What is COBie?


COBie – Construction Operations Building Information Exchange

COBie is an international standard for building data exchange. Its most common use is in product data handover from construction to operations. The COBie specifications and guidelines capture industry knowledge and best practices. The COBie standards do not dictate what information is required for a specific project handover – that responsibility still lies with the owner.

The COBie data model is a subset of the buildingSMART data model, more commonly known as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes). COBie is part of the openBIM movement to collaboratively design, build and operate buildings. It is also part of the UK Building Information Modelling (BIM) Task Group Level 2 initiative.

The most common representation of COBie is the COBie spreadsheet. Within this the data format can be represented in multiple ways according to the requirements and needs of the specific data transfer.

COBie is only concerned with the structure and format of the data and COBie templates are only a starting point for defining and fulfilling information exchange requirements.

COBie adoption and interest is on the rise. Even if the basic concepts are quite simple there are still a lot of misunderstandings and uncertainties surrounding its use.

COBie is actually the key differentiator for the UK Government’s strategy. They want good data so they can drill into the 80% of the cost that lies beyond construction. It’s the first Governmental strategy to make COBie a contractual requirement.

COBie in practice

There’s been an acknowledgement that asset information is currently really poor. This information typically gets put together in the last few weeks of a construction contract. Perhaps an external consultant is appointed who manically runs around to all the different parties involved getting information, and all that information, even if it’s meant to be collated ‘as built’, has tended to be poor, and is not put together by the person who has generated it, so inevitably there are errors. The gathered information usually takes the form of multiple A4 ring binders – and of course, bits of paper go missing and over time data gets lost.

If we can provide structured digital data for handover, this will allow building operators to much more effectively manage and run their built assets. COBie sets out some goals – the main one being that data is captured as it is created by the individual who is dealing with it. The data will of course be transferred upon completion to the operators and maintainers systems so the data needs to be produced in a format which is compatible with commercial software. COBie aims to standardise the format and specification.

COBie formats

The different COBie formats are as follows:

  • IFC
  • STP
  • IFC
  • XML
  • SpreadsheetML & COBieLite
  • Cobie as a spreadsheet – flat structure with references

In the spreadsheet, each of the element types gets their own sheet. The column headers describe information to be filled out for each instance and each instance is a row in the sheet-table. There are some challenges to this approach such as the formatting of information. The spreadsheet should not be the authoring tool for large amounts of data.

COBie as an IFC file (basic handover view)

Use of COBie as an IFC file makes the most sense for exporting data in BIM models from BIM authoring tools. The data is already there in a structured format and the tool has IFC export built in. The only thing new is that they have to support the basic FM handover view. The BIM data that is relevant for COBie export has been generated “by” the BIM tool or it has been imported as part of BIM objects supplied by manufacturers.

COBie as a database

COBie information is mostly structured data. Some are generated during design and construction but a lot is generated / collected during product install and handover. Neither BIM tools nor spreadsheets provide the optimal features for collecting, verifying and merging this information.

COBie data drops

The most common use for COBie is for bridging the gap between construction and operations. A complete COBie should be expected at the time of handover. However, COBie also has the concept of data drops. A data drop is an earlier intermediate delivery documenting the state of the project at this stage.

COBie benefits

  • Data sharing. It supports the sharing of data among facility management tools, such as BIM authoring tools, CMMS and computer-aided facility management (CAFM) software
  • Data collection
  • Data transfer

The Construction industry is clearly becoming far more aligned and focusing on how together we can improve value for clients. Whilst COBie may all seem frustrating and unclear to some, we should applaud those who are pushing change. It is never easy to implement change but doing something is better than doing nothing.

We should continue to support the adoption of COBie and IFC and push the industry hard to make it work for all the right reasons!