How well do you know your asset?

George Mokhtar



When planning and designing a new asset, how confident are you that it will still be useable in 20 or even 50 years’ time? Having a steady flow of consistent, rich and accurate data can help you deal with uncertainty and understand your customers better.

Today, 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this is predicted to jump to 66 percent by 2050. Cities will become more densely populated and technology will radically change the way we live and work. The need to create an adaptable asset becomes even more pressing when you factor in the likelihood of extreme weather events and rising temperatures. Designing a structure that is highly adaptable is one way of hedging against the vast unknown. This option may suit some assets, but it may not be necessary for all scenarios

Start with data

At its simplest, building information modelling (BIM) creates a defined 3D digital design that exactly mirrors the physical asset. More sophisticated models also contain hosted and relational information on every object within the structure. They are an archive for everything from materials to appliance installation instructions and maintenance logs.

The most obvious benefit of digital models is that they aid efficient operation through the life cycle of an asset: employees are able to locate hidden pipes and power networks, know whether ceiling fans are under warranty and even understand how to dismantle sections at the decommissioning stage. A well-populated model can also be a powerful tool for forecasting operational costs: predicting spending peaks and troughs in planned maintenance and replacement schedules. Knowing every element of your building or asset, and how it was constructed, could shave months off remediation work or retrofitting in future years.

The people factor

As the above examples illustrate, BIM offers some tangible benefits for managing assets in the short and medium term. But when combined with other technologies, it can unleash a world of far more exciting possibilities, shifting our mindsets from subjective to objective decision-making. Social data, gathered from sensors or mobile phone apps, can radically shift the perceptions of how people interact with assets.

For example, a university recently decided to build an extension to better cater for its growing student population. This was based on the assumption that the seminar rooms were constantly full, according to the institution’s timetabling system. To test this, carbon dioxide sensors were installed in every room. It quickly became apparent that many of the venues were booked but regularly left empty. As a result, the university was able to review its booking system and avoid a costly building project. Thanks to advances in technology and cloud computing, the cost of embedding sensors such as these into building and asset management systems is much lower than it was ten years ago.

BIM and getting it right first time

When considering how to future-proof an asset, it is critical to ensure that all parties are comfortable with the design in the early stages. All too often, occupants don’t get to see a facility early enough – the project can be too far advanced or even completed. As the MacLeamy curve demonstrates, the later changes are made to a project, the higher the subsequent cost in time and money.

The challenge is how to help staff, customers and end users visualise how they will interact with the asset before it exists.

Although physical mock-ups are unlikely to be replaced entirely, BIM provides interesting alternatives: a data-rich 3D model can be used within an immersive or augmented  of interiors wearing glasses, or enter augmented-reality reality scenario. Stakeholders can experience virtual representations‘caves’.

As well as facilitating feedback during early design stages, these tools are useful for staff training and helping occupants familiarise themselves with the new facilities before they open. BIM will play an increasingly important role for smooth handovers, sometimes referred to as ‘soft landings’.

Consistent, rich and accurate data is our greatest weapon for dealing with uncertainty. You may not be able to see everything that is on the horizon, but knowing and understanding your asset, and closely tracking how occupants are using it, is essential preparation for the unseen challenges and opportunities ahead.

Knowing every element of your building or asset, and how it was constructed, could shave months off remediation work or retrofitting in future years."

This is a shortened version of an article originally published in 360°view.