In the design and construction phases, your BIM is likely packed with 3D models of the future facilities and even digital twins of your critical assets. But what about during operations and maintenance, where you face most of your total cost of ownership? When implementing BIM for FM, where you’re repurposing your BIM data to better leverage it for facility management, an important part of the process is creating a new type of “digital twin,” the user persona. 

Unless you know who’s going to use it, there’s no way to know what data you need to take along for the BIM for FM journey. Developing role-based personas helps you understand who needs what data and how best to set everyone up for success. 

Recapping the BIM-for-FM journey 

Although they develop lots of building information modeling (BIM) data during design, planning, and construction, many organizations lack a process for leveraging that investment for the last—and longest and most expensive—phases of the life cycle, operations and maintenance. So, when it comes time for facility management (FM), departments are left having to re-invent the wheel. 

But by making the BIM for FM journey, you can see a better return on your investments in data. 

To start, you need to answer the following core questions: 

  • Who is going to use the data and why do they need it? 
  • What data are you going to collect and how are you going to do it? 
  • How will you validate and maintain the data once you have it? 

And for those first questions, an important part of finding the answers can involve developing user personas. 

Defining a new type of 3D model and digital twin: the user persona 

Just like the standard 3D models and digital twins in BIM, a user persona is a digital version of something that exists in the physical world.  

But there are two important differences. 

Definition of a user persona 

A user persona isn’t a something. It’s a someone.  

And it’s not a direct representation of a person in the same way a digital twin for an engine closely matches a physical engine. Instead, a user persona is a hypothesis, an archetype you base on the most important traits of a large percentage of a specific type of user. 

The goal is not to just describe your user but instead create something you can use to dependably predict behavior. You want it to be accurate. But accuracy is not the goal. You want it to be accurate so you can use the persona to understand what data people need and why they need it. 

User personas for a specific role at an organization can include information about: 

  • Educational background 
  • Interests
  • Goals
  • Responsibilities
  • Attitudes  

Any one point of data doesn’t need to be accurate for every potential user. So, if you’re working on a persona for the maintenance manager, you don’t need to worry about finding the one level of education they all share. Instead, you’re looking for common characteristics, ones that most of the maintenance managers share. 

Benefits of personas in BIM for FM 

How does developing personas help? One, it helps you find and clarify problems. Once you know what someone is trying to accomplish, you can finally find ways to support them. Two, it’s just human nature. Instead of thinking in terms of company positions, you should be thinking in terms of people with actual faces and real names. 

Building personas for later in the life cycle, after the design and construction phases  

So, how can you build a persona? 

Ask the right questions 

Just like almost everything else related to BIM, it all starts with capturing quality data. The more data you have and the better it is, the easier it is for you to develop good user personas. 

Start with three basic questions when creating user personas for roles in the organization: 

  • Who are they?  
  • What are their large goals? 
  • What is preventing them from reaching these goals? 

For the first question, it often makes the most sense to start with titles. So, for a maintenance-related persona, you might have Maintenance Manager or Maintenance Technician.  

Titles are great because then you have a quick way to get started finding the goals. Basically, you take that title and look up the associated roles and responsibilities. But remember you should also go a step further and give your persona an actual name. Finding a picture also helps. Again, it’s just human nature. It’s easier for us to think about a specific person with a real name and actual face than just a generic job title.  

For the goals, you can make a bullet list or a one- or two-sentence-long summary statement. For example, “Roberta, as head of the maintenance department, needs fast, mobile access to critical asset and equipment data for both on-demand and scheduled maintenance so she can reduce unplanned downtime.” 

The list can have more specifics, including: 

  • O&M manuals 
  • Asset locations 
  • Associated open and historical work orders 
  • Maintenance and repair checklists 
  • Task instructions and known safety issues
  • Associated parts and materials 

It’s important to think not only about what data they need but also how they need it. Does having everything on paper make as much sense as a solution as digital? Do they need access from their desktop only? Are there any formatting requirements? Does the data need to be presented in a specific way? 

Ask the right people 

When looking at what’s standing in their way, you can include, for example Roberta the maintenance manager, lack of access, visibility, and tracking. But those are general roadblocks, and the maintenance manager at your facility might have others to add or a completely different set. 

The only way to know, and this is likely true for all the information you want to include in the persona, is to ask the real maintenance manager directly. 

And that’s the case for all your personas. Asking directly delivers good data. 

But it’s not the only way to capture information for a persona. You can also look at job descriptions, both internal and ones on job sites, as well as industry publications and even websites and message boards. For example, if you were putting together a persona for a facility manager, you could look at some of job postings at IFMA. If you’re building a persona for a maintenance tech, you could look at the maintenance subreddit for some idea of the common challenges they face. 


Although many organizations invest heavily in BIM during design, planning, and construction, they don’t have a process in place to leverage that data for the operations and maintenance phases, where they face the largest percentage of the total cost of ownership. A critical step in the BIM for FM journey is creating a new type of “digital twin,” the user persona.

Unlike a true twin, personas are archetypes based on common characteristics of a type of data user, for example a facility manager or maintenance manager. The benefit of creating personas is that once you understand who needs the data and how they need to use it, you can more easily decide which BIM data to bring over to the FM side. Good personas start with asking the right questions. Who are they? What are their goals? What’s stopping them from being successful.

To find those answers, you should talk directly with the people in those positions. You can also look at related job descriptions and job postings. In some cases, it can be helpful to look at related message boards to get a sense of the common concerns and challenges. 

Tags:  3D modeling BIM building information modeling construction phases design phases digital twins Facilities Management FM user persona