In a difficult economy where new design projects are still hard to land, many firms are adding in as many services as possible to the list of client deliverables. The idea is to charge a higher fee while offering more than your competition's pricepoint.

How to make that happen? Designing entirely on a computer screen certainly helps;  changes, whether from the construction site or due to changing client needs, flow through the project naturally to the as-builts. In the months ahead, I’ll be talking about some of the ways that’s done during construction, with the latest portable equipment.

But in this case, we'll look at a case study from the facilities management side.

The key point: You don’t have to design the structure in the first place using BIM software, although that would be nice. And your client does not need super-sophisticated software to take advantage of the deliverable. This system, based on simple data inputs, can easily monitor life‐cycle conditions and costs. Thus it can support strategic decisions to help the hospital determine the best places to put its facilities investments. It can gather the data to monitor the lifespan of materials being used or replaced now. At the same time, the assessors find and report errors in the drawings.

Take the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, which I visited in July. It’s a big enterprise with 2300 beds, 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits a year, including 220,000 visits to the emergency room, more than any other area hospital. New York Presbyterian Hospital has four campuses including Weill Cornell and Columbia Presbyterian, with 84 buildings encompassing more than 6.5 million square feet.

Thus, it is hardly surprising that there is an effort is in place to continually upgrade the public “face,” the facilities the patients see, such as corridors, waiting areas, and of course patient rooms themselves. The effort is called F.A.C.E. (for Facilities Aesthetic Condition Enhancement).  Refurbishing is on a 4-year cycle; the plan is to start over after that. Much of the structure and alterations being upgraded date to before the era of computer-aided design, so information has to be loaded into the system from scratch.

The facilities assessment system was built by Faithful+Gould, the cost consultancy and project management firm, using Archibus database software.  

We’re not talking about detailed starting-points here, or furniture and other items represented as 3D “smart objects.” If there are computer files with plan-view drawings to show walls, doors, windows and ducts, they are bare-bones, stitched together from projects done in the past 20 years or so. They are stored in a single AutoCAD DWG layer, as polylines without symbol intelligence.  In fact, Weill Cornell isn’t even using bar-coded or RFID-tagged physical objects -- the beds, chairs, in-wall oxygen outlets and so forth. The staff tracks inventory manually until the project starts in a given area. The system is not yet fine-grained enough to track furniture, but the staff is working toward that.

The “magic trick” is that Weill Cornell staff uses tablet computers – not iPads, but bulky old HP machines with both touchscreens and keyboards – to enter data on the spot. If the project, for instance, involves the repainting and refurbishing of a patient room, the staff member in charge will use the tablet to quickly input the inventory and the results of an up-close inspection. Do the curtains that can be drawn to separate patient beds need replacement? Are the valves in working order? Windows and bathroom OK?

The system provides color-coded plan-views of entire building floors, showing areas renovated, due for renovation and so forth. It also tracks budget and how close the facilities staff is keeping to its goal for the year.

Although the underlying database is powered by Archibus, the links from tablet to Archibus were programmed by Faithful+Gould. “Archibus runs all of our reports, assessments, and work status reports,” said Interior Infrastructure Program Manager Mesina Brees.  “Over 70 projects are going on now, worth $16 million.” Schedules are tight. A patient room, for instance, must be refurbished and made patient-ready in one day, while surrounding rooms continue to be used.


Steve Ross has been using and reviewing CAD software since 1985. With degrees in physics and journalism, he has authored or edited 19 books, including one for ENR (Construction Disasters: Design Failures, Causes and Prevention, published in 1983). He has been honored by NSPE and by the New York State Society of Professional Engineers. You can write him directly at