Paul Oakley, Director BIM at BRE talks about the cost of COBie and the challenges associated with utilising the schema
The benefits in design and construction of using BIM and the processes set out in BS 1192:2007 and PAS 1192-2:2013 are well documented, and various measures have illustrated the benefits that have been achieved. Also included is the need for constructors to deliver structured data to aid the maintenance and operation of a built asset. PAS1192-2:2013 sets the delivery requirements for BIM Level 2, which includes PDFs, proprietary file formats and something called COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange).
COBie is generally delivered in an excel format using a multi-worksheet approach, each holding specific data sets defined within British Standard BS1192-4: 2014, fulfilling employer’s information exchange requirements using COBie. Unfortunately, this British Standard only relates to the data schema and has left the industry with the unenviable task of attempting to actually do it. This has created total chaos for the poor constructors and their supply chain who have been left to try and implement it. One specific quote from the standard highlights the issue:
“The COBie deliverable should include all the information that needs to be transferred as part of an information exchange including the COBie data and local documents referenced from it”.
The intention was that information would be automated from the BIM by pressing the magical COBie button. The reality is completely the opposite with teams of people manually entering thousands of elements into a spreadsheet trying to work out if they have supplied “all the information” they are supposed to. After all, the Client requirements just stated that they want “BIM Level 2”, whatever that is…
The perception is that for a BIM Level 2 project, the client identifies their Asset Information Requirements (AIR) and includes them in their Employers Information Requirements (EIRs). This defines all the information that is required including formats, etc. and would probably use a digital Plan of Work to help with identifying the details. It is then up to the supply chain to identify their standards, methods and processes within their BIM Execution Plan, developing the models and objects with the appropriate attributes before finally delivering the data in the COBie format. The data would then be extracted by pressing that magical button and passed over to the operations team.
COBie includes an identified picklist which ensures compliance, and part of the delivery review process should involve both Information Receiver and Information Provider to ensure that either there has been no significant loss of information as a result of the transfer, or that a process is initiated to resolve the issues. Again, there are basic misconceptions as many of the authoring tools fail to have the same picklists or even the technical implementation to use them. On receipt, the extraction process should cover the activities of populating the target systems and data stores using the content out of the COBie deliverable.
So what can possibly go wrong?
Before embarking on COBie, the big question is who is contractually responsible for the delivery of the information and who makes the decisions. This is a very important question as it will define how COBie is created along with who validates the information. Despite the obvious, there are then vital questions which must be answered before proceeding:
- Does the design software even hold the data required to be delivered?
- What objects are required to have their data extracted?
- What is the information associated with these objects for extraction?
- What is the process for creating, authoring, checking, validating and verifying the COBie data?
- What contractual, procurement, legal, risk and liabilities are involved in delivering COBie?
Besides these questions, there are also some basic technical solutions in the delivery of COBie that still need to be resolved. Many software solution providers have created bespoke solutions to deliver COBie in accordance with BS1192-4:2014. To look at the issues related to transferring information into COBie, the BRE BIM team reviewed several methods of creating COBie exports. What was concerning were the differences between the results depending upon which software solutions and processes were followed. While BIM promotes the single source of the truth, it was obvious that each solution provided a different version of that truth and none seemed to provide the definitive data set that was required, nor present in the authoring tool.
The data model to be used for our test was created in Revit 2016, one of the most widely used authoring application tools, and is based on a building at BRE, Watford. The Revit model was used for the tests and two key processes for delivery were reviewed.
The first method used the export to IFC delivering various model view definitions (MVD) and then a number of different IFC viewers with COBie exporters were trialled. Each provided a different solution with slightly different interpretations of the implementation. The second method involved trying the plugin available directly from Revit, and finally, we also used the Navisworks plugin for extracting COBie. Again with each iteration, we achieved different results. What should be highlighted is that each extraction has multiple configuration options that could be used, and endeavours were taken to try and obtain the same result.
So what we now have is different information outputs that on the surface appear to be validated. The question being raised is which output is correct and what happens if the COBie extracts are produced in different applications? How much time will be spent amending (meaning manual input which could lead to uncoordinated information) and validating the files which could impact on deliverables? What is obvious from these tests is that projects need to define the exact software solutions and processes used to create their COBie deliverables including defining the finite details of each data extraction or else variations in the information will be produced.
We now come to our headline figure of £185,000,000. While reviewing multiple projects as part of the BRE BIM Business System Certification scheme we have seen first-hand that we were not the only ones struggling with consistent transfer to COBie. The response from the supply chain is to add additional fees to projects to recoup some of the costs associated with delivering COBie, and while each is only adding a small percentage to each project, this soon adds up if you take UK construction as a whole. While this may seem a small cost to reduce lifecycle costs by 33%, as defined in the Construction Strategy, what is probably more worrying is the lack of uptake from the Facilities and Operations teams to make this target achievable. This may be because of the work linking directly between design authoring tools and Facilities and Operations solutions, which would remove the need for any intermediate file format. However, both seem to fail to realise that many of the decisions relating to construction are not made by designers, and often the constructor who undertakes these decisions do not have the appropriate software skills to update the information model with the appropriate data that would be extracted to COBie. What is needed is a solution where all those who contribute to the Project Information Model can do so in a consistent manner.
If COBie is to remain a project deliverable, there should be a clear process for extraction of information that is consistent across differing software platforms or structured data sets. The COBie project was led by the U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers and the National Institute of Building Science (NIBS) before being adopted in the UK by the BIM Task group and adapted into a British Standard. NIBS are already working on the future development of the COBie Project and have provided a far more practical approach to implementation than the UK, such as a stern requirement to comply with the NIBS COBie Responsibility Matrix. Each software solution could then be validated to ensure consistent compliance. However, what information needs to be included, who authors, checks and validates this and what tools they have access to in order to facilitate this, all needs to be defined and made available to all those involved.
We need to go back to the basics of “beginning with the end in mind”. What information do we need to make those 33% savings, who is going to provide it and in what format do they need it in. The benefits of using BIM has huge potential to change the way we design, construct and operate buildings. We need consistent data flows between all the actors across the lifecycle if we are to reap the benefits that are available or even those not yet envisaged. This requires making it easier for those who need to contribute to make that contribution, and for it to be easier to contribute than not. BIM will change the way we interact with our built environment. The big question is how COBie can facilitate the change that needs to happen.
Paul Oakley BA(Hons) Dip Arch RIBA