There’s recently been a surge of interest in this data collection system within the BIM world


To COBie or not to COBie? That is the question. In the past I’d have given more or less a no to that interminable question in the BIM world. COBie, a system of data collection which could help manage a building down to the last millimetre or watt has been around for a while now but it has been more or less ignored. Indeed, it is not letting any secrets out of the bag to say that at Balfour Beatty we have over 60 live BIM projects, but not one of our current clients have previously required COBie data drops.

However that could be about to change as there has been a recent surge of interest in COBie. We currently have over a dozen submissions, which if successful, will require the full COBie data compliance.

But are we ready, at Balfour Beatty or anywhere else for COBie? There are many obstacles in the way and for all the talk, recent conferences and seminars, including those sponsored by BuildingSmart held at the Academy of Engineering, COBie is not an easy nut to crack.

There is a lack of consistency and methodology when it comes to designing COBie friendly buildings

The reassuring aspects of the report on COBie Field Trials were the extent of consultant and contractor engagement with the specialists and Academics and the rigour in which they demonstrated their processes.

The disconcerting aspects for me outweighed the achievements by a factor of 10 when not one party was able to report that their COBie outputs were flawless.

Now you might be thinking that it is just a matter of learning the rules of this new data game. However the fact is there are no rules - yet!

It is one thing to have read, understood and cross referenced PAS1192:2 but it is another thing to successfully deliver, fully populated and accurate Excel data.

I have a wish list of the working groups I think should be set up…

There is a lack of consistency and methodology when it comes to designing COBie friendly buildings. This inconsistency starts with designers who use the same software tool, but in different ways to achieve the same end result. And if they have not constructed their model arrangements in a COBie friendly manner they may well end up with lots of blanks or error messages in the output spreadsheets. The process may have far reaching implications on the way designers design, their scope of service as well as how the contributions from the wider supply chain are integrated and as a community we have barely scratched the surface in this area.

The issue of nomenclature is also at large. We all need to talk the same language and I don’t mean which Uniclass codes are applied. It will come down to the provision of a consistent set of data. How do you indicate half hour fire resistance? Is it FD30 or Half Hour FR or something else.

We also need to accelerate the process and widen the participants and there needs to be more consensus in CAD standards. There is terminology far beyond that defined by PAS 1192:2 and we cannot rely on Solibri or something similar to model check, thinking that as the models are populated correctly so will the COBie output.

Until we have ‘swim lanes’ fully defined and populated with who is doing what and how they are to do it, we may find ourselves in panic mode. Are you ready for Data Drops 3, 4 and 5 for example? If the design community are still unclear and all these processes are unresolved, how can we expect our supply chains to implement it.

So I have a wish list of the working groups I think should be set up. The working groups would establish, number one, a consistent set of nomenclature (jargon if you will), working group two would look at the critical CAD methodologies, working group three, the likely contributions of contractors and delivery supply chain members, four, the clients’ input and finally, working group five would look at FM input.

So it’s over to you. However, it is clear to me that compliance will have wide reaching implications on our industry and in particular the resources we employ to create and handle the data so we’d better get going and quick about it.

Peter Trebilcock chairs Balfour Beatty’s UK-wide design community of practice and its UK BIM Steering Group