Why facilities management should enter the virtual world

David Steele, Senior Engineer, discusses the lack of clarity on the benefits Building Information Modelling and virtual reality technologies can have post-construction, and believes future development should focus on how these technologies can be used to streamline facilities management.

As part of the construction industry’s efforts to deliver a more sustainable built environment, the development and implementation of technology within the sector is progressing at a rapid pace.

Government stipulations and environmental targets are driving the sustainability agenda for more economic projects which reduce waste during design and construction and this has motivated Architecture, Engineering and Construction businesses to engage in a more collaborative way through the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM).

In practice BIM has demonstrated increased efficiency during pre-construction and construction phases whilst delivering on quality. However there is less evidence of the envisaged savings during the operations and maintenance phase of a project. This is often attributed to a lack of awareness of the benefits a data-rich Asset Information Model (the visual model compiling all data and information related to, or required for the operation of finished project) can bring for facility maintenance program.

This lack of clarity post-construction sits in paradox with other emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) which demonstrate that visualising the built environment has never been more accessible. RPS is now combining BIM and VR to create an interactive and immersive experience, in which clients can navigate through a 3D model of the design.

Introducing building meta-data into an immersive VR model for use post-construction not only provides the client with a greater opportunity to visualise their completed asset, but can also be advantageous for the long-term management of a facility.

VR has applications throughout the project life cycle but it is perhaps most advantageous at either end of the project programme. During feasibility and tender stages, client and stakeholder engagement is improved through the use of accurate and realistic visualisations of completed projects. However for VR to reach its full potential (and hence become worth the investment) the visualisation of an asset must be complimented by federated building information that provides the maximum benefit for facilities management and operations.

It is important that advanced visualisation tools do not become ‘style over substance’. Future development should focus on how VR platforms can be integrated with Asset Information Models to streamline facilities management.

The difficulty is that the compilation of BIM data in the Project Information Model (subsequently forming the Asset Information Model post-construction) is an extensive process requiring information from all supply chain members to be co-ordinated prior to handover stage. The early engagement and co-operation of all members of the supply team is critical to achieving this, which will require a redistribution of the CAPEX costs, placing greater emphasis the early phases of a project to ensure that workflows can remain as efficient as possible. It therefore comes down to clear definition of the Asset Information Requirements (AIRs) by the relevant project stakeholders, in particular the client, and an understanding of how and where investment should be placed to reap the greatest rewards.

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