On-Site Magazine

Virtual models that support maintenance and operations

By Jacob Stoller   

Construction Infrastructure Software


A bid team at EllisDon recently received a two-sentence RFP addendum pertaining to documentation requirements. “It stipulated that the as-built model we were to produce had to be at the level that would allow the owner to operate and maintain the facility,” says Omar Zuberi, Toronto-based VDC manager for EllisDon. “But what does that mean? Depending on the client’s expectations, those two sentences could represent a $100K add.”

Building Information Modeling (BIM) adoption has a long way to go before maintenance and operations information is simply a byproduct of the models contractors produce. In the meantime, creating a plug-and-play model can incur significant costs, even for a contractor with sophisticated BIM capabilities. Furthermore, it’s not always clear who should bear those costs.


“This is the same information that we’ve always provided to owners,” Zuberi says. “What’s changed is the format – I tell people to think of BIM as the most intuitive filing system on the planet. But because of the potential cost, the requirement has to be very clearly spelled out, and we need to be able to show the owners what we’re going to do.”

There are other options as well. “Sometimes models aren’t the best solution,” says Denver-based Nick Kurth, manager of Virtual Construction for PCL Construction Enterprises Inc. “For example, due to the cost of building models for subcontractors who don’t give us models, integrated PDF files coupled with bar codes might make more sense. There’s no one-size-fits-all proposition.”

Those who insist on operations-ready BIM models tend to be organizations with heavy involvement in maintenance and operations. “We’ve noticed that clients that have maintenance crews on staff, such as hospitals and universities, tend to find this more valuable,” Kurth says.

The business case is probably clearest when the builder is also the facilities manager. Martin Payne, facilities general manager for EllisDon’s Facilities Management division, oversees Ontario’s Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital facility through a public-private partnership (P3).

“In P3, you’ll often see a facilities management individual working within the project up to two years prior to substantial completion,” Payne says. “In many cases, facilities management is actually involved in the decisions around construction in terms of the lifecycle perspective.”

Having a BIM model makes this dialogue much easier, he says. “The advantage of BIM is that you can actually see things before they’re built and identify potential problems earlier in the build phase. For example, you can ask, ‘How do I access the meter if you’ve put all the cable trays in front of it?’ That’s better than having a more difficult conversation later on.”

BIM models are also seeing growing use in the management of linear infrastructure such as bridges and highways. For example, managers of bridges and overpasses may rely on sensor data pertaining to vibration, stress, temperature and other factors impacting the safety and lifecycle of the asset. “With bridges, one of the things we’re seeing is BIM combined with constant monitoring,” says Jose Luis Blanco, a partner at McKinsey and Company, Philadelphia. “So when you’re building or making a repair, you can constantly monitor deviations. Having that information is critical for preventive maintenance.”

Managing the lifecycle

According to Blanco, all of this is part of a larger trend in construction management. “In the past few years there’s been a push to bring together all the different stakeholders in the value chain and get them to think about the project lifecycle in a holistic way, not just their area,” he says. “BIM is one of the technologies that’s making this easier, because when it’s done right, it effectively gives you a baseline for the whole lifecycle of the project.”

The lifecycle picture also puts the contractor’s role in a different perspective. “I tell my constructor colleagues, ‘Your contract might be hundreds of millions to build it, but it’s going to cost considerably more than that to run it over the next 25 years,” Payne says. “When people hear that, they say, ‘Oh, now I get it!’”

Kurth believes that paying closer attention to the maintenance and operations piece will help the industry in the long run. “This is all about coordination,” he says. “When this is well done, it really helps a job flow smoothly. I’d say that the adage ‘always keep the end in mind’ is absolutely true here.”


Jacob Stoller is principal of StollerStrategies. Please send comments to editor@on-sitemag.com.

This article first appeared in the August 2018 issue of On-Site. You can check out the full issue here.


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