One Building or Two?

Blog author: Richard Saxon, JCT Chairman

The conventional client for a construction project has focussed on achieving success in getting their requirements delivered to quality, on time and on budget. It has been a capital project mind-set, measuring achievement over the period up to the final account. Those clients who own the building tend to change the accounting status and the leadership involved at the end of the capital phase, handing the facility manager, who is rarely involved before this point, a bundle of information from the contractor to help them start to set up the Operation and Maintenance system they will need. Those who sell the building on after completion and letting have even less interest in the life of their creation, passing responsibility to the investor and tenants to make the best of it.

It is no wonder that, as a nation, we have issues with building performance, unexpected operation and maintenance costs and the premature demolition of buildings that we did not maintain properly. There is incredulity when it is suggested that whole-life costs can easily exceed capital costs. Whilst we have strong capital cost benchmarks, those for the life-cycle have been weak. It is common for contractors to achieve capital spending targets by reducing the quality of materials and products specified, thereby raising O&M costs which occur long after anyone involved is in post.

BIM changes the game. The model naturally produces structured information which can, if suitably specified, provide a good basis for the management of the finished building. The concept of BIM is related to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), the tool which allowed car makers to revolutionise the design process for cars 25 years ago. Information of any sort can be tagged to the components and elements of the design, including how best to operate and maintain a system or product and how long it will last before replacement.

Level 2 BIM, as mandated on central government projects from April 4th 2016, requires buildings and infrastructure to be designed for whole-life performance and cost. The soft-landings concept, where facility management requirements are incorporated in the initial brief and followed through, has been further powered up by the government requiring that the performance of the completed facility be measured in use and compared to the performance specified in the business case for the project. This is not just technical performance but suitability for purpose. Capital and Revenue accounts will be linked.

The RICS have responded to the arrival of whole-life requirements by launching NRM3, their guide to recording and managing whole-life costs. They are also developing a benchmarking service for whole-life costs to compare with their Building Cost Information Service for new buildings. It won’t be quick to do, but it’s started. The model’s data can generate embodied and operational energy and carbon information also, all answering questions that would not have been easy to do before.

The basic change made possible by BIM is that clients will be able to ask not only for the functional and economic brief that has conventionally been called ‘Employer’s Requirements’. They will also be able to ask for information to support whole-life performance, safety and cost-effectiveness. And they are able to ask for the information they need at each stage of the capital project to enable them to decide whether the project is on track to meet their brief or needs to be reviewed. These together are the ‘Employer’s Information Requirements’ described in BIM guidance.

So what the client of today is buying is two buildings, not one. They get one physical building and one virtual one. The virtual building is the source of information from which to build the physical one, but it then goes on to be the support system for the life-cycle of the facility. The virtual building is a ready-made O&M resource. It allows use to be planned, space to be managed, and preventive maintenance to be done to stretch the life of its parts. It will also link to increasingly automated Building Management Systems to self-manage, and to Enterprise Resource Planning tools to inform asset management of its status and performance. The virtual building comes free with BIM, so it’s two for the price of one.

Richard Saxon CBE has also written ‘BIM for Construction Clients: driving strategic value through digital information management’, to be released by RIBA Publishing in February 2016.

Note: Blog posts are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of JCT.