COBie | Industry Blog | Viewpoint Construction Software


What is COBie?

by Ben Wallbank on March 10, 2016

in BIM, COBie, UK

Last week we looked at why we need COBie. This week I’m going to look at what COBie actually is. COBie is a vehicle for sharing what is predominantly non-graphical data about a facility. It was developed in the US by the US Department of State, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Veterans Association and NASA – so don’t let anybody tell you BIM isn’t rocket science, because it is!

There was some UK involvement from both Nick Nisbet of AC3 and also Vinci UK were involved in the development too. The UK Government, when they came to look at what data formats to adopt for the whole life of their assets, looked around the world and saw that COBie had been developed and licensed its use.

COBie is a standard subset of IFC – the Industry Foundation Classes – it’s just that bit of data from IFC which relate to the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) and Facilities Management (FM) of assets and this is delivered to client in the form of a spreadsheet.

Now, I fully expect that you’re saying: ‘What? A spreadsheet? Surely we’re heading towards a digital world where spreadsheets are a thing of the past?’ However, there were good reasons for this.

Firstly, using a spreadsheet allowed the participation of the smaller members of the supply chain – for example – if a small sub-contractor supplying maybe 5 radiator types to a project they would just need to complete the very few lines that relate to their manufactured items and would be able to submit them to the design and construction team for incorporation into the COBie spreadsheet for the job as a whole.

By adopting COBie in the form of a spreadsheet it also meant there was no additional software investment by Government because almost every civil servant has spreadsheet software already on their desktop. If I’m honest, I think the spreadsheet itself can be seen as a short term step.

What you can see below is a COBie spreadsheet – or at least a bit of a COBie spreadsheet, as a full COBie spreadsheet will consist of 19 individual tabs:


The spreadsheet is coloured up and the colours mean:

  • Yellow: Required checkable data
  • Salmon/Pink: Data that is related to other sheets
  • Purple: Data that comes from different softwares
  • Green: A whole series of fields that may or may not be required by the client

It’s important to remember that COBie isn’t a single thing – it’s something which is defined by the client at the start of the job in the EIR (Employers Information Requirements).

To help you understand how COBie works here is a simple diagram detailing the main tabs within your COBie spreadsheets – you can see that everything centres around ‘Components’.

To help you understand how COBie works here is a simple diagram detailing the main tabs within your COBie spreadsheets – you can see that everything centres around ‘Components’.

Components are the individual examples of items that may have been placed within your BIM originating software. In the graphic below we can show how COBie could relate to a bar within a hotel.

Components are the individual examples of items that may have been placed within your BIM originating software. In this graphic we can show how COBie could relate to a bar within a hotel.

In this instance, we have a ‘Beer Pump’. A beer pump will sit within a space – or a room – or in our example, it sits within a ‘Bar Area’. And of course, a bar may be part of a collection of rooms – in this case part of the ‘Entertainment Area’ within a hotel – a collection of rooms is what constitutes a ‘Zone’.

‘Zones’ may also stretch across several floors, which is why we also have a designation of which ‘Floor’ a particular room is on – and all of those items sit within a ‘Facility’, which is the asset we’re talking about – in this case a hotel.

So what we’ve done now is locate a particular item within a room, within a group of rooms of related function and within a floor or across a number of floors. So you can see that although our beer pump is a single component it has relationships with several of the other tabs within the COBie spreadsheet.

But that’s not all, a beer pump is also part of a wider system – the system in this case is the beer delivery system, consisting of kegs, pipes and pumps etc. Of course, the component maybe one of a number of similar components – or ‘Types’ – in this case we have six individual beer pumps attached to our bar.

We can also relate ‘Jobs’ and ‘Resource’ to our beer pump – which is where maintenance comes into our diagram. In this case a job maybe cleaning the pipes and that job may take two bar staff – so that’s our resource set against the job. Of course there may be a number of different jobs you want to relate to your beer pumps.

And finally, you may want to know that you have spares – so here you can see that we have three spare pumps in our cellar in case something goes wrong. This is basically how COBie works – you’re just relating a whole bunch of different functions to a single component.

There are other tabs within COBie, for example ‘Documents’ which will also be filled in – but it all works like this, and it’s pretty simple. It’s a great way to note what your assets are – and with them being in a readable format it’s easy to interrogate this information.

Of course as this single component is replicated on a large job – perhaps on a hospital – you may have hundreds of thousands of components for which you need to do this job. The job isn’t hard – but it needs to be done – and if we can automate this process it will make our lives a lot easier. Certainly a lot of what COBie is can be generated from your individual Building Information Models.

It’s also important to realise that COBie is not just about buildings – it’s equally about infrastructure.

You can see in a similar way it centres on ‘Components’

You can see in a similar way it centres on ‘Components’.

In this case our component may be a light fitting on the Central Reservation (being a linear location), of a length of road, within a region of a road, within a facility (such as the M1 or a full road system). This light fitting would also be part of a full ’lighting system’ and would have jobs relating to it – such as changing the lightbulbs, which would have a resource set against it and back at the depot you would keep your spares – so you can see that COBie works in a very similar way for infrastructure.


It’s worth viewing some COBie videos that have been produced in the US to get a further understanding of COBie. You can see these videos here:

In further blogs we’ll look at COBie within the UK.


Why We Need COBie

by Ben Wallbank on March 3, 2016

in BIM, COBie, UK

The requirements for BIM Level 2 deliverables are actually pretty simple – the only one that at least at first will be a little bit of a challenge is COBie. So what is COBie and why do we need it?

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

Below you can see a Turner and Townsend study on the AEC Value System:

A Turner and Townsend study on the AEC Value System

It shows that around 3% of the cost of an asset is in its design and only 17% in its construction – so only around 20% of the whole life cost of an asset lies in the design and construction, leaving around 80% (not including demolition) lying beyond the involvement of the design and construction team.

The UK Government also hope that by making our industry ‘expert’ at how you provide good sharable structured data to help with the running of an asset, that these will be skills that we will able to export to other parts of the world.

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. For example, if an architect says a room is an office, then unless the function of that room changes, nobody else will touch that data – it will be carried forward throughout design and construction and on to the life of the building.

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.

Other industries which have already digitised have learned the importance of sharable structured data. If you take the World Wide Web, for example, it really took off with the adoption of HTML. So our industry’s biggest challenge is learning to provide non-propriety, shareable, structured digital data – and COBie can be seen as the trainer wheels for doing this – it’s just that piece of data that relates to OM and FM – so there will be a much larger data story. In fact, COBie is a subset of the industry foundation classes or IFC – so going forward, with a little further development, we will be developing IFCs, but for now we have a great format to drill into that 80% of cost, in COBie.

At Viewpoint For Projects, we have invested heavily in a non SQL database and that is to be able to utilise structured data and in particular, COBie. The importance of COBie really lies within comparisons – many people say why don’t we go from authoring software A to FM software Z – they tend to be relational databases where we can map from the bespoke fields within the authoring software to the bespoke fields within the FM software – and that will get you perfectly decent asset data on a single asset. But, the reality is that there are many tools out there – for example, one of our key clients currently uses three standard FM softwares, and from job to job they have different consultants using different softwares – so where you may get decent data for a single asset, you lose the ability to compare multiple assets.

If the industry adopts COBie and later IFCs, you’ll be able to make really interesting comparisons between jobs. So whether you’ve got a building in Lands End or a building in John O’Groats or indeed multiple assets between the two, you’ll be able to do searches, for example on a particular boiler type to see how it’s performing across your assets, which you would never be able to do if you just mapped proprietary software to proprietary software.

And these are the reasons why it’s important that the industry gets to grips with a standard for structured data – in this case it’s COBie. And don’t forget, Big Data is coming – and in order to be able to make these comparisons across data sectors, we need to have our data structured.

So in summary, we can see that structured sharable data is crucial to our industry becoming an industry fit for the 21st Century and I believe that if we don’t manage to do this, other industries that have already digitised will actually take and use our work as their own.

For more information about how Viewpoint can help your business achieve Level 2 BIM, visit our website today:


So, what actually are the BIM Level 2 deliverables?

Previously we have discussed the raft of standards and supporting documentation we have in the UK and I’ve told you that I think they’re pretty good. It is these standards and documents together that define what these deliverables are. We have been told that there will be an all-encompassing document summarising these, but in the meantime we can look at those standards and define pretty accurately what the deliverables are.

If you look at the graphic below you can see what the deliverable are:

Level 2 BIM Deliverables

You can see 3 different BIM originators each using their own software. There could be more (or less) but we have shown 3. They then check the work they have done – and they federate these models, coordinating and clash detecting. From these models, they produce what they’ve always produced – a set of 2D model contract documentation delivered in the form of PDFs. Documents retain a crucial importance in Level 2 deliverables and must be dealt with as part of your Level 2 deliverable story.

Of course, these 2D documents must be derived from a coordinated, federated, clash detected set of models. The CIC BIM protocol states that if there is a discrepancy between what is delivered in the form of the models and the 2D PDFs that it is the federated model data which is the primary data source. You cannot just do your 2D work and then deliver a model as well – the model has to be what is delivering the 2D output.

Alongside this, the Government is asking for COBie – this is the key differentiator between what is happening in the UK and the rest of the world. In the UK, we are the first country to define how we get to asset data that can be used throughout an asset’s lifecycle. We’ll delve further into COBie in coming weeks.

At the completion of each work stage, native software files are handed over to the client as a record of what has been done – and this must all sit within a common data environment – a system such as ‘Viewpoint For Projects’.

These deliverables for BIM Level 2 are really ‘starter BIM’ or ‘BIM 101’ – except for COBie – we’re not being asked to do too much, just author our models in 3D, federate them for better clash detected output so we get better 2D output and alongside that data for OM and FM throughout the assets lifecycle.

BIM Level 2

In the above graphic, on the left, you can see the standard deliverables that a contractor would be expected to do, and on the right, some of those which aren’t necessarily part of Level 2 BIM – somewhat surprisingly you’ll notice that 4D (timing against the elements of your model) and 5D (costing elements) do not form part of standard BIM Level 2 – but these are things that generally get done as standard by design and construction teams, so additional requirements maybe being placed upon the supply chains by contractors so they can produce good 4D and 5D information.


We know many of you reading this are working hard on your processes for delivering COBie ahead of the 2016 mandate; if you’re not, you probably should be thinking about it!

The ability for your business to prove competence in this key area of Level 2 BIM will be questioned early in 2016, and you may lose out on work if you can’t. This requirement will also be getting tighter in October 2016 when all centrally funded projects must be able to digitally validate COBie submissions.

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Guest post by John Adams, Product Manager for BIM at Viewpoint

Those of you paying attention will have noticed the BIM Mandate got a hardening layer at the ICE BIM event in London a couple of weeks ago. Not only will projects not get funded unless they have defined their EIRs for Level 2 BIM by April 4th 2016, but those procuring will have to prove they can “electronically validate BIM data from their supply chains” by October.

This means that by this time next year not only will the ability to deliver COBie be essential, but those procuring data will be checking it; it really is time to decide how your business is going to work with COBie to confidently deliver data your clients won’t find errors in. Whether that means contributing, delivering or checking data to your business or even some of each – you can’t ignore COBie anymore.

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