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Construction firms realize the benefits of an integrated BIM+geospatial full lifecycle approach to construction

Building information modeling (BIM) has been applied to design-build construction projects for many years. A growing number of countries are mandating BIM for public projects. While the UK government said many years ago that “we know that the largest prize for BIM lies in the operational stages of the project life-cycle”, until recently there has not been hard data to support this conjecture.  Now we are beginning to see data from real world projects that offer evidence for the benefits of an integrated BIM+geospatial full lifecycle approach for construction projects.  A number of  engineering and construction companies who have undertaken design-build-maintain-operate projects have reported adopting a BIM+geospatial full life-cycle approach to construction. Very recently the owner of a major billion dollar construction project has estimated the total savings that it expects over the 25 year lifetime of the project including design-build and operate and maintain.

Spatial technology key to digitalizing the construction industry

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the world will need to spend $57 trillion on infrastructure through 2030 to keep up with global GDP growth. This is a massive incentive for the construction industry to transform productivity and project delivery through new technologies and improved practices. McKinsey reports that large construction projects typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget. McKinsey & Company suggests that the construction industry is ripe for disruption and two of the technologies that it believes will be key in that anticipated transformation are geospatial and BIM. 

The UK Government as part of its building information modeling (BIM) initiative has said repeatedly that it expects the big payoff of a digital model will be during operations and maintenance, which typically represents 80% of the cost of a facility. Companies who take on design, build, and maintain and/or operate projects have found significant benefits from a full lifecycle BIM + geospatial strategy. To date there has been little reported quantitative evidence supporting the benefits of this approach, but this is changing with several projects providing estimates of benefits including ROI of an integrated BIM+geospatial full lifecycle approach to construction projects.  For example, the Crossrail project in London which was the largest engineering project in Europe at the time, a full-lifecycle BIM approach was adopted with targets of  20% savings on design and construction and 40% savings during operations and maintenance.

Growing adoption of integrated BIM+geospatial full lifecycle approach to construction

On many projects information provided by the construction contractor is handed over months after completion of the project. It can take the operator of the facility a year to go through this information to find the information required to operate the facility. This period is what is called the “blind spot” corresponding to the time the facility operator is managing the facility with limited information. Since for many types of equipment the highest probability of failure is in their first month or two of operation – just during the period that the building operator often doesn’t have access to information about warranties and extended warranties – this increases the risk of equipment and even facility failures. In addition there is a cost associated with just finding the information required to service equipment. A NIST study across several industries estimated that the cost associated with this is 23 cents/square foot which adds considerable cost to operating the facility.

A full lifecycle facilities information flow starts with a facilities information specification from the owner identifying the building information to be included as part of the final deliverables at the time of commissioning. The facilities information specification is part of the contract between the owner and the designers and contractors who will construct the building. The facilities information required by the owner’s specification are entered into the BIM database during design and construction by the designers and contractors. At the completion of construction the facilities information data collected by the designers and contractors and stored with the BIM model in digital form represents a key deliverable to the owner together with the BIM model.  The facilities information can then be used to populate the building manager’s asset management/facilities management system database including links to the BIM model of the facility to identify where each element or piece of equipment can be found.

To date the advantages of a full lifecycle approach to construction has not penetrated owners and facilities managers to a significant extent.  A recent survey of the facilities management sector found that whereas nearly all respondents (92%) had heard about BIM and agreed (84%) that BIM had the potential to deliver value add to facilities management, two thirds said that FM is not prepared for BIM.  The top benefits that the respondents saw for BIM in facilities management were strategic decision-making about asset maintenance and management, visualization of buildings and assets, and data transfer from construction into computer-aided facilities management systems to support operations and maintenance.

Owners have found that BIM+geospatial integration provides greater value to projects that involve not just design and construction but also operations and maintenance. A leader in this space, Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch transportation authority, began offering design-build-finance-maintain (DBFM) projects a number of years ago which has motivated private Dutch engineering and construction companies to adopt an integrated geospatial+BIM approach to construction.  Under the impetus of DBFM and similar projects a few engineering and construction firms such as Parsons Brinckerhoff, Atkins Global, and several Dutch firms including Arcadis and Royal BAM, realized a number of years ago that BIM+geospatial integration provide greater value to projects that involve not just design and construction but also operations and maintenance. For example, the firm Royal BAM Group nv/BAM Infraconsult adopted integrated BIM + geospatial because of market developments including more complex construction assignments and an increasing demand from customers for service provision throughout the entire life cycle of a project.   A DBFM project at BAM starts with 2D geographic data that is visualized through a GIS web portal. At completion of construction, the data collected during design and construction is migrated to an integrated GIS + asset management system system to support maintenance activities.

In China a geospatial+BIM approach was adopted for the Miaoshan 220kV Secondary Transformer Substation project.  This was a large indoor substation in Dongxihu District, Wuhan City, Hubei Province. The project integrated digital tools for construction, site preparation, mechanical, electrical, and protection.  The 3D digital modeling approach enabled collaborative design of an indoor substation with restricted space with multiple voltages in a very congested urban area with minimal impact on the existing buildings and infrastructure and all of this within a tight timeframe.  One of the important benefits of the approach was that minimized the impact of the substation on the existing infrastructure.   Since the transformer substation is located in the downtown of Wuhan where buildings are dense, reality capture (laser scanning) was used to model the area surrounding the substation.  This helped to ensure the substation site design did not conflict with surrounding buildings.  To enable combining the model, the point cloud data, the digital terrain model and other external data everything was geolocated (geo-coordinated).  Geo-coordination, a term minted by Bentley, enables engineers and facilities managers to find things that are tagged,related, or close to a building element and it makes it possible to navigate the information environment, not only 3D design models (virtual reality), but also 3D models in a real world context (augmented reality). For this project it was fundamental not only for integrating the substation design in its real world context, but also for making it possible to reuse the BIM model and associated data during operation and maintenance.

In Southeast Asia PESTECH International Berhad, the winner of a Year in Infrastructure award, used geocoordinated digital design for the development of a new substation Kratie and Kampong Cham, Cambodia. The decision to use geocordinated design technology for this project was partially motivated by the requirement that the company would not only be responsible for designing and building the substation but also for operating it for a period of 25 years before transferring it to the utility. 

In Canada public–private partnership (P3) have been remarkably successful for building and maintaining infrastructure. For EllisDon, a major construction and building services company that has been undertaking P3 projects for 15 years, integrated BIM + geospatial is considered best practices on full lifecycle projects P3 projects in Canada. 

In the U.S. AECOM, which is a US$18.2 billion a year firm in the construction sector and has been ranked for eight years running #1 in Engineering News Record‘s “Top 500 Design Firms”, uses BIM + GIS on design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) projects around the world. AECOM has applied this approach to the external campus of Denver International Airport, and to lease management at Orlando, Hong Kong, and South West Florida international airports.  AECOM has found that the advantage of an integrated BIM+GIS approach based on a centralized integration of information is that it allows the client to make strategic decisions during the design, build and operate phases of the construction lifecycle.

Quantified benefits of an integrating BIM+geospatial for full lifecycle construction

Recently, Microdesk has reported case studies including hospitals, a medical research facility, an airport and a university. For each facility several use cases were included in the ROI analysis. For example, dealing with plumbing leaks, electric power shutdowns, passing on tribal knowledge from senior staff to new hires, and conducting infectious risk assessment (ICRA/PCRA), and so on. After introducing BIM models for facilities and asset management, FM staff were surveyed and asked whether they found dealing with a plumbing leak, for example, using BIM easier, the same or more difficult than the traditional approach. The analysis quantified the time required to resolve a plumbing leak before and after the introduction of BIM.

At the conclusion of five years running on the projects, the ROI analysis found a positive BIM in all cases, and estimated that introducing BIM for FM saved on average 5 % of operating costs per annum. It was estimated that introducing BIM reduced the time looking for things by 83% of the 23 cents per square foot cost for doing this from the NIST study. Since operations and maintenance are roughly 75% of the total cost of a facility, these results represents a substantial savings over the full lifecycle of a building.

The Napgur Metro, which is a US$1.3 billion project underway in Nagpur, is the first project in Asia to integrate a digital twin with an asset management system to eliminate information loss about assets during design and construction. Since the Nagpur system implements a full-lifecycle approach to project management, the location of each of the 500,000 assets comprising the systems is recorded making it possible to click on an asset in SAP and be shown the location of the asset in a 3D map. Final deliverables are digital models rather than paper drawings providing a basis for digitalizing operations and maintenance. The benefits of a 3D BIM+geospatial approach have been projected based on a 25 year lifetime for the project. It is estimated that this will result in US$400,000 savings during plan, design and build, a reduction in operating manpower requirements by 20%, and increased availability and reliability. The really big payoff is an estimated savings of US$222 million over the lifetime of the project.

BIM+geospatial interoperability standards improves construction workflows

Fashioning architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) and geospatial data into an efficient data flow from planning through design and construction to operations and maintenance represented a challenge that remains a problem for owners. The Between The Poles blog is over ten years old and one of the persistent themes from the very beginning in 2006 was the challenge of integrating CAD and GIS data and applications in an efficient workflow (some examples; 2006, 2007, 2008 ). It is indicative of the importance of the integration of BIM and geospatial data and technologies that Autodesk and ESRI, 800 lb gorillas in their respective areas of AEC and GIS, have announced an agreement (for the second time) to collaborate to help bridge the gap between CAD/BIM and GIS/geospatial. 

Over the past decade, there has been impressive progress in developing open standards for the integration of geospatial and AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) views of city infrastructure which provides a standards-based basis for full lifecycle management from design through to operations and maintenance of infrastructure projects. 

In the AEC world Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) is the open and neutral data format standard for the exchange of building information models (BIM) that is widely used in the AEC sector. In the geospatial world a widely used international geospatial standard for cities is CityGML. A major breakthrough in bringing the architectural and geospatial views onto a common footing is the OGC LandInfra Conceptual Model developed by the OGC in cooperation with buildingSMART International and approved as an OGC standard in August, 2016. LandInfra was developed by Bentley Systems, Leica Geosystems, Trimble, Australian Government Department of Communications, Autodesk, Vianova Systems AS, and buildingSMART International and provides a unifying basis for land and civil engineering standards including the OGC’s InfraGML and buildingSmart International’s IFC for infrastructure standards.  

buildingSmart International’s IFC-Alignment project uses this common conceptual model of alignments for roads, railways, tunnels and bridges. The objectives of the IFC-Alignment project is to enable the exchange of alignment information through the full infrastructure lifecyle from planning through design and construction to asset management. On the geospatial side InfraGML is the OGC’s application schema supporting land development and civil engineering infrastructure facilities.

AEC+geospatial interoperability standards encourages open source solutions

Where there are recognized open standards, there are more often then not open source projects supporting those standards. mago3D is an open source 3D geo-platform that has shown that it is possible using the available open source, geospatial APis and tools – together with some genuine innovative development – to create an open, non-proprietary 3D geospatial platform for integrating geospatial and BIM. Given the critical importance of addressing the cultural and technical divide between the AEC and geospatial worlds, a viable open source alternative is essential for developing the innovative solutions to the challenge of interfacing the two worlds. 


As a growing number of owners see the advantages of a full life-cycle approach in construction projects and begin to change their procurement practices, construction companies are changing their business processes to optimize facility maintenance and operation.  The leading edge of this trend is AEC companies that have taken on the challenge of design, build, operate and/or maintain projects.  They have reported that they have realized significant benefits from an integrated BIM+geospatial full lifecycle approach to construction.  Now it appears that the word is getting out. Standards organizations in both the AEC and geospatial worlds are making progress on BIM+geospatial interoperability. Major software vendors Autodesk and ESRI have announced an agreement to partner for greater interoperability between their products. The open source community is also addressing the issue of BIM+geospatial interoperability.  In the past, the quantified advantages of an integrated BIM+geospatial approach have remained for the most part company internal, but we are now beginning to see data from real world projects that offer quantitative evidence for the benefits of an integrated BIM+geospatial full lifecycle approach for construction projects.