COBie – you can have it your way

John Adams, director of BIM Strategy, says COBie isn’t perfect but it’s adaptable enough as an efficient means of delivering BIM.

There’s been a lot of talk about COBie lately, and even though its structure, use and application are well defined and many projects are getting down to business delivering COBie, it is still undeniably divisive.

On reflection, maybe the mandate has made people rush into working out how to deliver data in this way, rather than fully considering why it matters. This reactive approach has led to a significant amount of misinformation, concern, waste and even annoyance at delivering what is mainly the same information as usual, but in a more structured way. 

Those of you who have worked with me before or read my work, know I like a bit of allegory and analogy to add colour to BIM.  As much as I love my chosen specialism, including its mythology of acronyms and new technologies, I know not everyone who needs to adopt BIM will share my passion – nor should they need to on our journey to business as usual. 

So, indulge me another ramble, and hopefully it will help explain why I believe COBie not only matters, but is exactly the right approach for construction to start delivering collaborative, structured data.

I’m assuming you’ve been to Burger King, or similar places where a glowing menu hangs above a team ready to add something hot and tasty to you journey up the A1, or wherever you are. Have you ever noticed how all of these outlets have taken the same approach? Buy a burger it costs X, get it with a standard drink and some chips you’ll get a discount.

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But start messing about and creating a bespoke order your discount evaporates and your cheap meal starts looking overpriced.

This is all because the restaurant is geared up to deliver one burger, one portion of chips, and one drink to 90+% of the customers, and in return for dancing to their beat you get a predictable meal all over the globe for about a fiver. 

These menus are the schema of choice for fast food, the restaurants are designed and the teams are trained to deliver this way making the whole process very lean. It’s not perfect for all occasions, but it is very compelling.

COBie is our menu format, not because the government chose it, but because it is the only one out there that appreciates the complexity of buildings, but has a lean enough structure to enable handover to FM. Spaces, assets and maintenance information are our burger, fries and fizzy pop. 

Despite the fast food menu fitting a model, there is a lot of choice and flexibility – and COBie also offers a lot of scope, but always within defined parameters. We should accept that COBie is our first step on our path to an efficient delivery model and to gear ourselves up to deliver this efficiently as a team, rather than simply trying to bolt it on to our existing model. 

We should be able to find the processes to reduce our handover costs by delivering in a reusable and predictable way as well as making the transition into operation for our clients much easier than before. 

We’re not there yet, and this is why the successes we are seeing are often reliant on a superstar information manager going beyond the call of duty working with highly driven teams determined to make BIM work. 

Those who point to COBie itself as a problem aren’t on the right track in my opinion. The issues lie in the fact we haven’t yet implemented an industry-wide approach to delivering COBie in a slick way.

However, the BIM Level 2 process was delivered to facilitate this and remove barriers, so it’s time to train our teams, appoint great information managers, and really understand what data our clients want and how it fits into the COBie schema. Then and only then can we start defining what our data kitchens need to look like to deliver competitive advantage.

We should accept that COBie is our first step on our path to an efficient delivery model and to gear ourselves up to deliver this efficiently as a team, rather than simply trying to bolt it on to our existing model. – John Adams, BIM Strategy

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  1. It would help if the menu was narrowed down so only the items that are wanted are on the menu. Do you really need all of the COBie data for every component that has been modeled to allow for its fabrication, or just the assemblies of those components, i.e. a window is made up of a frame, an opening light, a hinge, a locking hardware set, spandrell panels and glazed units. The FM guys may need the data for all or some of these objects separately but the model only has the entire assembly of these components, therefore it is difficult to use the model to drive the COBie information for the individual components that make up the window.

    Another example would be a roof made up of composite cladding panels, this would typically be made up of individual roof panels, which we typically model in order to drive our material orders, however for FM purposes it should be treated as an entire assembly representing the roof, again this causes issues when trying to drive the COBie data from the model as there is no representation of the entire roof in the model only the individual parts that represent the roof.

    The problem with the one-size-fits-all approach of COBie is that the handover goals are not well aligned to the procurement/fabrication goals of the subcontractor for using BIM, but it is the subcontractors that are being expected to deliver the COBie data for the Main Contractors to meet the needs of FM. This is typically never addressed early enough in the project so the subcontractors models are built to support their design to fabrication workflows, and these end up having to be reworked to suit the FM handover needs, typically the architects model is more suited to this.

  2. Darren,

    COBie does narrow the menu appropriately every building. The only COBie data that should be exported is the room finish schedule and the set of scheduled products and equipment that will have preventative maintenance schedules. Anything else falls outside the COBie standard requirements.

    There will always be the problem of “one man’s product is another man’s assembly” but the resolution can is found by thinking about COBie as a contract administration process replacement (i.e. Better Information Management – BIM) not as something that should be captured in a 3D Building Information Model (BIM). COBie is not about 3D geometry at all – to use software whose goal is 3D modeling will – by design – cause problems when trying to manage contract administration information. There is no one software “to rule them all” despite what people might say or however hard we might wish it, different people have different jobs and use different tools.

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