Constructed Futures

Melanie Stone: What Facilities Operators Need from Construction Handoffs

Episode Summary

Construction's purpose is to create a building that functions as its owner intended, and key part of making that happen is the handoff of manuals, data and drawings to the facilities operator. Melanie Stone is a thought leader and accomplished facilities manager, and shares with us her experience, expectations and hopes for the future of this critical collaboration point in the building lifecycle.

Episode Notes

Check out Melanie's post that led to this podcast here:


Episode Transcription

melanie stone

[00:00:00] Hugh Seaton: Welcome to Constructed futures. I'm Hugh Seaton. Today I'm here with Melanie Stone, an accomplished facilities technology consultant. Melanie, welcome to the podcast. 

[00:00:14] Melanie Stone: Thank you, Hugh. I'm really excited to be here and get to share some facilities issues with more of the industry. 

[00:00:20] Hugh Seaton: Love it. And actually to do that, let's start with a little about you. Tell me what you do and kind of some of what you've done over a career. 

[00:00:29] Melanie Stone: Okay, well, I guess I'll start chronologically. The first half of my career, I worked on the engineering staff of one of the nation's top 10 hospitals. So we dealt with a lot of renovation, construction, building troubleshooting mostly in the MEP area.

So for the last part of my career, I've moved into technology consulting because when you have a big facility, that means a large amount of data. The better you manage it, the more effective you are at managing your resources because you know where to put them and you can use data for justifications. So now I help companies implement or make upgrades to their facility management software.

[00:01:12] Hugh Seaton: Awesome. And what are some examples of the sorts of facilities management software that you use? 

[00:01:18] Melanie Stone: Oh, I started with MP2 then move to FM desktop, then Maximo, then Archibus then FM systems. And most recently TRIRIGA. There are other softwares out there, Centerstone, Manhattan, I office, BIM 360 Ops from Autodesk.

There's a ton of software out there, but it all basically does the same thing, where it manages the teeny tiny details of a facility and lets you work in some graphics to help. 

[00:01:52] Hugh Seaton: And what are those teeny tiny details? Cause again, a lot of the folks listening here are a little more on the construction side. So what sorts of things are you generally managing?

[00:02:00] Melanie Stone: Almost all facilities manage space. So each room would have a specific record and then they could tie in different types of assets, whether that's furniture, artwork. Lab equipment, medical equipment, dampers boilers, you know, anything that can be tied into that space is added later, but you can also have other minute details such as different options on a lease for each building or different floors of buildings or meeting room details.

If you're booking conference rooms, you want to know what options you have for furniture layouts, and you know, AV features. 

[00:02:41] Hugh Seaton: Very cool. So what led us to this, this meeting here and having you on the podcast - A couple of things, one is, is I've just heard a lot of times that the handover from general contractors to facilities teams isn't always a celebrated transaction, let's just say. 

And you did a really great presentation. I think you've done a number of them, but this time I believe you even recorded it yourself because it was like, I've done this a bunch of times. Let's get it on tape. Which I will put a link to in the podcast kind of liner notes, so to speak, but talk a little bit about what your point was when you, when you gave this presentation.

[00:03:17] Melanie Stone: Yeah. It's a difficult thing for me as a speaker in the industry, because I'm always asked to present on newer technologies. What my view as the facilities person is, it just gets really exhausting because that's not what we need to address first. So I really was happy to the organizer let me take the opportunity to go into what I wanted to present on, which is sometimes a little more rare that people want to hear something light and peppy and encouraging instead of, you know, frustrated, rantings and ravings.

So I was happy to get the opportunity to go out there and say, “Hey, this is what day-to-day life is like for us. This is why we need these things. This is how it's going to live on and in what forms and how it will be curated for other people.” And I really hope that was informative for everybody who showed up.

[00:04:10] Hugh Seaton: Well, I like the fact that you…I mean, there's a couple of points there. One of them is, you know, kind of being annoyed at how things get handed over. And I think we can talk about that in a second, but you also took the time to lay out all the people that use. I mean, you just, just now said, we worry about... what rooms are being used for, and what's in the rooms and so on, but you get into a lot of detail, which I think was really great. And it was, it was so much graphical. Was it just laid out right there, which I thought was cool. But let's talk a little bit about, about this idea that, that what gets, what general contractors hand to facilities teams isn't always what they're looking for, and I'm obviously being polite there, but talk a little bit about what you find and, and you know, where were the frustrations often are. 

[00:04:52] Melanie Stone: I'd say the biggest source of frustration is having a bid package, go out, hiring someone to do a job. And then part of that deliverable not being turned over.

And the part that I'm referring to would be the electronic deliverables. When they, you know, they'll try and give you paper or a PDF or PLT files, I don't know, in what world someone might think it's appropriate for us to try to maintain a facility and keep it up to date for the next hundred years with a PLT file.

[00:05:25] Hugh Seaton: I confess, I don't know what a PLT file is. 

[00:05:28] Melanie Stone: Oh, I will happily tell you Hugh. That is not an editable file. That is instructions to a plotter to make a paper copy of that file. 

[00:05:37] Hugh Seaton: Thus the PLT… it's suddenly clear. 

[00:05:42] Melanie Stone: Yes. So it's things like that. There are other things like. If you don't follow the CAD standard or the BIM standard, or if some detail was left out that I forgot to put in there.

Like I initially forgot to put, I need piping labels, not on a text layer because I would get these big buildings and there would be texts in every single piece of text. And the drawing was on the same way. When ideally they would be on here's the heating hot water return and hot water supply in separate layers so that you can pull the stuff out for the different trades as you need to.

So like that's an oversight on my part, another time a client didn't specify in their model that they needed their cubicles to have room bounding. Okay. So like that's a small frustration, but that wasn't a failure on the consultants part. That was an oversight. In the standards and we're, we're all human.

We should learn from every project, but the biggest frustration is not getting the documentation we asked for. If I want structural files for a building, and the only thing you give me is structural details for one stairway in a 600,000 square foot building. That's a failure. 

[00:06:58] Hugh Seaton: Yeah. And is the failure... I mean, it sounds like there's a lot of stories, so I want to be careful about over characterizing what happens, but it sounds like sometimes it's incompleteness. Sometimes it's not in the right format or in a format that could reasonably be expected to be useful at PLT is something I'll carry forward with me.

There's a few different things that go wrong. Is that, is that right? 

[00:07:21] Melanie Stone: Yes. I would say most of them are easy to deal with. And the single biggest issue is not getting an editable set of files 

[00:07:30] Hugh Seaton: And so when you're getting digital things, they're scans of, of something that's been printed or they're just flat PDFs or, I mean, obviously PLT is one of those. 

[00:07:39] Melanie Stone: Yes. It's something that you cannot maintain the building with. When the mechanics are out and they see something that either may not have been a documented change or it's something they're actively changing a couple of years later, we have to keep that up today. And we can't do that if we have to redraw every single file that we've already paid somebody else to draw for us. 

[00:08:02] Hugh Seaton: And are you normally operating with 3d models when you're, when you're in, whether it's TRIRIGA you mentioned about 10 or 15 different companies, so you didn't, it was more like five, but it sounded like a lot, or then all those normally 3d models or are they, are they plans or is it a little bit of both depending on, you know, what you choose?

[00:08:22] Melanie Stone: I think it's very often a bit of both, even the facilities that are large enough and complex enough to invest in BIM. It's still going to take them years to get these renovations because like they, they went through this with the paper to CAD transition. So they're like, okay, brand new buildings are going to be in this current format.

We're not going to have the rest of it in that format until we have enough renovations. And then maybe if there's just a few spots in the building that haven't been renovated yet, then they'll just start up a small project to have the rest modeled. This is, it's a, it's a long process. 

[00:09:03] Hugh Seaton: Actually, a couple of things I wanted to ask about one of them is in, in, I believe it was in that presentation I'm referencing, you talked about a 15 year cycle for technology. You want to talk about that? 

[00:09:13] Melanie Stone: Yes. That's definitely something that I noticed with either the software that I was using, supporting, or migrating into or away from. And I also talk to people in other departments and they had a similar cycle because big department, lots of data you don't want to do sudden changes. You don't have funding for sudden changes. You don't have the staff to make sure everything goes smoothly. So, yeah, it's just, it's a gradual change over, or it's a change that's put off until you're physically. The server is too old. We must migrate now, before it dies. 

[00:09:51] Hugh Seaton: The rubber band snaps we've got to find a new way. That's funny. You know, you think about a construction project is already longer than a lot of things in business generally, but nothing compares to the length, or few things compare, to the length of a facility, right. Where you're talking decades. And do you think that that has an impact on how people think about it? I presume right? 

[00:10:15] Melanie Stone: Yes, it definitely makes us prioritize differently. And there is no start and end to a project per se. Like even if I was going to go out and do completely a new survey of the campus and model it up and everything's perfect, it's not going to stay that way. It's going to keep changing. 

So the facility that I stayed at the longest. I was there for 13 years and their first buildings were built in 1908 and they're still in use and we still had blueprints, Mylars, linen, we still had original documentation of those buildings. Obviously that's not what you're referencing for the newest renovations. You're referencing the most recent renovation prior to that, but we still had all of these documents.

Not all of them were even in English. So our archive, you know, went back over a hundred years and I just would love for everybody in the industry to appreciate that their work is going to carry on long after their company closes or mergers, or sometimes when people pass away. Yeah, your work is still there.

[00:11:33] Hugh Seaton: That's what they say. Right? It's 5% is the cost of construction and the other 95% is, or whatever the number is, but it's a huge ratio between what it costs to build something and what it costs to operated across its life. Because of course it does. 

[00:11:44] Melanie Stone: Yeah. And if it's not built correctly, you're going to keep having issues with it.

There was a building going up shortly after I joined that organization or like, I think they were just pouring like the foundation when I joined there. 600,000 square foot building big, beautiful, very high tech, but there were very many things wrong with it. There was no interior heating and cooling.

They'd value engineered that out, saying the nine story atrium could get the air from around it. And there were no isolation valves, even though there were laboratories and ORs in there that needed repairs more often than other spaces and taking out the isolation valve just really caused so many issues.

So between the time that that building was built and I left 13 years later, they have spent, you know, It was in the millions of dollars and they still had more hundreds of thousands of dollars projects being lined up, trying to fix the things that were not built correctly. 

[00:12:50] Hugh Seaton: Wow. So I'd like to go back to thinking of a little bit more concretely about what you do get, we talked about file formats, not being quite right, but if you were to describe what you're often asking for, what is that look like?

I could let you know for moderately complicated building. What do you, how would you characterize what you're hoping for… 

[00:13:11] Melanie Stone: In those cases, we would specify in the contract and the bid package that we need editable electronic documentation with a bullet point set of requirements. Now that's going to vary depending on the type of facility you're working in, you know, sometimes it's going to be a Revit model. Other people are still working exclusively in AutoCAD. 

[00:13:31] Hugh Seaton: So you're specifying often what technology you'd like it delivered in. 

[00:13:34] Melanie Stone: Not just often, every time. When you're processing this information, it has to be, you know, just like the ceiling tiles. We can't have 20 different types of ceiling tiles. We have two, because it's such a large facility.

We can't be having all this stuff stored somewhere. Trying to purchase things that are edge things like we need something common. And most specifically we need something that can talk to our capital solutions. For example, I love Brix CAD, but BrixSYS doesn't work with any major CAFM vendor. 

[00:14:12] Hugh Seaton: Hold on. I'm going to stop and define CAFM. So, so computer aided facilities management. 

[00:14:18] Melanie Stone: Correct. I think IWMS is probably more commonly used these days, which is integrated workplace management system, but there are a plethora of acronyms out there describing every facility's software. Yes. It gets ridiculous sometimes, but I like CAFM.

That's what they were using when I was back in college. So I, I tend to stick with it. 

[00:14:41] Hugh Seaton: Got it. Yeah. Cool. So you were talking about, I interrupted you, you were talking about different CAFM. 

[00:14:48] Melanie Stone: Yes. So all the major CAFM vendors out there use Autodesk products, AutoCAD, and Revit it's for facility owners.

There's not really a lot of options there. And if you have consultants who are out there using things like MicroStation, it creates a lot of bugs within the AutoCAD files. And when you try to connect them to the database, it's yeah, it's a lot of work. So we are going to specify what software you use and if your design team isn't specifying versioning for the design team, we're going to specify that too.

[00:15:26] Hugh Seaton: That makes sense. So you've gone through, and you've said, I want this to be you know, let's just say Revit just to make it simpler. And you've bulleted out some of the key point... well probably quite a few of the key points that you're looking for. Once that's been handed off in the very beginning it's presumably part of specs. I mean, it's been part of the bid package, but it filters its way through to specifications, I assume. 

[00:15:48] Melanie Stone: Yes. 

[00:15:49] Hugh Seaton: Are there partial deliveries along the way or is it guys do your thing? We're not going to get into means and methods, let us know at the end how it, how it goes. 

[00:15:58] Melanie Stone: That is one thing that does vary a lot by facilities.

And the one that I was in the longest, we did not have checks along the way, unless it was a really, really big project because there was only one of me. And there was, there was another guy, one of the mechanical engineers who could go through my list and check things, but he wasn't as comfortable with it.

And he had his own projects to manage. So it was pretty much just me. So there was not enough manpower to do periodic checks of every single project. It was just the ones that we had the most to lose on, but I understand that some other facilities do have these periodic checks that like every different phase of construction project, they're just as looped in as the design team, so they can catch these things earlier. And I, I loved that. Like those FMs, like get some serious respect for me for being able to do that. 

[00:16:54] Hugh Seaton: I can imagine. I mean, you're, you're determined. You're doing your best to define what the environment you're going to be operating in for the next decade plus.

Great. So we, you know, they go through the construction period. And then at the end, So let's talk a little bit about what you wind up getting, you mentioned it earlier, but you've told people you need Revit. Now that there's a lot of Revit files went into the construction of, again, a moderately complicated building.

Are you often looking for something that is kind of a unified package? Are you looking for, you know, Revit model a for this room, that room, that room, and then you're, you're not getting what you're expecting. You're getting, you know, the foyer, but you're not getting, you know, 10 rooms are getting eight.

Do you know what I mean? Like, like how does it often come to you? 

[00:17:42] Melanie Stone: I've really had more issues with that happening in AutoCAD than I have Revit, because with Revit it would be harder for them to screw that up. I think. 

[00:17:53] Hugh Seaton: So AutoCAD is, is again, it's just, it's easier for people to be incomplete and, and Revit it, you know, it's a newer, newer, newer software and probably more aligned for that sort of thing.


[00:18:05] Melanie Stone: I think it's also easier in AutoCAD to intentionally sabotage files, which I have seen. And yeah, I know, I don't know whether to laugh or cry at that. And I'm like, I don't know what you think you're doing pal, but you just bought yourself a few months more worth of dealing with me.

[00:18:22] Hugh Seaton: Yeah, exactly. And you're going to, you're going to pay for it one way or the other. 

That's interesting. So when you're getting the Revit that is not what you want, is that up to snuff? What is it? What does it look like? Is it because, you know, one of the things that is unquestionably true is a lot of the inputs that, that are part of a final building come from different subs. And you've talked about this in, in some different areas, right? So you've got the mechanical group, that's doing a lot of the detailing. A lot of the, you know, it goes into their part of, of the room and, and the broader building.

Do you think some of it is coordinating all of that into one model? You can do something with? 

[00:19:01] Melanie Stone: I'd say the primary issue I've had with Revit is them just forgetting the linked files, just like in AutoCAD when people would forget the X refs, like they're only sending you one file instead of everything else it was talking to.

And that's usually a pretty simple one to fix. Honestly, with Revit, I'd say my biggest pet peeve isn't so much like all the minutia in AutoCAD, you don't have the same issue in Revit, just by the nature of the format, but one thing is the design options. Usually it's not easy to tell in the model or across the link to model, whatever design options were chosen.

There can be a ton of them in there and I'm like, okay. Which one is it? 

[00:19:51] Hugh Seaton: That's interesting. So they're yeah, so they're forwarding to you something from an earlier stage and it wasn't, what was finally, you know, decided on, is that right? 

[00:20:01] Melanie Stone: I've never designed a building in Revit. I will be completely honest with you.

So I'm assuming that they just had some way that they picked out of their output and printed their files for the construction team that they could tell which of those design options were the ones that were chosen. 

[00:20:19] Hugh Seaton: I mean, what's interesting. One of the, one of the big issues in a construction site can often be what is the latest... and what is the, you know, the single source of truth, people like to say, and they'll turn around and say, there isn't a single source of truth. Because over in that area, somebody just had an RFI answered, so they're, they're making a change. And over here, we're doing this and over there, they're doing that.

So it's a, it's a kind of a never-ending set of stories that then ultimately obviously end with one building. It's not like it's Schrodinger's cat, but nevertheless, it's hard. It's a lot messier. So it's interesting that, that what you're running into is, you know, multiple options. And I think at some point I'm obviously prepared for this a little bit.

You mentioned that you often go back to the architect to say, okay guys, what's the final here. What did we build? What'd you give us. 

[00:21:09] Melanie Stone: Yes. I'm just like, can you just give me your final PDF set? Because that's the way as far as I can tell that's the way a lot of them archive each of their phases, different changes after RFIs.

So I'm like, yeah, just give me your last PDF that you had. And I will go in and I will clean out everything else. 

[00:21:28] Hugh Seaton: Yeah. And how much effort is that? I mean, it sounds like, you know, you're digging in and you're getting into every model and cleaning it all up and all that, is that right?

[00:21:39] Melanie Stone: Yes. It's like you have to clean up the model so that you can merge it in with a master set, so you can go pretty close to nuclear there. Because, yes, you, you need to keep your original model and it's states you, you always have it as a reference to go back to, but when it comes to hooking something up to your CAFM system, your Computer Aided facility management there your working everyday model is going to be a lot simpler.

Just like we would do the same thing with CAD is you just blow away a lot of detail or separate it out by industry. So the skilled trades or the next renovation by that specific trade, they can find their things easier. So it's just sort of carving away, like peeling an apple, like, let me get down to just the meat and it makes the, the day-to-day working model a lot easier to update without... like, I don't need to see how the gypsum goes on. I don't need to know anything about that. Have your way in my model, my mechanics are never going to look at that. 

[00:22:46] Hugh Seaton: Yeah, that's one thing I have heard is that if you think about what goes into a constructable Revit model, for example, there's twist ties in there and there's rebar in there.

I mean, it's just a lot of detail that there's no reason for a facilities team to need to know, unless you're going to knock a wall out. In which case you're probably just going to knock the wall out. So it's really interesting that sometimes there's too much. And then, you know, if anything, it sounds like some of what you're doing is pruning and cleaning it so that well, anyway, scrubbing, cleaning it so that it's, it's useful in the, in the CAFM environment.

Is that right? 

[00:23:23] Melanie Stone: Yeah. It's curating. And some people might take that to mean, oh, we should send them simpler stuff. We shouldn't send them everything. And that's definitely not what I'm saying. Some person in that facility needs that, but they're going to be curating very carefully. What everybody else, as you mentioned, my presentation recently, I talked about all the people that will somehow come in contact with data from your building or your renovation, but they will never come in contact with the Revit model themselves.

[00:23:54] Hugh Seaton: And so these CAFM software products, they host a Revit model where they are. How does that interface? 

[00:24:04] Melanie Stone: There is a plugin within Revit that talks to the database and it translates the Revit entities to the database structure. So it can say, Hey, here's the room schedule?

Here's the name of the room? Let me grab the physical dimensions of the room, the overall square footage, which floor it's on. And there's a lot of information you can pull out of a model. That's going to be managed in the CAFM database. 

[00:24:37] Hugh Seaton: So essentially it's, it's more than this, but it's kind of an API into Revit to pull the data that they need when that you need, when you.

[00:24:43] Melanie Stone: Exactly. 

[00:24:44] Hugh Seaton: That's cool. That makes a lot of sense. 

[00:24:46] Melanie Stone: So I was going to mention, I forget the name of the plugin, but I did find a great plugin on the app store that really helped me clean up the drawings, sort of getting rid of the things that I didn't need an unused families and sort of like purging everything out.

So if you want to do that type of thing, definitely hit the app store and see what's on offer. 

[00:25:09] Hugh Seaton: That's great. Yeah. Forge has something like 1100 add-ins and plugins. It's, they've definitely done a good job of populating that. So let's talk real quick about an example of when it went really well. And if you have to make it up, hopefully not, but, or embellish a little bit, but what does it look like when it, when it works really well?

So, so, you know, handover happens, the close out is finished. You get the files that you're expecting. What's that process look like in a perfect world? 

[00:25:39] Melanie Stone: So the process would be that, well, I know there should be organized process of everything goes through the GC or somebody.

So there's one single source checking to make sure everything's coming. But usually I would receive things from each trade separately. So I would, you know, get the model, plop it into the archive on the server. Start taking a look to see if there are any missing linked files or if there's anything that I can't explain, or if it doesn't mesh up with the other models from that project.

And ideally they have the model, maybe they've got a PDF reference so that I can see their final intent and that can help guide my cleanup. And I take my, a cleaned up copy of my model and I merge it in with the base set that I already have. So sometimes that can be like bringing in the actual entities, but for smaller projects that can actually just be redrawing.

And I know some people are going to say, Melanie, you believe in automation, you do so much around automation. How could you say redraw? But sometimes it's just quicker and easier. Like, Hey, I know this wall's 10 feet long. It's like a three room renovation. I know the wall type. In the existing model are good enough for government work and I've already got my own equipment blocks, maybe that have links to the database and I can use those blocks.

[00:27:14] Hugh Seaton: Well, but that's the reality though, right? You automate and you automate things that are repetitive and have really clear rules, but the reality of data and the world is that, you know, humans have to pop in and round out the corners sometimes. 

[00:27:28] Melanie Stone: Yeah. And it was just the same doing the paper to CAD transitions sometimes raster to vector conversion was the answer. But other times there was so much cleanup involved with pixels here and there. And you just, you can redraw it easier and use your own blocks and not have to go too far out of your way. 

[00:27:49] Hugh Seaton: Yeah, it makes sense. So in closing then, if you were to prioritize one or two things you wish the general contractors did better and maybe some specifics here, what would those be?

What should they all pay more attention to and do a better job of, 

[00:28:06] Melanie Stone: I think they should keep an eye on their technician egos. Because 

[00:28:12] Hugh Seaton: I got to ask what you mean. 

[00:28:13] Melanie Stone: There are a lot of brilliant people working in our industry, but there are also people who are very insular or shortsighted and believe that they are the be all end all.

And those were the people that I referred to who would intentionally sabotage the files. Like they would do skew everything just slightly. So they weren't straight lines. They would explode all the blocks. They would turn it half the drawing, seven degrees, one way way, and the other half, two and a half degrees the other way.

And, or they would just refuse to turn over things at all. They would just give PDFs because they thought they knew better than the standards. So if the leadership... I don't know the architect, the engineer, the GC, the project manager. If those people aren't aware of what their techs are doing. It creates a lot of work.

If they could be like smack them on the nose with a newspaper and say, Hey, we were paid for usable electronic files. They gave us usable electronic files at the beginning of the project, and we're going to give them back the same. So that the next time we win work on this campus, we have good electronic files to start from.

Yeah. Garbage in garbage out. 

[00:29:23] Hugh Seaton: Yeah. I love that. Excellent. Well, I look, I learned a lot from on this podcast, so I really appreciate you taking the time and going through from a facilities managers’ perspective, how the handoff goes. 

[00:29:37] Melanie Stone: Well, I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk about this, Hugh, there are so many places where I can learn about what you guys do and how I can make my CAD Standards, BIM Standards simpler. I don't want to put in a lot of specifications for things that I don't need, and I'm never going to advise my clients to do that either. So as long as we can keep the lines of communication flowing in both ways, the whole industry is going to be better off.

[00:30:03] Hugh Seaton: Fantastic. Well, this is a start, so I appreciate it. 

[00:30:06] Melanie Stone: Thank you.