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Impulse #15: The last meter in BIM

24 May 2022


„BIM is applicable to all phases of a building's life. In particular, the savings potential in building operation is enormous - but we are far from fully exploiting it.“

There is no question about it: the virtual building method Building Information Modeling - known to all of us briefly and well as BIM - is regarded in the industry as the future trend par excellence. Great hopes are pinned on the model. This is hardly surprising, since BIM is supposed to make the planning and construction as well as the operation of buildings more transparent, less expensive, more efficient and more sustainable. Where does Germany stand today? Are we BIM ready - or perhaps already BIM champions? A look back shows: The history of BIM goes back to the 1960s, when the American computer scientist Ivan Edward Sutherland developed the first computer-aided design (CAD) in the construction industry. On this basis, the development of modeling programs progressed rapidly, and software developer Robert Aish soon coined the terms Building Modeling and Building Information Modeling. That was in 1986, 36 years ago - quite a long time for a future trend to establish itself. I therefore think it is high time to take stock!

Masterplan BIM

First of all, I think we have to admit honestly: Germany lagged a bit behind in terms of BIM from the very beginning. While the USA and Great Britain were early pioneers, the introduction of BIM in the European Union and especially in Germany proceeded in smaller steps - only the Netherlands can be considered an exception. A real upheaval then took place in this country in the past five years, largely as a result of the German government's declaration on the "standardization of process and equipment descriptions, the development of guidelines for digital planning methods and model contracts", which has obliged all public infrastructure projects to use BIM since 2020. Since then, BIM has been on everyone's lips - on an international level, the ENGIE Group has been one of the specialists for years. Our team at ENGIE Germany also works with customers and partners who are already experienced in using the BIM method and with those who are taking their first steps with BIM. In all cases, we provide comprehensive advice right from the start of the project - please contact our experts if you are interested!

Mastering Complexity with BIM

We know from our project work in various industries and with companies of all sizes: BIM has now become widely accepted in the planning phase of real estate projects. The greatest use of BIM technology is in high-volume and highly complex projects. The greater the complexity of a project, the larger the investment sum, the more likely it is that BIM will be used - and the greater the benefits. For example, ENGIE Germany is working very successfully with partners using BIM on an extensive hospital project in Bavaria and on FAIR in Darmstadt, currently one of the largest and most complex construction projects for top international research worldwide. These projects show: The benefits for all parties involved are great, as the shared BIM database ensures a high level of transparency in the planning process and corrections can be made early on and not only during construction or on the finished building. However: In small and medium-sized companies, we still sense uncertainty in the use of BIM due to its complexity; in fact, 3-D drawings are often still associated with BIM. And our experience shows that operations and facility management very rarely sit at the BIM table. There is a massive disconnect from the construction process to the operations process - and what this means in concrete terms is that around 80 percent of a building's lifecycle is not considered. This fact is contrary to the basic idea of BIM, which sees all phases and all participants of the construction project as equal at this very table. But why is that - why are we missing the last meter of BIM, casually speaking?


When theory meets practice

The question is complex because BIM is complex. And there is no simple answer with it. Let me illustrate this with an example: At ENGIE Germany, we have significantly expanded our start-up team in recent years. More than 20 new specialists are working on the so-called transition at our customers' sites, acting as the vanguard of operations, so to speak, and are responsible for entering all the data and assets of the respective property into the CAFM system that we use for operations. This process step is extremely important, because it represents the basis for efficient management and for optimal facility management. According to BIM theory, this data should already be available and accessible in a common database for all project participants. Unfortunately, this is not the case in practice. Why? Because planning and construction use different systems for data acquisition, because they are based on different standards, because in most cases the interfaces are simply missing.


Beautiful new BIM world?

Suppose the situation were different, and the digital asset information provided in the planning process could subsequently be clearly assigned and reused with suitable systems and interfaces. Even then, reality would catch up with us very quickly - for example, because it would become apparent during subsequent operation that a required spare part is only available with a long delivery time or is no longer available at all. At the latest since the worldwide supply crisis, our specialists are constantly faced with this challenge. In this case, the only solution is to use an adequate alternative; however, this will probably be updated in the BIM system again in the rarest of cases, since there are only isolated interfaces. Since this happens in practice not with one, but with hundreds and thousands of assets and components, the administrative effort would be unmanageable anyway. But what is a BIM process worth if the database does not show the parts actually used?


Using BIM profitably

Dear reader, I am an advocate of BIM. This may surprise you after reading my last few lines. It's just that, in theory, BIM reflects a brave new world - but by no means reality. This, however, applies to just about all theoretical models and is therefore hardly surprising. Nevertheless, I am convinced that there is still too much untapped potential. We could derive more benefit from BIM than we do today. I believe in BIM as a constructive form of partnership between all project participants. It would be central for operations to be involved earlier and for a continuous quality process to be carried out throughout the entire BIM project. In general, there should be a stronger focus on the data interfaces of the CAFM systems than has been the case to date. The economic advantage would be immense, since in real estate, as mentioned before, around 80 percent of economic success depends on operations - and more transparency would quickly lead to greater efficiency in the value chain. Not to mention the energy and CO2 savings that would be realized. Even if the perfect BIM model would of course reach its limits in practice, there is still a long way to go with many opportunities. If we make great strides along this path in the future, optimize interfaces and focus more on end-to-end quality processes, BIM will hopefully soon transform from dreams of the future to reality.

What experience have you gained with BIM? How is the digital interaction of planning, construction and operation working out in your projects? Feel free to write to me, I'm looking forward to hearing from you - and to seeing how you get over the last BIM hurdle!


Manfred Schmitz
CEO ENGIE Deutschland


Our Expert

Manfred Schmitz
Once a month, Manfred Schmitz, CEO of ENGIE Deutschland, shares his view on current topics in our column Impulse.

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