BIM for FM: Building Personas

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. 

Where should you start when building personas for BIM for FM?

According to Chuck Mies, LEED A.P., Assoc. AIA of Autodesk, and a pioneer in BIM for FM, you need to first think about the end user. In a recent Eptura webinar, Leverage BIM to Unlock Facility and Asset Data, he asks this critical rhetorical question: “If we don’t understand who the final consumers are, what problem are we trying to solve?” 

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.

But first, it’s worth recapping the overall BIM for FM process to best understand where building personas go.

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.

User personas in BIM for FM

On one level, a user persona is like a digital twin, a virtual representation of something that exists in the physical world. But there are important differences. First, it’s not the twin of something. It’s the twin of someone.

Second, it’s not a twin at all.

Understanding user personas

Instead of being a faithful copy of one specific person, a user persona is an archetype you build out of the most important traits shared by a large percentage of a specific type of end user. So, for example, a regular digital twin might be a highly accurate digital model of a specific motor you have on a production line. But the user persona you create of the technician who keeps that motor running doesn’t perfectly match any specific person in the maintenance department. Instead, it has the important characteristics shared by most of the technicians. These shared characteristics can include: 

  • Educational background
  • Responsibilities
  • Goals
  • Attitudes

Your goal is to be able to then use the persona to accurately predict behavior, specifically in terms of how they use data. You want to be able to predict what data those maintenance technicians need and how they use it to accomplish their goals.

Creating user personas: Asking the right questions

The overall process of BIM for FM starts with asking the right questions, and it’s the same for creating user personas. The basic questions you need to answer when creating a user persona for a specific role are: 

  • Who are they and what do they do?
  • What are their main, overall goals?
  • What is preventing them from reaching these goals?

Mies suggests starting with job titles. For example, Facility Manager, Maintenance Manager, or Maintenance Technician. You can then look up the roles and responsibilities that are already established in your organization. Instead of guessing what a maintenance manager does, you can reference the existing job description from the human resources department. Recent job postings can also help you, both from your company as well as external sources, such as recruitment sites and related industry publications. Lists are always helpful, but Mies also suggests summarizing them into an overall statement. For example, “Maintenance Manager User Persona One needs instant access to asset and equipment data so they can schedule and track both on-demand and preventive maintenance to boost time on wrench and cut costly downtime.” 

From there, you can start to think about the types of data the user persona needs to reach their goals. So, Maintenance Manager User Persona One might need access to: 

  • Digital O&M manuals
  • Asset and equipment locations
  • Associated open and historical work orders
  • Maintenance and repair checklists
  • Task instructions and known safety issues
  • Associated parts and materials
  • Reports on maintenance KPIs

But a good persona is more than a combination of lists and summary statements. 

Mies suggests giving your persona not only a name but also a face.

Instead of Maintenance Manager User Persona One, you have Mike McPhillips, with a stock image of a guy in a blue-collar shirt holding a tablet. The reason is human nature. You need to get into the head of your persona, both to create and then leverage them, and it’s just easier to relate to a person, even a made-up one.

Creating user personas: Asking 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 people 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.


3D Viewing Software and BIM

Smart buildings make smart decisions with the help of intelligent building technology. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is one of the most prevalent technologies businesses can deploy for support.

To better understand BIM, we will focus on what BIM is, its role in smart buildings, its many benefits, and how it works.

What BIM is and who it applies to

BIM is a process-driven technology used to map and quantify the physical aspects of a building. It was introduced to solve the gap between computer-aided drawing (CAD) and analysis systems. BIM uses computers to create virtual 3D modeling and integrates project-related relevant information.

The building technology brings every subsystem together in context and profiles dynamic insights about how they affect facility function. For example: If you change X aspect of a specific subsystem, how does it affect systems Y and Z, and the building as a whole?

Everyone uses BIM, from architects and contractors to maintenance technicians and facilities managers. Why? Because BIM is part of everything from building design, to construction, to facilities maintenance. The core objective is simple: quantify as much of a building as possible and use that data to inform better decision-making.

BIM’s role in smart buildings

BIM 3D viewing software turns an ordinary structure into a smart building – a building that uses automated processes to control its operations. As machine learning folds into BIM software, computers can tell us more about our buildings than we could ever learn by looking at schematics and blueprints. It’s easier to understand the impact BIM can make through basic examples:

The architect draws plans for a six-foot doorway, but the developer later changes it to an eight-foot doorway. They change the CAD drawing, which updates the materials list, which changes the costs.
XYZ Company decides to remodel. They mockup the changes in a BIM plan, which intelligently reroutes the plumbing, mechanical, and electrical to fit the changes of the new space design.
Support tickets synced to specific cost centers within BIM show the total cost of ownership for the building’s mechanical systems over the past 12 months, which allows facility managers to budget for the upcoming year.

These are just a few of BIM’s many uses. BIM offers nearly infinite possibilities in how it helps professionals plan, design, construct, and manage facilities.

How does BIM benefit facilities managers?

Specifically, BIM’s role in facilities management is to provide quantifiable insights. How much money is X costing you within the framework of facilities maintenance? What is the service record for Y this year? If you upgrade to Z, what will the ramifications be to peripheral systems?

The 3D visualization of a physical building – and the baseline model for a BIM record –is referred to as a digital twin. Digital twins allow facilities managers to identify different elements of a building, isolate them for their information, and understand the needs of that specific element and its relationship to peripheral systems.

  • Here are some of the ways, in more detail, that BIM benefits facilities managers on a day-to-day basis:
  • Generates cost savings in facilities upkeep, maintenance, and improvements
  • Improves project efficiency and expedites delivery time for results
  • Reduces safety risks and clashes, which lowers passive change orders
  • Offers greater predictability for facilities maintenance and upkeep
  • Improves the visibility and oversight of facilities managers in everyday upkeep
  • Provides a system of record and visibility for vital systems within the building
  • Integrates with facilities management software and systems to automate processes

What is the difference between BIM and CAD

Most people confuse BIM and AutoCAD since the fundamental basis for BIM is a comprehensive CAD model (2D or 3D). While CAD design programs are often used in conjunction with BIM software, the important distinction between the two is the intuitive capabilities of BIM. BIM uses CAD mockups as a medium for bringing broad-scope information about a building together. Or in simpler terms, BIM makes CAD drawings smarter and more dynamic by pairing information to the building’s many systems.

BIM works by applying intelligent insights to the tangible aspects of a building. While a CAD design may show you the layout of a space you intend to remodel, BIM tells you which walls are load-bearing, how to reroute the electrical, and what materials you’ll need to plumb HVAC ducts into the space. CAD is static; BIM is dynamic. More important, BIM insights influence changes made to CAD designs.

BIM is the future of workplaces

In an age where buildings are getting smarter, professionals need to get smarter about how they manage them. BIM informs the best possible approach by providing complete context for buildings and the many systems that govern them. BIM’s intelligent insights offer the epitome of information-driven decision-making.

There’s no doubt that the concept of BIM is complex and sophisticated and can be challenging to grasp for those new to it. But BIM is getting easier to comprehend and more accessible thanks to its role in designing and managing smart buildings. As infrastructure becomes more complex and connected, BIM – and its 3D viewing software – becomes more essential. It’s a system every facilities manager – as well as architect, contractor, and maintenance technician – needs to understand moving forward. The intelligent building technology allows them to tap into insights that help achieve a new standard of success.