COBie – have it your way.

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.

Now, those of you who’ve 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. 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 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, 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 onto 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.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for changing your perspective on COBie,  I suggest you read this article from the irrepressible Bill East, who together with his team has spent over a decade creating the COBie standard

Niven & BIM Stategy