COBie – the contractor’s requirements

In the third part of our interview with the inventor of COBie, Dr Bill East, he addresses obstacles for the delivery of COBie by contractors and how to overcome them.

Why are some contractors having trouble with COBie?

One lesson I learned in my 30-plus years creating and operating information technology systems for the US government is that the introduction of a new, highly-efficient process highlights the wastefulness of current practice.

Today, construction handover information is an afterthought. Interns are sent to file rooms to copy or scan and collate already collected information. Skilled employees crawl through buildings to capture installed equipment information. The resulting boxes of paper or disks are delivered is but rarely checked and probably not used.

The proof that all this effort is worthless is highlighted in the practices of one of the major US federal government agencies. That agency begins the operational phase of a building by paying to re-collect the exact same information. The warranties on most buildings are voided because it takes man-years to manually manage the necessary preventative maintenance requirements.

Why are contractors having problems with COBie? Because fixing construction handover requires contractors to acknowledge that the existing handover process is broken – and then to do something about it. Most are content to repeat the mantra “we’ve just always done it this way”.

How does COBie fix this?

Every bit of data in COBie already exists in paper or electronic documents produced by contract or convention on every building project. Let’s take the example of an approved product’s manufacturer, supplier, and model number. In every industrialised country, the information is written down and approved or acknowledged before purchase.

Different countries, contract types, or owners will have different forms or someone different doing the approvals, but the information is the same. A COBie-based contract administration process captures this information during the product approval process. I call this process “lean-handover”.

What are the benefits to capturing COBie during construction?

The end-of-project “job crawl” to collect installed equipment data can be eliminated. The cost of system commissioning can be reduced. There is no need to hire that intern to recreate handover information from the project files.

Contractors can deliver handover information prior to building occupancy, speeding contract closeout. The owner can begin operating their building according to warranty requirements as soon as they take occupancy.

Saving even a portion of these costs more than makes up for having someone show a contractor how to do this for themselves.

Why aren’t more contractors implementing COBie in this way?

Today’s margins include inefficiencies built into “standard” business practices. Unless there is a contract requirement or government mandate, there is little incentive to change. I’ll give you two examples.

I had one contractor ask me, “Why would I want to reduce my fees?” Early adopting contractors can reduce their costs, but not their bid price until their peers catch up. Over the longer term, as more contractors adopt lean-handover practices, the early adopting contractor will still be more profitable because their people are more productive.

I had a construction company executive explain that they wouldn’t use COBie because, “I’ve already paid for the college intern, I have to give them something to do.” In answer to this, I asked how long would that employee work for his company? If it were me, the answer would be “until the first opportunity comes along”.

What role does BIM have to play in COBie for construction?

A high-quality design BIM can boot-strap COBie at the start of construction. As you have seen from my recent books about delivering COBie using Revit and ARCHICAD, I am working to improve the quality of design BIM data.

Those following our best practices can consistently deliver COBie information matching contract documents. Most owners are, however, not checking the quality of their COBie design deliverables so it falls to the contractors to fix the data.

To be perfectly honest, given the poor quality of most design BIM files I receive, takes less time for me to develop COBie from high quality CADD or PDF drawings than to fix the data in BIM files.

To efficiently collect construction handover information, we need “Better Information Management” not “Building Information Modeling.” In fact, COBie data can be collected and managed by transforming construction contract administration forms and processes. This will be the subject of a future book on COBie and Construction.

For more information go to COBie Resources. Many of the technical reports and publications on my CV are available free of charge. For those who want to become their company’s COBie expert, I recommend my Find our design best practices here.

Read the other interviews in this series

Why are contractors having problems with COBie? Because fixing construction handover requires contractors to acknowledge that the existing handover process is broken – and then to do something about it. Most are content to repeat the mantra ‘we’ve always done it this way’.– Bill East

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  1. Bill East makes a lot of good comments about the attitude of contractors to as-built documentation. As useful as COBie may be little will change until a real dollar value is put on documentation. For a contractor as-built documentation is a little task only thought about as the job comes to an end with little profit to be made from doing the job well. For the owner, the relief at getting the construction work done overwhelms the need to get the documentation. I see little changing until delivery of as-built documentation comes at a price, say 10% of the contract sum and with no stage payments – in other words all or nothing. This would give a real incentive to contractors to do the job properly. Of course the problem is not one-sided and this series of interviews with BIll East as highlighted were other actors need to lift their game. At the heart of it owners need to take responsibility for clearly stating their information requirements and enforcement.

  2. Yes but who is going to go through a model and add all this COBie data in?

    More importantly who is going to pay for it?

    Let’s look at the data. It’s horrifying.

    Let’s say the project model has 30,000 objects in it.

    If the Client’s FM team want 30 separate pieces of COBie data for each object (warranty/size/supplier etc), that’s 900,000 entries required to be added into that model.

    Let’s be generous and allow 40 seconds per entry (allowing time for gather/collate/sort/liase etc). That equates to 36,000,000 seconds = 600,000 minutes = 10,000 hours = 270 working days = Over 1 working year.

    Do you see an architect or technician or engineer happy to sit in the corner of his/her office and enter data into a Revit model for over a year – after it’s finished? It will come down to these people not the contractor as contractors don’t know how to use Revit (nor in general can most of them afford it).

    Let’s say the charge out rate is £60/hour for this COBie Clerk. That is £600,000. Do you expect the architect to absorb this additional workload? (Good Luck with that!) Do you expect the architect will win the job if he/she bumps up their fee £600,000? (Highly unlikely!). Do you expect the client to pay £600,000 when the architect says COBie data is not included in the model but can be if they want to pay for it. (Nope!)

    There are resource issues here that no-one is addressing.

    Yes COBie in principle is a good thing. But so far, FM teams are clueless as to how to use it. Clients are unwilling to pay extra to obtain it and design teams are running themselves ragged trying to address overdefined EIRs.

    Stop burying your head in the sand and address these and maybe this plane will fly.

  3. Richard, Great points. The cost of construction handover data collection was the precise reason COBie was invented in 2007. Despite a solution being available, contractors and owners repeatedly capture and loose this information. Why? “Because we’ve just always done it this way.” The scope of this waste of money and human potential in large government agencies amounts to tens of millions of dollars per office per year.

    COBie was not invented to add, yet another, point of data collection, but to empower the construction industry (not designers) to capture construction handover data as part of the construction contract admin process (where that data is created). Very few understand that this was the fundamental reason for the creation of COBie, because of the way it has been implemented by top-down mandates.

  4. COBie is not perfect but it can work, it’s just surprising that after a few years people still fear it.

    If you have an architectural model with 30,000 items, not all of those items are maintainable and furthermore most of the information is gathered at type level so you only enter it once.

    Unless you’re sticking barcodes on everything you’re effectively adding a few extra fields onto the schedules.

    Various packages can even export and import the completed schedules from the contractor.

    900,000 items, but you usually add the data once for each type/schedule reference.

    Taking a typical architectural model and going to the extreme with maintable assets, let’s say 10 schedules Doors, Windows etc. each with 20 types = 200 types @ 30 parameters per type = 6000 entries.

    To be clear 30 genuine parameters is quite in depth.

    Most of those can be added automatically from information completed by the contractor.

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