Over the last year or so the construction industry has really opened its eyes to the major potential that digital data holds for all the actors within the sector. We have started bravely talking about Industry 4.0, IoT, machine learning, mixed reality etc. – all brave BIG IDEAS that rely on data. However, ask anyone about the reality of their business today and you will see that utilizing quality data is not among that business’ strengths yet. Truly, when we talk about data in construction, we still have a lot to figure out.
The most basic way to do a reality check in any aspect of your work is to ask yourself three simple questions: What? So What? Now What? Let’s try and use this formula to test UK’s pride and joy in data utilization – the introduction of COBie as a required data format within BIM Level 2.
The introduction of more rigorous digital processes in the construction sector known as the aggregate term ‘BIM’ became the catalyst for an important change. All actors became aware of the need for a structured approach to achieving the ultimate goal: to effectively design, construct and manage an asset. Numerous process and standard documents later, the Client was told that they should require data about the asset in the structured format COBie. Easy right?
Starting with the fact that COBie is just a data structure that can carry different types of information that are meaningful to different types of people, we see that just stating ‘I want COBie’ is not going to do it in achieving our goal. Commonly COBie today provides some operation and maintenance data and does not ask for product performance properties such as a fire rating, U value etc. (Important! COBie can take this data, it is just not specified). So, what are we actually achieving by asking for a structured format (which is great) and NOT asking about the all-important CONTENT that we need?
Avoiding this pitfall is essential to the whole industry. Now that we have figured out the process and the format, we have to figure out the ‘what’s’ and ‘how’s’ of data itself. Firstly, the clients, designers, contractors and asset managers need to start asking the questions which will help them achieve their efficiency goals. For example, if the goal is to reduce the replacement cost of the air conditioning units, then ask the question what data do I need to meet that demand. That is, manufacturer name, warranty period, serial number, replacement period, replacement cost etc. If the question is how to increase the efficiency of the air conditioning units, then you would need data such as power output, allowable pressure etc. And finally, the question we need to ask is what data do we need in order to help each other work more efficiently.
The future of efficient collaboration, of open accessible information that anyone can use, and of interconnectedness and machine learning promised by BIM, IoT, mixed reality etc. is only achievable in one condition. The condition is that we let COBie be COBie and IFC be what it is. Then we will be able to avoid the ‘Great black hole of BIM’ (doing BIM for its own sake) and find a meaningful answer to the questions: What is the data that can improve the way we will build and manage our assets? After that it would make much more sense to start asking questions such as: How do we ask for it? How do we get it? And How do we utilise it?
Reality Check Verdict: It’s one thing to have it, it’s another thing to use it properly!
The key to utilizing data properly is simple. Let’s get the basics right. Let’s start with the product. Let’s set it free from paper and the unsearchable PDF. Let’s explore the benefits of data and let it flow through all the stages of construction. Only then we can start thinking about the mighty COBie.