Converging factors spotlight an important opportunity to link building information modeling to the total life and health of buildings through facilities management.

It is undeniable that today’s economy is challenging. Architecture and design professionals alike are feeling the effects of a depressed market. Nevertheless, there are still opportunities for the architecture industry to reposition its services and skills to deliver on a higher value proposition.

Over the past five years, there have been significant shifts in many of the factors that influence the business of architecture, including the economy, the cost of energy, sustainable design, integrated project delivery (IPD), building information modeling (BIM), energy modeling, and emerging technologies such as cloud computing.

While these influences are each individually significant, their alignment as a group presents an opportunity for architecture and engineering firms to redefine their role in projects. The most significant opportunity is in moving from a resource-only model in which the focus of the project is on the early stages of a building’s conception and development to a model in which architects and engineers remain integral to the total life of the building after its completion.
A report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicates that roughly $15.8 billion is lost each year due to wasted effort in the design, construction and facilities management, and operations of large commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings, facilities, and plants. Two-thirds of that loss ($10.5 billion) is borne by building owners and operators. That’s because the majority of a building’s life-cycle cost doesn’t come from the design or construction phase; it comes from operating the building over the course of its lifetime.

Extending the design and construction process into facilities management and operation is an important opportunity.

It is not only expedient to recognize the unique opportunity that the advent of these forces coming into alignment presents but even more important, how to capitalize on the opportunity. The role of the architect is not to play each instrument but to orchestrate the symphony of all instruments at play. The tools and technology, both available and evolving, make this both possible and practical.

Influential Industry Factors

Economic realities. The economy has clearly affected the profession. Unemployment in design, construction, and development outpaces the national average, and the Architectural Billings Index continues to fall. Although the rate of new construction and development is not advancing, the demand for improving the performance of existing buildings is real. Our society is focused on reducing energy consumption, cost, and carbon output for the purpose of using resources more wisely as well as realizing the economic benefits. Economics, energy cost and consumption, and sustainable design are inextricably linked. As a result, significant opportunities exist for design professionals to deliver solutions to these issues.

BIM and IPD. There are long-standing problems with the fragmented nature of how buildings have been designed, constructed, and managed. Owners are more than happy to share their horror stories and experiences about how competing interests, conflicting information, and litigious circumstances have contributed to a frustrating and overly expensive project.

All too often, the euphoria of project completion and occupancy quickly transitions into feelings of abandonment, disappointment, and excessive operational expense. The American Institute of Architects has recognized this need with its latest release of IPD documents. Major institutional owners are beginning to see the value proposition offered by IPD methodologies executed in a BIM environment. The architecture/engineering industry has made progress, but it needs to move quickly in order to keep pace with those who have already realized the power of combining IPD and BIM.

In the past several years, the construction and manufacturing industries have aggressively pursued the use of BIM technologies to improve the construction process, and they have made significant strides in the applications of BIM practices. The design profession has not fully recognized how much has been accomplished by these stakeholders. That is beginning to change as more owners drive additional requirements into the request for proposal process and establish an expectation of performance using these tools and process models.

However, as noted above, it is not about the relative improvement to pieces of the design, construction, and operations continuum of a building’s life. It is about orchestrating a process that takes the once fragmented and often lost pieces of knowledge during design, gathers and stores them in a model that communicates information about the overall design and construction, and in the best of all worlds, delivers them to the operations team in a comprehensive and holistic way.

With the technology that exists, the information that is assembled during design can now move in a virtually seamless manner into the construction phase to be leveraged and built upon by the contracting stakeholders for the purposes of coordination, scheduling, estimating, site logistics, procurement, and fabrication as well as other uses still being developed.

But as it stands, the sharing of information stops there. Ultimately, this expansive and incredibly valuable information should be leveraged into the maintenance and operation of facilities.

Energy modeling. Energy will be one of the principal form givers of the future. Modeling or simulating energy performance during early stages of design will soon become one of the most important parametrics of building design as well as value and long-term performance. The impact of this reality is still being discovered. When we combine the power of IPD and BIM with the evolving sustainability mandates that are eminent in future codes and legislation, we see that it is vital to become experts in understanding the influence of energy consumption in design. Energy modeling software empowers designers to understand the interaction of many variables that dramatically affect energy consumption in a manner that was nearly inconceivable just a few years ago.

Emerging technologies.
Technology is just beginning to allow us to address the two key issues of simulating building performance and managing building information. Software and hardware can take into account the millions of variables needed to mimic the actual built environment. Other technologies, such as cloud computing and BIM servers, are allowing hundreds of users to interact with a building’s design and provide a higher level of collaboration.

Using radio frequency identification tags, we can track assets within a building, including performance, maintenance, and manufacturer data. All of this information can be linked together using a data extraction layer within an integrated building database. The benefit is that the information can take into account various types of databases and seamlessly transition from one to another to give the right data, to the right person, at the right time. These technologies allow building performance and building information to be measured and managed, resulting in more seamless and proactive management of facilities.

The Future

The role of facilities management is no longer simply ensuring proper operation of a building’s systems. Today, there is a greater emphasis on reducing energy use, waste, and costs. It’s important that facility managers participate in the initial design and construction phases so they are aware of the operational requirements of the facility.

To do so, they must increasingly rely on technology to manage operations. Unfortunately, this technology is often fragmented, and facility managers have to use multiple monitoring and diagnostic systems to achieve their goals. These systems include computerized maintenance management, electronic document management, computer-aided facility management, energy management, and building management systems. Merging the functionality of these applications with the capabilities of BIM software is important to creating efficiencies because the relevant data required by facility management systems is already stored in the BIM database. There is evidence that this is beginning to happen, but customization to the individual needs of end users remains the biggest hurdle to overcome.

The benefits to integrating BIM and facilities management technologies are potentially profound. The actual integration of these technologies is still in its infancy, but industry, institutional, and governmental leaders agree that this value proposition is real. The proof of concept is still being formulated, though it is not hard to see the potential in real terms. Linking BIM and facilities maintenance data creates the opportunity to make the information available to any stakeholder who influences an owner’s business decisions.

Some firms in the design industry, particularly in the United States, see it as a risk to share information across all disciplines during design, construction, and building occupancy. The industry as a whole has historically taken a protective and independent posture; consequently, designers have frequently been left to defend individual pieces of the project against others. However, the data created when integrating BIM and facilities maintenance technologies can be invaluable to an owner in making fully informed and coordinated decisions, driving the value of the architecture and engineering higher in the process.

Research indicates that owners and operators linking BIM and facilities management software can save in excess of $2 per square foot per year through energy management, asset management, improved interoperability, strategic facilities management, reduced custodial costs, and capital replacement.

In addition to the cost and performance benefits provided to building owners, linking BIM and facilities management software offers significant benefits to design firms. For example, those who have purchased a new car recently have probably received offers for free oil changes or other service incentives. These promotions draw buyers back into the dealership to spend more money. They also offer a means for the dealership to maintain relationships with customers after a purchase. A dealer who hands a customer the keys to a new vehicle and waves goodbye is missing a significant opportunity. Similarly, a design firm that simply hands over the keys to the building at the completion of construction without giving consideration to the operations of the building is missing an opportunity.

The industry as a whole must begin to focus on the total life of the building. Design and construction efforts impact less than 7 percent of the entire life-cycle cost to design, construct, maintain, manage, and ultimately dispose of a building. Additionally, there are 40 billion square feet of nonresidential building stock in the United States alone but only 1.1 billion square feet of new construction annually. That’s a ratio of 39 to 1, so it represents significant opportunities for design firms willing to tap this potential. As a result, the greatest opportunity for maintaining satisfied and ongoing customers — and protecting a portfolio of work — is still largely untapped.

To use a truly integrated project delivery methodology, the focus can no longer be just handing over the keys. For example, to deliver a sustainable building, it’s vital to know what happens to the building once it is occupied and in use. Is the building operating as it was designed? To realize the full benefits of BIM, the model should have a life beyond design and construction and should include the wisdom of all those factors in the process, acquired through the use of IPD methods.

Facilities Management Makes Sense

Facilities management is the logical last piece of each of these puzzles. Not only does engaging in facilities management complete the picture by providing honest feedback on the success of the design and construction, but it makes great business sense. Staying involved with a building through its lifetime is a valuable marketing strategy. It leads to stronger client relationships, future work, higher rates of repeat business (resulting in lower marketing costs), and an enormous source of data for improving building performance that can inform future design and construction strategies.

Many people in the design industry continue to move away from risk by eschewing the notion of sharing information across disciplines during design, construction, and building occupancy. Architects and designers have historically taken a protective and independent posture. Consequently, they have frequently been left to defend the work developed against others who have taken control. Moving toward the risk and learning to manage it presents a host of opportunities and benefits and is a very effective form of risk management.

The competitive advantage of the future lies in the unique ability to orchestrate. For firms that have understood the importance of looking forward and investing in their future, radical adjustments will not be necessary, even in the face of difficult pressures. These firms have been setting the table, preparing for, and even influencing the shift that is currently under way.

The opportunity is now. Designers and architects can capitalize on significant opportunities to expand their role beyond the initial design of a building and play an integral part in the total life of the building. It’s the next logical piece of the puzzle.

Lauren Della Bella, a LEED accredited professional, is the first female to be named president of SHP Leading Design. She guides the strategic vision of the firm while managing a staff of 130 with three full-service offices. Della Bella has been with SHP since 1988, having held a variety of roles that blend her planning and marketing expertise. She holds a degree in urban planning from the University of Cincinnati and is a member of the Design Futures Council Executive Board.