BIM: Why COBie is not dead

4 June 2019 | By John Ford

With the introduction of ISO 19650, the role of open source data has never been more important in facilitating the built environment sector’s digital goals, says John Ford.

John Ford

When construction completes and the 20% costs – capital expenditure (capex) – that apply to the whole asset value close out, the 80% operational expenditure (opex) costs then start to apply.

For the public sector, these costs are staggering and unsustainable in current business models. This is why the UK government implemented BIM Level 2, a means of delivering better value from the building and management of built assets (total expenditure), using industry standards dedicated to better information management through digitisation and information modelling.

The big barrier holding back opex value was that seamlessly good, complete and timely data was required from the start. This often never happened. Many asset managers just wanted a register that listed the main assets, where and what they were and key data linked to them that helped them plan preventative maintenance for kit sometimes worth tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds.

Issues included:

So, a solution by the UK government was COBie. This satisfied the issues above, as COBie , within its specification, provides a standard default set of requirements for assets and their data attributes that could be placed into contract requirements with little or no knowledge expected of the client.

Then, as clients gained more experience with COBie, the standard allowed them to get more specific answers to the customisable three questions:

There was a problem, however. The UK’s approach to mandating COBie was sudden, lacked clarity and even tried to change some aspects of a well written standard to support objectives with little knowhow to back it up.

With the introduction of ISO 19650 and withdrawal of PAS 1192-2, many may feel COBie has been withdrawn from the government’s objectives. This is not the case. Currently, there is still no better “open standard” solution that beats what COBie has to offer and, through there are still problems in adapting data to its standard, there is ongoing research in design, construction and maintenance organisations to improve the flow.

My own COBie experience includes experimenting with an early version in late 2008 on the first UK project to use it, and recently contributing to COBie inventor Bill East’s upcoming books on how the standard during construction can help lean out the handover process.

Demystification of COBie and its processes can help add value – if there’s a willingness to understand information management right down to its core roots. Wherever an organisation is on the journey, it is still our best bet in delivering standardised data to aid asset management cost reductions.

John Ford is BIM and digital information lead with Galliford Try


There is a lot of good sense talked about COBie in this article. But, one critical element is missing - the Employers Information Requirements. COBie falls over at the first hurdle if clients do not clearly specify what information they want in COBie. Phrases such as 'provide data in a COBie compliant format' mean nothing - what data?

Many of the moans about COBie appear to come from the AEC professions. Whilst complaints about a lack of client clarity around COBie are justified, I suspect the real concern is that if a client every really gets to grips with the power of COBie the AEC professions will be in deep trouble.

A smart client should be providing a detailed COBie specification for each data drop and tying stage payments to compliant data drops for the design/construction work done to date. Doing so would recognise the value of information and give the AEC's every incentive to deliver.

Paul Akhurst, 19 June 2019

Leave a comment