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BIM, FM & Soft Landings: UWE's unlikely trioDecember 2018

by Richard Kimber, Acting CAFM Manager, Estates & Facilities at UWE

The University of the West of England case study in use of Soft Landings to oversee the construction of a new building for the expanding business and law faculty.

What the building will look like after construction

The University of the West of England (UWE) embarked on an ambitious project, with a goal to provide an excellent teaching facility for the growing Faculty for Business & Law. Importantly, the timing of this project meant it coincided with the, at the time, new BIM mandate from the UK government.

The project was never going to be simple or easy to construct – that much was understood. The building was to be around 18,000m2, over 7 floors with 2 wings, coming in at circa £60million. The project would be increasing the university’s floor area by about 10%.

Soft Landings, what’s all the fuss?

Luckily for the project, members of the internal UWE team were already championing the Soft Landings methodology. We’d routinely let ourselves down through poor communication or lack of engagement from key stakeholders on previous projects. Soft Landings was our answer. It worked, eventually. The trouble we had was mainly circumstantial – UWE had a substantial number of BIM projects being designed yet no skills to handle or understand what that meant internally. So we procured external consultants to create some BIM requirements for this project (what we’d now call our EIR [employer information requirements] and our AIR [asset information requirements]).

How the software perceives the building from an M&E services point of view

Having been forced down the BIM avenue meant it became clear, quite quickly, that the Estates department needed to deal with their assets in a very different way to how it had previously. And BIM could help us. And the secret to our success was documentation and internal skills.

Soft Landings and stakeholder engagement go hand in hand. But, you really need to invite your stakeholders to the party. Newly in post overhauling UWE’s CAFM (Computer Aided Facilities Management) system, I’d still not been engaged. I started to realise, as I built UWE’s first ever centralised asset database that a project of this scale might have a few assets that would be coming my way! Coincidentally I did get an invite to the party, as the project team were thinking exactly the same thing. And we logically engaged our only BIM capable technician. We were suffering from late engagement. Agreed. But we’d not known about our assets this early before, in a standardised BIM format. The Soft Landings forum gave us the opportunity to review and engage with the design team.

Then it rained... a lot!

The site flooded, and caused a bit of construction delay. And, because things are never easy, the design team delivering “our BIM” completely changed. Opportunity to catch up?

What the interior of the building will look like after construction

The new BIM delivery team, working for the principal contractor, pointed out that we’d effectively asked for everything in a non-standard (seemingly random) UWE specific format, as we naively assumed that’s what we needed. And actually everything in the non-standard format would be ridiculous to deliver. It was clear we didn’t need some things, but needed an information uplift on others. We embarked on a rewarding compromise with the BIM delivery team, dropping our random format and adopting industry standard asset classifications like Uniclass. This meant the supply chain had a reasonable chance of delivering usable information. We formalised the compromise by writing UWE’s first ever sets of supplementary documentation (Our AIR, and EIR) – which are now used on all our projects, when we expect asset data. These documents mean we’re delivered the right asset data to maintain our estate for the building’s life. Without the Soft Landings forum, and a bit of luck, getting the right people in a room, I don’t believe we’d have realised the mistake of our ways, and getting good information on the project would have been possible. We were learning valuable lessons. UWE didn’t need everything to get a valuable end product. After all, the data quality being delivered would substantially affect the maintenance delivery on the first few years of occupation, and getting good information out of the project (according to our reformed brief) would help me, my colleagues and our FM contractors avoid the dreaded bumpy landings of the past.

Don’t forget about the supply chain

A rendered example of the building’s appearance when completed

The principal contractor will appoint subcontractors. That is inevitable. But the principal contractor still has a duty to ensure their subcontractors can exchange information as the project requires. This project needed BIM information to be put in a Revit model. Not something the supply chain was used to (still frustratingly common today). But as we had a BIM team who wanted this project to succeed, they offered training to help up-skill contractors as it would help smooth the data delivery they needed. This worked quite well.

We also required that a high-specification computer had to be available on site at all times. This was so that the BIM model could be updated on site if and when required. It also showed the contractors we were as serious about data quality as build quality. We were serious enough to start 'snagging” the data we received. So the principal contractor was dealing with traditional site snagging, but also digital snags in either data or graphical issues in the model. This project really benefited from adopting Soft Landings, I think that is clear. We agree, as most of UWE’s large projects are continuing to use the methodology. I think getting the right people involved in projects helps share lessons learned in other projects, or other on-site activities that may have previously gone unnoticed and could cost much more to resolve later down the line.

If anybody is interested in learning more about BIM, then feel free to join UWE’s mailing list to find out about Peer-to-Peer BIM events and Southwest BIM Regions events (

My closing message: build with the end in mind.

Soft Landings guides

Soft Landings guides including Framework and Core Principles (free download for BSRIA Members)