The Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) protocol is improving Facility Management’s access to building data and increasing our ability to leverage design and construction information across the operational life of buildings. The use of open information exchange standards like COBie allows FM to import data into a variety of building management systems such as CAFM, IWMS, BMS, and CMMS; making asset information available on day one of occupancy. That is a far cry from the classic basement room filled with warranty binders, design drawings and as-built documents. If you’ve ever had to research detailed information from such a “system” you have no doubt dreamed that it would someday be instantly available. That day is here.
COBie offers information advantages across the operational spectrum and throughout a building’s life cycle. Immediate access to technical product specifications, serial numbers, warranty information, and maintenance requirements improves operational efficiency, speeds replacement projects, and facilitates enhanced asset management across the suite of FM applications. The requirement that designers and contractors input data during design and construction eliminates duplication of effort and improves information quality; providing reliable, available, and actionable information at the outset of operations. Having this information available at the beginning of occupancy is helpful in its own right, having it available and keeping it current as the building lives its life becomes a serious lever on efficiency and cost control.
While a boon to project start up and continuing operations, COBie is still a relatively new component of the build and operate continuum. With initial release and implementations beginning in 2008 it continues to be adopted within the AEC community at an increasing rate. Adoption within the Owner/Operator community is not at the same stage but is improving as knowledge of the standard and success stories become wider known. FM’s with CAFM, BIM, CMMS, or IWMS systems will benefit most quickly since they can quickly leverage COBie’s “authoritative source of information” status across platforms. COBie is first and foremost an information exchange protocol, however, and data may be exported to spreadsheet format for those without access to sophisticated applications. In one sense this might be one of its greatest contributions, making detailed asset information available to FM’s who operate in a leaner environment. In simple spreadsheet format they have all of the practical asset information they need without the manual effort required to research, categorize, and enter the data.
There is another benefit of standard open information sharing that all FM’s should appreciate. While we spend considerable resources capturing asset information it is then often placed inside systems that make it their own. While we may benefit from the output of these systems they can make us less facile with our data when trying to use it in ways the proprietary system does not support.
“Unfortunately, commercial software developers have used business process implementations as classic business “barriers to entry” that keep users locked into proprietary methods of accomplishing their work based on vendor-specific feature sets.”
Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBIE)
Requirements Definition and Pilot Implementation Standard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ERDC/CERL TR-07-30)
Open information standards protect against the loss of data value by enabling users ready access to data in a way that allows them to use it in any manner they wish, in addition to how it is used by the suite of FM applications. As the importance of data agility increases in FM organizations, specifically the ability to look at data in new ways to solve new problems, this unfettered access to data outside of specific application constraints becomes more important.
FM’s engagement at the beginning of new development projects utilizing COBie is an important factor, fostering early agreements on system standards and information processes which are tailored to FM’s benefit. These agreements allow designers and constructors to contribute to long term building efficiency beyond their normal brick and mortar parameters. FM gains not only the long term benefit of these actions, but also the opportunity to influence design and inform economic trade-off decisions with a total cost of ownership perspective.