Format <> Quality

 Bill East
 Lean Handover Production and Consulting

Take Away = “Format is no guarantee of information quality”

While is impossible to know if it was the chicken or the egg that came first, we can know for sure when it comes to BIM. Quality data is more important than file format.

To illustrate this point, consider the following. You are given two BIM files. One is in a format you like, but does not have the data you need. The other is in a format you don’t like, but has all the data you need. If given the choice, most people prefer the file with the data they need. That is because once they have the data they need, they can pay someone to transform the format to one they like. You only need to choose the "good" format with the bad data once to know that the cost of painstakingly correcting the data quickly becomes prohibitive.

Only after you have the right data should the question of format become important. The question should not be, “In what file format can you provide the information?” The question should be, “What is the easiest file format for you use?” By getting the data right from the start, we can work with the data in any format that’s best, for a given purpose.

As an example of the separation of data specification and data format, one need look no farther than the Construction Operations Building information exchange (COBie) standard.

COBie data can be delivered by design software in STEP Physical File Format (commonly called an “IFC File”). Many construction software companies choose to use a spreadsheet format for COBie data. Of course, within the software itself vendors have a completely different internal format for capturing COBie data.

While the STEP File and COBie Spreadsheet formats are helpful when exchanging entire sets of building information. If we often don’t want to exchange the whole set of information. There is also a published transformation for these types of exchanges. If, for example, we want to update the installation date and serial number of a single piece of equipment, we can use an XML format called COBieLite.

COBie data comes in one format almost everyone will know. It's a format used for 100’s of years. It is the scaled architectural drawing. During design, COBie requires the delivery of an outline of products and equipment in a building. That information is found in drawing schedules. During construction, COBie requires the delivery of information we find in installed equipment lists and Operations and Maintenance Manuals. We’ve had the right COBie data all along, it’s just not been in a format that was easy to use.

COBie data can be delivered in any format that people find useful, provide the semantics of the COBie schema can be recreated. If someone wants COBie in a database, put it in a database. The information is the same information.

When it comes to COBie, or any other information, the precise definition of requirements, not the delivery format, that is important.

Published May 2016