Mike Packham, Partner of Bernard Williams Associates, outlines the value behind BIM/soft landings and highlights the difficulties interpreting COBie

I have been contemplating ‘value’ a lot recently – not in an existential way – but in the context of my day-to-day role as an FM consultant. Value is a word that seems to be on everyone’s lips, and you can bet that it is going to feature heavily in any RFP (Request for Proposal) that ends up on my desk. But what do they mean by ‘better value’? Is it more for less, the same for less, better performance, etc., etc.?

How does all this apply to BIM/Soft Landings? One of the initiative’s key selling points has always been that it will help us to avoid those expensive ‘mistakes’ during the design and construction process that lead to increased construction and/or operating cost. However, I am not convinced that this constitutes true value as surely these mistakes are something that all members of the design/construction/operational supply chain should always have been seeking to avoid.


No, from my perspective the real value of BIM/Soft Landings derives from their potential to deliver reliable information upon which informed decisions can be made about the management of the built environment – and the intrinsic link of the latter to the productivity of the organisation that is occupying it.

In my practice, we do a lot of benchmarking for organisations wishing to assess their costs, performance or process. Typically we will do this by comparing them to other organisations which are carrying out similar activities, functions, processes, etc. under similar circumstances. For such comparisons to be meaningful they must be carried out on a strict like for like basis; this, in turn, places a great deal of emphasis on the reliability of the underlying data that is used for comparison. This can be problematic, and it is not unusual for us to have to go back to the base source of the data (e.g. the original invoice) before we can be certain that we are indeed using the right numbers as the basis of the exercise.

Reliable dataset

Translating this scenario to BIM/Soft Landings you should be able to see immediately that we potentially have a similar problem – i.e. we will only be able to operate our buildings more efficiently if we have a reliable dataset against which we can make informed decisions. Of course, the BIM Level 2 Standards include protocols aimed at ensuring that the design/construction team provide structured data to aid the maintenance and operation of the built environment once it has been completed. In particular, PAS 1192 – part 2 sets the delivery standards for BIM Level 2 which include amongst other formats something called COBIE (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange).

When we are benchmarking, we rely on our benchmarking ‘protocol’ to ensure that the data we are using is strictly comparable and COBIE can be viewed as the equivalent for BIM Level 2. However while the appropriate British Standard (BS 1192- part 4 ) sets out the structure for COBIE, it doesn’t really provide any guidance as to how the required data is to be entered into that structure. As you can imagine, without this guidance, different organisations (and the individuals within those organisations) are all interpreting the requirement in slightly varying ways, and as a consequence, there has to be a question over the comparability of the information being generated.

On a different but related theme, the intention behind BIM Level 2 was that on completion you could press a button and magically the maintenance team would have all of the information at their fingertips that they needed to operate the asset (building) at optimal efficiency. However again we have the possibility of different versions of the BIM truth emerging – this time as a result of the way that individual software providers are interpreting the requirements of COBIE. Understandably each FM software provider is keen to have a product that links to the BIM model. The danger is that as a result of the lack of clarity about how COBIE is to be applied, each application will effectively represent a bespoke solution. This will have the effect of complicating still further the situation outlined above, whereby individual constructors are already interpreting the COBIE requirements in different ways.

The net effect will, of course, be the direct opposite of what was intended –  i.e. strict comparability of data across different projects, design/construction teams, procurement methodologies and the like so that intelligent decision making can take place in the operation of our built environment.

In summary, if we are to continue to use COBIE in pursuit of the objectives outlined in the Construction Strategy – which I think we would all agree is where we want to get to – then there needs to be further work undertaken to ensure that all parties are interpreting COBIE in the same way. Otherwise, the widely publicised and recognised advantages of adopting BIM Level 2 will not be fully realised.

Mike Packham


British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM)





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