand it across to the facility operator.

To test this approach, let’s look at the requirements and outcomes if the above method was used on a COBie (Construction Operation Building Information Exchange) deliverable (currently the only open standard FM handover structure). Below are the relevant sections of the COBie 2.4 Structure:

During commissioning and sing-off, electronic forms on tablet computers would still be the approach. Thus, gathering the relevant data enterer contact details.

Typically a one line entry filled out by the building owner. No change.

This is relatively simple data, and easy to fill out by the building Manager or Architect. A separate line for each level, plus the Site is all that is needed.

I believe it would be valid for this to be populated by the Architect, but could be filled out by the building owner if required.

As per space above, and with the building service zone being filled out by the service sub-contractor.

The data from the RFID tags could automatically populate this data sheet.

Data gathered during commissioning and sign-off stage.

On small projects it is not difficult for the Sub-contractor to populate the services systems connections manually with the help of the RFID tags. On large project using a BIM would still be applicable.

Data to be entered by the sub-contractor, no different from a BIM to FM approach.

Data to be entered by the sub-contractor, no different from a BIM to FM approach.

Data to be entered by the sub-contractor, no different from a BIM to FM approach.

All relevant documents can be automatically pulled from the manufactures website, via the RFID tag data.

The development of SPie (Specifiers' Properties information exchange
) is still relevant here. SPie is a data structure which establishes a consistent definition and use of materials, products, equipment and assemblies. SPie could be pulled from the manufactures website via the RFID tag.

Thus from above, this method of data collection is very achievable. The areas where data would be lost are design consultant generated data. Materials and finishes would not be recorded, however this data is generally not on the top of the must have data items by a typical facility manager in Australia. This data collection method for Bridges and Infrastructure will be less relevant, but that would be in line with the general recommended use of COBie.

Advantages to the above method would be it is saleable. It would work on project sizes from domestic houses up to multimillion dollar projects. It would be accessible to everyone; the house owner only needs an App on their smart phone to read the RFID Manufactures tag. The setup costs would be less and easy to pass on to the customers.

I do believe there is still relevance of a BIM to FM approach, and the gains of using BIM in the Design and Construction stage cannot be understated. However the reliance on a BIM to FM as an ongoing method to “gather data” for used in FM is put into question.