Providing a leaner handover with COBie

July 2021

by Dr Bill East, PhD, PE, F.ASCE, Founder of Prairie Sky Consulting and Chair, buildingSMART International COBie Certification Subcommittee

I started my career as a Project Engineer, conducting field inspection and supporting contract administration. Having created computer systems and standards supporting the transition from document to data, I have had a keen understanding of how and where information is captured and used during construction. As anyone in this job knows, a major portion of time is spent “wrangling” data delivered in different silos.

Traditionally, information is collected in silos during testing and installation, during commissioning and at the end of each project - but a significant amount of that data overlaps. We end up with inefficient, document-centric data that’s not enormously trustworthy and not presented in a way that can be built upon. Overcoming this problem is what led me to create the Construction Operation Building information exchange (COBie) specification.

Despite several generations of new technology since I began my career, facilities management must still spend an inordinate amount of cash on re-gathering data that has already been collected throughout the building process, in an arduous duplication of work made necessary due to risk of poor-quality data. For example, we might see a BIM technician use an incorrect product family when gathering the digital data on a project. Someone could come along and create a spreadsheet that gives the schedule of all the equipment used in a BIM model - but if the wrong product family had been used within the model, the data won’t correctly correspond.

The result is that an owner then needs to subcontract out the re-collection of this data, crawling through a building, checking nameplates and readings on every project, in every country.

So how does COBie change this? Well, COBie is a specification of the information that may be delivered to an owner at the end of a project - whether that be equipment maintenance data, spare part data, or any other data that relates to the management of building equipment.

During design through the production of construction documents, a correct COBie requirement allows the project team to ensure information about spaces and scheduled products and equipment is correctly created in the BIM. An unintended side effect of COBie is that it is currently the only testable and objective measure of the “Information” in BIM.

In many COBie implementations today, application of COBie is added to construction contracts as a traditional “end of project” process. COBie Certified Professionals™ know that opportunities for capturing real-time as-built data do not come at the end but during construction administration, quality control, and commissioning.

A mature implementation of COBie captures real-time as-built data, removing the post-construction need to crawl through a building to gather equipment information. Owners can trust the information that is put in their hands and feel confident in putting their facility to use immediately.

During construction, COBie Certified Professionals™ help project teams remove the need to subcontract out traditional data gathering (and regathering) - saving hundreds of thousands of direct costs. It also removes the need for duplication of work, increasing productivity, and reducing overhead charges. This improved efficiency decreases the number of construction administration and commissioning hours needed.

Waiting until the end of a project is both very expensive and prone to human-error. The issue again is trust, which is why the COBie Certified Professional examination allows COBie masters to give everyone on the team peace of mind and risk reduction when it comes to facility handover.

Since the introduction of BIM, many in our industry have had high aspirations about what the technology can do - with ideas such as BIM levels, digital twins, common data environments, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. What I have learned in more than 40 years of implementing construction field office and enterprise cloud-based technologies, is that great new technology does not solve problems by itself. Only when “lean methods” are applied to the business will new technology provide a benefit.

COBie Certified Professionals™ will typically recommend small changes in a construction company’s set of existing information technology to integrate data from design, construction administration, quality control, and commissioning.

Construction is the only industry that hasn’t yet fully integrated back-office procedures across stakeholders. Vertical software integrations add cost without improving handover data quality. COBie Certified Professionals™ help teams redesign how information flows through the design, construction administration, quality control, and commissioning processes. These changes do not involve high-technology, just timely application of changes to existing technology creating an efficient and repeatable Lean Handover™ process.

Buying new technology can be exciting, but risk of additional costs and inefficiencies arise as companies struggle to see how to apply new technology in the context of existing business process. Without clearly accounting for the sources and uses of building information, traditional “we’ve just always done it this way,” will hold companies back from increased profit and customer satisfaction. COBie Certified Professionals™ have demonstrated they have the skill sets to bring better Information Management to the back-office without the churn of never-ending technology change.

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Bill EastBill is a serial innovator who has created global standards and systems that stand the test of time. In 2007, Bill published the first version of the Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie) specification. By 2013 his team demonstrated how a framework of IFC-derived technical standards allowed real-time, domain independent facility performance monitoring using machine learning.  Some of this work, including an updated IFC representation for COBie, would be republished as the National Building Information Modelling Standard - United States (NBIMS-US V3). Continuing in these efforts, Bill currently chairs the Technical Team of the FM Handover - Equipment Maintenance project whose work will incorporate lessons learned from COBie to provide an future international equipment handover base on the IFC 4.3 standard.

Bill is Director of the COBie Academy, author of many scientific and industry publications, and Chair of the  buildingSMART COBie Certification Subcommittee. Bill directly supports lean COBie implementations through, Prairie Sky Consulting.

Bill has a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech and M.S. and Ph.D from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He is a Registered Professional Engineer and an American Society of Civil Engineers Fellow.

The COBie Certified Professional™ exam is part of the buildingSMART Professional Certification Program. Those who successfully pass the examination join an elite group of global COBie experts. The exam is stringent and puts COBie knowledge to the test. To find out more about the buildingSMART COBie Certified Professional examination visit the COBie buildingSMART website.