Kill COBie


1 kg of yellow paper

Let’s face it: COBie is the BIM equivalent of the 2-inch-thick phone directory you once received every year:

 out of date even as it lands on your doorstep

COBie would be fine if buildings, structures and other assets were static
i.e remained in the same state as the day the constructor hands over the keys (and COBie spreadsheets). But they are not: things get added, removed, altered and replaced.

Although data may originate from a model, since COBie spreadsheets & model are essentially independent, any change in either model or spreadsheet has to be manually synchronised.

I understand why a set of Excel spreadsheets seems like an attractive proposition. After all, everyone knows Excel. It is convenient & easy like the printed phone directory. However, it is the absolute lowest common denominator of technology and a terrible way to transfer information, just marginally better than the 1kg of yellow paper.

As I argue in Less is More, is not necessary for all data to be stored in a model and there are many reasons not to load models with too much data, particularly geometric. But the model geometry and attribute data does need to be linked in some way, so that a change only has to be made once. This is where COBie fails.

Better than nothing ?

It is beyond me why PAS 1192-2 gives COBie so much credence. Perhaps it is a case of anything is better than nothing ?

The BIM Task Group web site does talk about ‘ordinary databases’ although it also mentions ‘copy & pasting’ the data into FM applications. Surely, we can come up with something more sophisticated than copy & paste ? The same page mentions that there are a mere 700 COBie templates…!

The recently released Navisworks COBie plugin is just a band-aid solution. it might help harvest or push data back & forth between (published) model and spreadsheet, but it is a technical dead-end since attribute data is now independent of the original (native) model.

Wobbly BIM wheel

I was at a BIM conference a number of years ago where the inevitable BIM ‘wheel’ was presented. I helpfully pointed out that the particular vendor had recently discontinued their Facilities Management application, and therefore the wheel was not a complete circle. I asked what their strategy for BIM-based Facilities Management software was.

The presenter said it was  a great question and gave me a ‘gift’ of some electronic gadgets, and skilfully managed to not answer it, which I took to mean that there was no strategy. There have been some developments since, although I would say it is still an immature area and significant software development work is required before it is ‘business ready’.

Dog’s breakfast

The COBie schema & templates are a maze of cryptic field names, child and parent fields that need to be updated in numerous places for it to all make sense. Many of the attributes are baffling, such as ‘YawRotation’- why would anyone need to know this ?

On a technical level, COBie tries to turn Excel into a relational database by the use of manual joins such as ‘Value must be found in referenced Foreign Key List’. Only database geeks will know what that means.

To use the British/Australian vernacular, it is a dog’s breakfast

screenshot COBIE spreadsheet

The Solution

BIM authoring applications, as used by architects and engineers during the design and construction of an asset are obviously not appropriate for the owner, operator or asset manager.

The information needed for ongoing operation & management is very simple, and much of the information produced during construction is superfluous. Owners & managers should not have to become BIM experts, but they should be able to query and maintain their data with appropriate tools.

Therefore: FM applications and data standards need to be model-based, with suitable tools to maintain the model data.

In other words, the aforementioned ‘wheel’ needs to be a full circle, using proper model based techniques over the entire lifecycle, rather than dumbing models down at the end of construction.


These posts are now several years old- but still quite relevant:

I like the “scratch their heads at the decision to concentrate on a spreadsheet-based deliverable when so much effort is put into creating a virtual building” & “COBie looks like a spreadsheet from hell” parts of the second link