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COBie and Open Data

COBie is formally defined as Industry Foundation Classes – IFC – Model View Definition – MVD. I hope you are not panicking with all these acronyms.

To understand how COBie es organised we first need the foundation on which it has been built.

So let’s explore what each of these acronyms means and gets a full picture of how COBie is used.
Let’s start with the Industry foundation classes – IFC. Say we need to write a letter.
The main text will be composed of paragraphs.
The paragraphs, in turn, will be composed of sentences.
To write these sentences we will use words.
Finally, to form a word we will use characters of the alphabet. This seems obvious, right?
The same basic structure could be used for other forms of text.

Maybe instead of a letter, we want to write a report, an essay, an article…

In all these, we will need to use sentences, words, and characters to communicate an idea.
Something similar happens when we are trying to communicate the design of a building to someone else using digital tools.
Independently of whether we are preparing a structural drawing or some architectural plans, the same data structure should be used.
This structure is given by the IFC standard.  I want you to keep this structure on the back of your head because it is going to be useful for us later.

So, basically, we could understand IFC as the alphabet used by digital tools in the construction industry.
So, that is an overview of IFC, but what about Model View Definition – MVD? What does that mean?

Let’s carry on with the letter example.

Would you write a letter to your mom in the same way you would write a letter to your boss?
What if we are using different media – do we usually write a report using the same language we use to send a WhatsApp message?

From this example, we see that language is used in different ways depending on the use we want to make of it.

Some sentence structures are more often used to write up a report, others are more often seen in academic articles.
Again, the same happens with the information in models.

Some IFC classes are more used for, say, structural engineering models, while others are used for landscaping architecture.

The set of IFC classes, parameters and attributes that are focused on a specific model use is called an ‘MVD’
MVDs then could be understood as the set of information that is used to make a specific model.

Remember, IFC is an alphabet, so it contains all the possibilities, including the ones we will never use.

MVD is a restricted set of these possibilities, which is focused on specific use.
In the case of COBie, we want to use the information for maintaining and operating the building, so that is why we call it Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange for which COBie stands for.

And this is why we say that COBie is an Industry Foundation Classes Model View Definition.

So, COBie is an IFC MVD!
The fact that COBie’s structure is based on IFC classes is extremely important for information managers.

This is because information managers use certain rules to define how project teams will produce, share and store information throughout the project.
These rules are defined in a series of standards called the ISO 19650 series.

The ISO 19650 series specifies that information on a project should be exchanged using open formats whenever possible.
This means that different software should be able to interpret the software language used to write the information about a building.

Luckily for us, IFC is considered an open data standard!

A file written with the IFC schema can be opened in Revit, Solibri, Archicad, and even in Notepad.

What is better – as COBie is structured on the IFC schema, it is also considered an open standard format to exchange information used for the maintenance and operation of assets.
Another important thing about these standards is that implementing BIM according to the ISO 19650 series is mandated on publicly funded projects in the UK.

This means that clients in the public sector should be requiring the implementation of the ISO 19650 series in their appointment contracts – and at BIM Academy we see that many are already doing so.
The consequence of that is that, on public projects in the UK, all the information produced needs to be exchanged in open standard formats and the way people do that is through data schemas such as IFC and COBie.

This is why we see many projects where COBie is required as a deliverable, together with the Architectural, Structure and MEP plans.
Also, this is why understanding COBie and how it is used is so important in modern projects – this is the way data will be recorded moving forward and is a contractual deliverable.

As is the case with other deliverables such as architectural plans, structural calculations, MEP load specifications, if the information recorded in COBie is incorrect or incomplete, this could have financial consequences for the project and the companies involved.