August 2007

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Bytes and Bricks: Leaving Data and Money on the Table
“Technological change is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
Albert Einstein
  Jim Sinopoli

Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD
Managing Principal
Contributing Editor

Author of "Smart Buildings"

For all of the data and information created and developed during the design and construction of a building, very little of it is used in the operation and management of the building. It’s not that the information and data would not be useful, but rather that much of the data is created in a static, legacy paper format. That makes it difficult if not impossible to use the data in facility operations, property management or business systems, unless one decides to undertake the laborious task of manually entering data.

Bytes and Bricks: Leaving Data and Money on the TableLack of data and information severely hampers the operation and management of a building, diminishing operational effectiveness, efficiencies and productivity. How bad are the inefficiencies and lack of interoperable data? Three years ago, the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a report and “estimated $15.8 billion as the annual cost burden due to inadequate interoperability in the capital facilities segment of the U.S. construction industry. $6.7 billion of the total was due to inefficiencies in the design and construction phases of the project delivery process.” That was a conservative estimate.

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The lack of useable data from the design and construction process impacts several “upstream” management systems. For facility management it involves systems for work orders, predictive maintenance, fleet management, inventory of materials and equipment, and energy management. For business systems it includes asset management (which has taken on new meaning as related to Sarbanes Oxley), purchasing, human resources, and other aspects of an Enterprise Resource Planning system. At a minimum, one needs to integrate the building systems, the facility management systems and some business systems. Beyond that initial integration, are other, more global systems that have a potential need for integration: property management, real estate portfolio management, etc.

None of that integration can occur without interoperable data, and little data will be available if the owner has to manually enter data into the system after occupancy. Obviously, if we had the information in electronic format when the asset was delivered, installed or commissioned, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the database would be much improved. Such a database foundation would ease system integration, resulting in the functionality, efficiencies and cost advantages that integration can deliver.

How do we get there? What follows is an overview of the information created during construction, a “starter kit” of tools which could be adopted today, and the emerging framework of digitizing the design and construction process.

The Earth is Flat: Design and Construction Data
There are three progressions or events in the design and construction process where key data is created or provided:

The vast majority of the documents created during the design and construction phase use word processing and CAD programs and is distributed via 8.5” by 11” paper and sheets of drawings. Of course, much of this is distributed via e-mail or posted on a FTP site, but little of it is used or in a format to be used with the facility management or business systems of the owner.

Starter Kit
Short of using Building Information Modeling (BIM) there are a handful of things that can be done to facilitate the gathering of electronic data and the integration of systems. Here are a couple ideas:

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Building Information Model (BIM)
BIM is the future of building design and construction. BIM is a 3-D, object-oriented, computer-aided-design approach for architects and engineers. It’s been around for about four years. A few architects have used it for complex projects. It’s just starting to get some real traction with new products coming to the marketplace. One of the most valuable potential functions of BIM is its ability to improve the coordination between multiple design disciplines, thus reducing errors. BIM has the potential to respond to an owner’s need for predictable costs, quality and on time delivery.

The American Institute of Architects has called BIM a “model-based technology linked with a database of project information”. It can store complete information about a building, including things like the quantities and properties of building components, in a digital format. It covers geospatial information and relationships about a building and facilitates the digital exchange and interoperability of the data. It appears as if BIM will use the Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) for exchanging information about a building project between different CAD packages. XML, an internet language, which allows raw data to be reliably shared over the Web, will also be utilized in BIM implementations.

BIM has the potential to be the vehicle or depository for use by the design team, the contractors and the owner, with each party having the capability to add their own data and information to the model.

A National BIM Standard (NBIMS) is being developed, and major vendors such as Bentley Systems, AutoDesk and Graphisoft have endorsed and supported the effort. Further information on BIM can be obtained at

In the not too distant future, design and construction projects will require an Information Manager. This entity will set the requirements for data management for the owner’s project team, the design team and construction contractors, manage the “supply chain” of data from design to construction to operations, and manage the integration of the data from the building and building systems into the owner’s facility management and business systems. The drivers are the economics, the technology, the increased functionality and the overall value proposition. That’s where we’re headed.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program for your office write us at


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