COBie2 Challenge: Dramatic Building Industry Productivity Improvements

“BIG BIM little bim” author Finith Jernigan, AIA discusses the COBIE2 Challenge with Michael Bordenaro, who provides a brief summary.

The COBIE2 Challenge in Baltimore on March 17, 2010 added to the 3-year series of building industry process improvement demonstrations using the Construction Operation Building Information Exchange data sharing format based in Excel.

Developed under NASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in support of evolving buildingSMART alliance open standards, COBIE2 establishes more robust data transfer standards that promise to be continuously improved as technology advances.

The Construction Operation Building Information Exchange (COBIE) is an international standard format and has been demonstrated by industry leaders to dramatically improve the transfer of critical design and construction information to the operation and management team.

COBIE2 demonstrators described data transfer tasks that previously took 6 hours to be completed in 2 minutes, others noted 85% reduction in data entry time and some showed live, web-based building data management processes that previously were not possible.

A brief summary of what COBIE2 can be used for now and in the future and links follow the interview.

A COBIE2 Discussion with Finith Jernigan, AIA

Finith Jernigan, AIA wrote the Axiom Award winning “BIG BIM little bim” and is president of Design Atlantic Ltd, an architectural firm and BIM consultancy. Jernigan has been testing and implementing advanced technology in the building industry for 30 years.

He helped write the ground breaking BIM guidelines for the state of Wisconsin and has won a FIATECH CETI award for use of advanced design, construction and data transfer processes for the Salisbury, Maryland Fire Department Headquarters, Station and Museum featured in his book.

Jernigan was a key participant in the AIA BIM Award winning BIMStorm Los Angeles and has been active in other BIMStorms.

The COBIE2 Challenge in Baltimore on March 17, 2010 afforded Jernigan the opportunity to witness the presentation of eight (8) software vendors who demonstrated their capabilities to import and export building data to and from COBIE2 formatted spreadsheets.

Jernigan spoke about the COBIE2 Challenge with Michael Bordenaro, cofounder of the BIM Education Co-op.

Michael Bordenaro:

Is there an umbrella assessment of the benefits available with proper use of COBIE2?

Finith Jernigan, AIA:

All vendors were in agreement with the fact that COBIE2 shortens the data entry time required to populate a CAFM system. By having the designer and contractor build the information in COBIE during design and construction, Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) propagation time is reduced. One vendor quoted 2 minutes vs 6 hours for the test project (a small two-story apartment building). Another quoted a reduction in data entry time of 85% at a level that completes 85% of the data required for their clients’ operations and maintenance (O&M) use.

COBIE2 replaces much of the manual work effort in developing as-constructed data, operations and maintenance manuals and commissioning detail. COBIE2 makes this information easily available without sorting through files or searching boxes in the boiler room. Savvy building owners will use COBIE2 to replace and expand what they are given at project hand-over rather than requiring their contractors to do duplicate work. This requires owners to look at COBIE implementation differently than “little bim” implementation. COBIE2 is one more step toward “BIG BIM”.

The real power of building information modeling is that with BIM, it possible to achieve significant benefits in all phases of the building life-cycle. The rapid development cycle of bim tools has resulted in uses that greatly benefit one industry segment without producing measurable benefit elsewhere in the process. Use of BIM during design-only or construction-only with little consideration for future uses of the data embedded in the model, are examples of “little bim.” It’s good when designers and contractors use bim to do a better job. However, we as an industry can achieve much more. “BIG BIM” is characterized by data that, once created or captured is then reused over and over throughout the life-cycle of an asset, making the entire process more efficient, less costly and more sustainable.


What is the cost of using COBIE2?


COBIE is an open-standard available at no cost. Dr. Bill East, who has been the leader of COBIE development, stated that the Army Corps of Engineers has been able to do COBIE2 data entry for $1.50 per square foot for existing buildings. At least one vendor has indicated this seems to be in the high range. No one has fully documented the time and cost savings for COBIE projects in relation to square footage. My experience shows that the savings from properly using COBIE2 will be substantially more than $1.50 per square foot.


Building industry professionals are bombarded with messages of “better, faster, cheaper” from software vendors of all types. Can you name a reason why building industry professionals should feel comfortable about COBIE2.


COBIE2 data can be generated by many different means, depending on the project phase and team capabilities. The data can be added directly into the COBIE2 spreadsheets. The Onuma System offers a clear path for building COBIE2 data during planning, schematic design and design development. Both Tokmo and Vela Systems offer ways to add the data using web-based tools that assist data collection. They make it easier to get proper information in the right fields in a repeatable way during construction. Vela Systems even lets you barcode components and then use barcode scanning to expedite the process.


COBIE2 is intended to assist in the long-term operation of a building. How do you see the transfer of data to the software programs facility managers are familiar with already?


Except for a single reference from ArchiBus, there was little acknowledgement of direct integration between the major engineering BIM applications and Computer Aided Facility Management software (CAFM) without a intermediary such as COBIE. This has been a long running issue and one of the major hold backs from achieving “BIG BIM” integration into the O&M process. There have been few options for moving data from the design and construction processes directly into CAFM. COBIE2 offers a straightforward way for teams to populate CAFM. Whether COBIE becomes the interface or is an interim step toward full integration, remains to be seen.

Most of the CAFM and CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) vendors appeared to be looking at COBIE2 (and BIM) as a feed to their facility management products only. TMA Systems did present from the perspective of the cradle-to-cradle approach to advanced building industry processes.

Except for images in Tokmo’s presentation, IBM’s Maximo was not represented in the test. This is interesting, as many federal government agencies have used Maximo for many years. Maximo is one of the legacy products that federal agencies have been hoping to move into the BIM arena to leverage government long-term investments in the software. Hopefully, they will participate in the next Challenge as an effective way to show what is possible for converting legacy data for use improved processes assisted with Building Information Models.


Whether Maximo participates in a COBIE2 Challenge or not, doesn’t the use of Excel make data transfer to almost all software possible?


All CAFM/CMMS software imported COBIE2 spreadsheets by mapping them to their existing formats. Any CAFM/CMMS that allows import by way of mapping data fields would likely be COBIE2 compliant.

It was not possible to determine whether the CAFM vendors have deployed their mapping templates into their standard products or whether they will use the mapping to increase price or build market advantage.

Since it appears to involve a rather typical effort to map COBIE2 into the systems, we hope that the vendors will deploy their templates as a standard part of their products.


Geographic Information Systems (GiS) Open Standards are more advanced than Building Information Model Open Standards. Does COBIE2 allow Building Information Models to benefit from the vast amount of information available from the GiS community?


Vendors demonstrated using the geographical data in the COBIE2 spreadsheet.
Kimon Onuma, FAIA defined a site in his system, geolocated the test building and output both building and geographical data in COBIE2 format for the other vendors to use. TMA Systems used GiS data to generate click-able mapping of facility locations within their system.

Mr. Onuma also demonstrated a direct data feed from a remote building automation system that concurrently presented graphical operating data in both the Onuma System and in Google Earth. This creates a “dashboard” that allows remote operations, such as monitoring and controlling mechanical systems. Remote data from webcams was also shown streaming-in live within the BIM. COBIE2 is critical in making this type of activity a building industry standard process that dramatically reduces energy consumption and lets us manage better.


Having live presentations by COBIE2 Challenge participants is an effective promotional activity, but are not intended as serious “test drives” of processes. Results of actual software performance will be provided soon. What do you think interested professionals should review before establishing their approach to gaining benefits from the COBIE2 format and related business process improvements?


I always shy away from presentations that rely on work done off-line or specifically prepared to show one aspect of a product. It is much easier to correct the flaws off-line than it is live, making it hard to be sure how well a product works. Live is always best when you evaluate products in the BIM world.


Thank you for your time. I look forward to talking with you when the COBIE2 Challenge results are published.


Thank you.


A Brief Summary of Construction Operations Building Information Exchange v2
By Michael Bordenaro

COBIE2 data transfer processes are greatly assisted by Building Information Models that allow professionals to exchange data using open standards. Properly implemented, COBIE2 data exchanges are an excellent way to share Building Information Model (BIM) data. Only Excel is needed to obtain and manage usable data about materials, equipment, location and other information embedded in a Building Information Model. This ease of access to information is a key benefit of COBIE2.

Using a spreadsheet format, design information, construction submittal requirements, manufacturers’ information and other data is more easily delivered to building owners in a manner that is effective for commissioning, operations, maintenance and management professionals. Facility hand-over data transfer takes less time, is more accurate and allows much more valuable use of critical design and construction information by building managers.

COBIE2 is a way to transfer data. Using a human readable Excel spreadsheet that is structured as a database, COBIE is also machine readable. Since COBIE is human readable, it can be managed manually. However, manual management of COBIE2 data likely to be very error prone. As vendors integrate the COBIE2 format into their products, the typical user will not need to understand the underlying data structure. Rather they will use tools that create and read COBIE within commercial-off-the-shelf products.

With COBIE2, it is already possible to:

Have single-entry of manufacturer’s data that remains consistent from design through construction to operations;

Assign uniquely identified equipment, furniture, fixtures and other objects to specific rooms;

Produce a COBIE2 Excel file from a Building Information Model;

Use a COBIE2 Excel file to create a low-level-of-detail Building Information Model;

Change data in a COBIE2 file and have it automatically change in the Building Information Model;

Change the Building Information Model and have the data automatically update the COBIE2 Excel file;

Have COBIE2 data populate CAFM/CMMS software and provide many other productivity improvements.

Eventually, the COBIE format will evolve to allow schematic design processes to include cost estimates that include the price implication and storage requirements of such items as floor cleaning products for different surfaces during the next 100 years.
While there is ongoing development work that will improve performance and benefits, today COBIE2 allows significant improvements in data transfer interoperability that provides surprisingly dramatic productivity improvements when managed properly.

Much detailed information on Construction-Operations Building Information Exchange and all the COBIE Challenge results are available at  Search for “COBIE” in the upper right field on the buildingSMART alliance web page.

Information about the March 17, 2010, COBIE2 Challenge

2010 COBIE2 Challenge Participating Organizations:

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
Archibus, Inc
Bentley Systems
Eagle Technologies
Tokmo Systems
Vela Systems