COBie: The data debate steps up

The BIM show live 2015 in Manchester, UK during a question and answer session with James Pellatt from Great Portland Estate clapped at an answer to a question about the use of COBie on the Residential Project in the presentation. James Pellatt (Head of Projects at GPE) said “COBie was irrelevant”. With James Pellatt on stage was David Philp (BIM Task Force) who surprisingly may have been caught off guard by the response of a sizable number in the audience agreeing with this statement by applauding or waiting to see how this might play out. When a question about the value of the BIM model was raised James Pellatt said that the “tenants had been offered models of their apartments but the interest was mixed as to how this would add value, there was no mention of the value to FM team or the handover data for FM.

The level of maintenance by the landlord required in a residential multi tenanted occupation is going to be considerably different to that of a hospital, prison, school, or single occupancy property industrial, offices etc. The landlord, in this instance, is only responsible for the demised areas, circulation common areas and services in areas such as lifts, lighting and heating. Add the issues of tenant’s attitude to the service charge, which is mostly for the demised areas, and you will find that Facility management team are always under pressure to provide and justify the cost value proposition. The level of complex facility management, planned preventative maintenance, building management systems, cleaning, room booking are just not part of the equation and in the commercial setups of organisations the Project Delivery team are a stronger force that the FM team.

I can only speculate at the reaction to the “irrelevant” statement but having seen negative and sometimes downright arrogant attitude to having to provide COBie thinking that the BIM 3D model contains everything the client needs. Such naive attitudes fail to recognise that COBie is as much a process for gathering information that is relevant to the client as format of handover BIM data. The clients data requirements are impossible to deliver in today’s BIM 3D modelling tools.

For those of us who have had to populate FM systems from the Health and Safety file and O&M documentation this will come as an even bigger frustration that those in the project delivery side don’t appreciate. On reflection the issues may be greater on either side of the process with clients and product manufacturers. Clients are either just not sophisticated enough to adequately express the information/data requirements or are so sophisticated that they dictate process and force teams to do bespoke solutions. At the other end where most of the core data is are the manufacturers who do not see the building owners are there customers but the Specifiers and contractors.

5 Broadgate was an example of a powerful client, UBS, whose business is honed for high performance which extends through all areas of the business. ARCHibus has been used and developed within the organisation to manage a range of activities in particular the 30,000+ churn of personnel locations per year. FSI Concept is used for the Planned Preventative maintenance of the building services. FSI-Concept has a COBie import capability developed through collaboration with BAM but whether this was known or tried was not divulged.

During the presentation, at BSL2015, mention was made of COBie and a slide listing Client attributes against COBie attributes for project information was shown. The “discrepancies” where used as a reason why COBie was not going to be used on this project. When I saw this, it illustrated to me that no matter how big or clever and successful these organisations are they have not grasped the fundamentals of what data and formats really are or there are other reasons.

COBie is an “Information” “Exchange” format and with any format designed to be the common language through which data is interpreted from one system to another. Any programmer or database expert sitting in the audience would recognise that these organisations either did not understand the concepts of data mapping or did not want to engage. In this case, it could be that the client was far more influential in imposing its processes for data requirements, which has left the project team with no benefit for the next project with a different client but on the same type of project.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) was a just as interesting as it highlighted and indirectly challenged the “BIM Component” world currently claiming to be the solution to asset data requirements. Billed as “Capturing asset information and Blowing up toasters” the presenters started by hoping this “graveyard shift” wasn’t going to be dull for the audience. It was far from dull. In a skilfully crafted presentation of which include good explanations of issues and solutions sprinkled with wit I felt these people had got the post occupancy FM management data issues understood.

Toasters in student accommodation are the most heavily used kitchen equipment and we learnt that these items would not last their warranties so with good knowledge the UAE would never need to buy a new toaster ever again, possibly. Within the BIM 3D model there geometry representation was enough to establish the items footprint and safe positioning from sinks. The BIM Object world of over detailed items was challenged, this is an issue that has been with CAD since the 1960’s!. Attaching data to objects is not difficult and only attaching enough to establish a enough for communications to the BIM data model is the most efficient approach. The data population of the Clients FM system was provided through the BIM data model using Clearbox BIMXtra which is a database system where scheduled items can be mapped to the BIM 3D model elements.

For this client, FM data transfer was a custom export although the system does produce a COBie outputs at any stage it does highlight that there is still work to be done with FM systems importing COBie.


You can find a list of FM systems that took part in a COBie FM trial in 2013 COBie 2.4 compliance on





2 thoughts on “COBie: The data debate steps up

    • Sure. This blog post was more about what I observed at BIM show live in Manchester. But on the subject of FM Systems compliance with COBie, we are engaged with a COBie trail in BuildingSMART UK. The area we are looking at is importing COBie into an FM system and exporting it out. The so called round trip. One of the participants has tried this with a system on the Compliance list and has had problems. We are looking at doing it for an FM system, one of our clients is using, that has no COBie import/export but does have an import/export format in the form of spreadsheets. The approach we are taking is to transform the COBie into their import format and convert from the export into COBie. The latter will suffer loss of fidelity so a third proposal will be to update the original COBie. We hope that by documenting the method, analysis and publishing the code for the converter it will show FM companies that this is not as difficult as they perceive. There are 100’s of FM system’s out there and from a variety of companies doing a myriad of features for their clients relevance and benefit are the main hurdles but we need to remove the technical ones first.

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