COBie Quality Control, Part 2: The Commentary

 Bill East
 Lean Handover Production and Consulting

In 2008, after the first live COBie demonstration, it seemed (to me) that I would shortly be finished talking about COBie. I really thought it was done when they gave me a medal! But within a year, I was invited to introduce COBie to the designers and contractors working with one of the more innovative US Government agency. After giving a “personal best” presentation about the details of COBie (using a “rousing” 183 slide deck), the agency included COBie as an option in their contracts. Job done, game over, on to the next project, right?

Wrong. You might have already guess what happened: Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Everyone at the agency, all the designers, and contractors saw their part in the picture of the boiler room with the boxes. They recognized the need. They wanted to fix-it. They did not know how.


You may have heard the saying, “You don’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car.” When the mechanic crawls out from under a car covered in grease, he wants to talk about the skill of the repair. The driver who brought in the broken only wants to know, “Did you get it to run?” The folks attending the initial COBie briefings did not need to know the details. They needed to know “how to drive it” and understand “the rules of the road.”

In our design and construction industry we have a well-established process for answers the “how to drive” and “rules of the road” questions. Those answers are found in code commentaries. The International Code Council (ICC) commentary, for example, “focuses on providing the full meaning and implications” of that code.

To answer users’ real questions about COBie, I followed the road already paved by our industry. I, with staff contribution, and review by industry leaders, wrote a commentary. It’s called the “COBie Guide.”

The entire idea of COBie, as described in the COBie Guide, is that COBie is simply another format to deliver your current work product. COBie is just another option under “File > Print” or “File > Save As”. As for COBie quality, the message is simple. A quality COBie File is one where the data in the file matches that printed on contract documents and deliverables.

Notice that with such a simple and easy to understand quality standard we do not need new legal theories, no need for centralized model servers, BIM bandwagons, Levels and diagrams of Levels, the next BIM Dimension, or government mandates. And luckily for me (and others), no need for that rousing 183 slide deck ever again.

But it’s not exactly as easy as that either, is it? It doesn’t work exactly right today. So what is the answer? How do we do COBie? According to the COBie Guide what is needed is good software used as directed. Software that saves the same data that it prints out. That is the COBie Challenge. Getting software to simply export the same information that is printed on drawings. That is Our Challenge.

There is a fundamental reason why we need the “data to match our drawings.” If we are to change our industry, we must have data files that we trust. Only after years of 100% success, will we ever be in a place for our industry to trust electronic-only deliverables.

When evaluating COBie quality there are two things you need to know. The first is, “Is it in COBie Format?” NBIMS-US V3, Chapter 4.2 provides the technical requirements to answer that question. The second question is, “Does the COBie File have the information needed?” The answer to that question is in the COBie Guide. That answer is simple, “COBie data must match the drawings.”

The original COBie Guide from 2013 was made while I worked for the Corps of Engineers. You are free to adapt it for your local or regional requirements.

Published June 2016