Is there a need for building documentation? More importantly, where is the need and why does it exist?

The U.S. government certainly thinks such documentation is needed; after all, only a few short years ago, the General Services Administration (GSA), the largest landlord in the country, solicited bids and subsequently awarded contracts for such services. Record data on all of the properties under the GSA’s jurisdiction either does not exist or it exists in drawings that may not be accurate or validated.

Consider the staggering amount of commercial real estate throughout the country. How many offices, hotels, big box retail outlets, car dealerships, manufacturing facilities, etc., are there? Do owners/stakeholders have complete, updated documentation on all of their properties? Probably not. So is the need for building documentation a valid one?

According to many government agencies, leaders in the AEC community, facility management groups and others, the answer is a resounding, unequivocal “yes.” Having accurate documentation can help building owners and managers reduce risk (and therefore liability), increase building utilization, boost energy efficiency, preserve historical landmarks and improve emergency response. It can help AEC teams streamline construction projects and avoid costly mistakes. It can also facilitate communication among stakeholders when crucial decisions need to be made.

These and other benefits are evident in projects that have embraced the technologies and skills required for successful building documentation. Yet substantial challenges remain. A lack of standards makes it difficult for decision-makers and stakeholders to choose the best service providers and set realistic expectations. A concern about cost without a full understanding of the potential return makes some stakeholders reluctant to invest in as-built documentation where it is not an absolute requirement. And a shortage of educational resources makes it difficult for everyone involved to gain a better understanding of the processes and benefits.

Recognizing these hurdles, individuals from all of the various stakeholder groups are coming together through the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD) to break down the barriers and create solutions. By establishing standards, guidelines and best practices, the industry can improve the quality of the building documentation process. Through sharing information, we can improve processes and technology and boost the visibility of successful teams and projects.

Across the U.S., thousands of buildings stand with nonexistent, incomplete or inaccurate documentation. The GSA initiative is just the tip of the iceberg. Those who recognize the need and play an active role in addressing the challenges can help shape the future of this rapidly emerging market.