COBie stands for Construction Operations Building Information Exchange, and is concerned with the organization and structuring of information. This is information that is essential not only to the design and construction of a built asset, but also its operation and maintenance. Gathering this information at the end of the job, which is common practice, is expensive since most of the information has to be recreated from information created earlier. The COBie approach is to enter the information data as it is produced during design, construction and commissioning. So, for example, designers provide floor, space and equipment layouts and contractors provide make, model and serial numbers of installed equipment. It is the formal process that helps organize information about new and existing facilities.

Whilst a complete COBie file should be expected at handover, earlier staged deliveries can be used to monitor the business case for the facility and help the plan for the construction of that facility, as explained in more detail below. The COBie information can either be kept as delivered or held in ordinary databases, or it can be loaded into existing facility management and operations applications.

The practical application of COBie is therefore as a series of pre-planned information drops where information in relation to the design, construction and commissioning of the facility is released to the employer. It is of course equally possible to use COBie during the facilities maintenance stage as and when required. The beauty of this is that at handover all of the information that is usually contained in the bulky Observations and Measurements (O&M) manuals is already available and, again, costs are saved by not having to recreate this information from scratch.

COBie has obvious applications for BIM, and is used in its revised form as COBie UK 2012 to map out BIM information drops. It is not, however, the case that the information drops specified in the Model Production and Delivery Table (MPDT) have to be directly linked to COBie; the CIC BIM protocol at Appendix 1 includes in its specimen MPDT a series of defined stages, from 0 (strategy) through to 7 (operation and end of life), married to five information drop points, the first drop being at brief stage, the second two drops at concept stage, the third drop at definition stage, and the fourth drop at handover and close out stage. However, the BIM protocol uses the APM Project Stage definitions and the accompanying notes point out that other frameworks such as the RIBA Plan of Work or Network Rail’s GRIP can be used. The important thing is to have an agreed series of timed information drops at appropriate points during the progress of the project.

A useful worked example of the use of COBie data drops can be found in a document available on the BIM Task Group website (.pdf, 5.58Mb) download. In this worked example, the following data drops were used:

  1. Requirements and constraints
  2. Outline solution
  3. Construction information
  4. Operation and maintenance information
  5. Post-occupancy validation information and ongoing O&M.

The data available at drop 1 is broadly consistent with that expected at RIBA Stage 2 and would be linked to the requirement to approve the outline business case. The data available at drop 2 is broadly consistent with that expected at RIBA Stage 3. The rationale for this data drop is to enable the selection of the main contractor. In fact, this can be divided into 2a and 2b (an approach adopted by the MPDT in the BIM protocol) to indicate the model delivered by the client’s technical team (2a) and the model then returned by the contracting supply chain (2b). The tender comparison data will be in 2b, and the delta between 2a and 2b will identify areas of either non-compliance or alternative solutions.

The data available at drop 3 is broadly consistent with that expected at RIBA Stage 4. The rationale for this data drop is to approve the agreed maximum price. The data available at drop 4 is broadly consistent with that expected at RIBA Stage 5 and its rationale is to cover the requirement for operation and management information. The data required at drop 5 deals with post-occupancy information and ongoing O&M, and as such is less clearly defined, but is broadly to check how the asset is actually being used.

The information drop stages, whether originating from COBie or otherwise as set out in the MPDT, do not carry the same weight as contractual milestones.

The information drop stages, whether originating from COBie or otherwise as set out in the MPDT, do not carry the same weight as contractual milestones. The failure to achieve a data drop does not expose the defaulting party to liquidated damages or any other penalty under the protocol. Clause 4.1.2 of the protocol requires the relevant project team member to use its reasonable endeavours to deliver the Specified Models at the relevant Level of Detail described in the MPDT at the relevant Stage, but does not specifically deal with what happens if that does not occur. This is not, of course, the purpose of the protocol in any event. It is more likely that any contractual penalty for, say, failing to reach drop 4 or the final construction-related information drop at the appropriate time, which results in a delay to completion would be set out in the relevant part of the main contract between the parties, not the protocol.

There is an obvious issue to consider about the link between the time and information production obligations in the protocol and the parties’ contractual obligations. Even at level 3, it is very likely that there will at certain time-critical moments always be contractual obligations in relation to delivery which will carry penalties if these are not observed.