May 2012

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Using COBIE as an integration interface

COBIE-based integration fits building operations and building systems into the core business of the building owner and occupant.

Toby Considine Toby Considine
TC9 Inc

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At the meeting of the NIBS FMOC in Baltimore this spring, challenges in expanding the use of COBIE were again at center stage. The National Institute of Building Science (NIBS) is a public-private partnership to advance the identification and resolution of problems and potential problems that hamper the construction of safe, affordable structures. In recent years, one NIBS committee has led efforts to develop a national building information models standard (NBIMS). NBIMS is more than technology, and concerns far more than a 3D building model BIM; it is the basis for re-engineering the processes used in facility design and construction.

The Facilities Maintenance and Operations Committee (FMOC) of NIBS promulgates best practices in building operations. BIM has traditionally focused on initial building cost. Initial cost, though, is only 15 to 20% of the life-cycle cost of a typical building. By using information known during design and construction to improve operations, one can reduce costs, extend the useful life of buildings and building systems, and improve the quality of services provided by the building. Many have characterized BIM and COBIE as of interest only to the long term and institutional owner. However, even for the short-term owner, improved services can improve tenancy rates; improved revenue and reduced cost improve the building capitalization in any market.

COBIE consists of several simple schedules of information that describe a facility. There are limited and defined relationships between these tables. COBIE names all rooms and their size, furnishings, and finish. COBIE catalogs building systems and associates them with the spaces (rooms) they support. The equipment associated with each of those systems is listed, and for each, the faceplate, spare parts, and recommended maintenance schedules.

COBIE was originally conceived as a one-way transfer from Design/Construction to Operations. Most design and construction software today can export COBIE. Today that information is often inconsistent or incomplete. Good commissioning practices produce information very similar to that delivered by COBIE; COBIE has found some acceptance as a means to hand over commissioning information when there is no BIM. Most systems that import COBIE today are roach motels—information checks in but it doesn’t check out.

Two-way COBIE, that is the ability to import and to export COBIE, is an intriguing new area of concern for the FMOC.  The initial commissioning of many of today’s systems was inadequate. Retro-commissioning names the process of inspecting and cataloguing an existing building as if for the first time. Retro-commissioning is associated with energy audits, with capital renewals, and with changes of ownership. A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that can export COBIE provides a starting point for retro-commissioning reducing the cost and improving accuracy.

Round-tripping COBIE presents some programming challenges for any system. In simplest terms, a system that exports COBIE for Building containing 100 rooms, and re-importing COBIE with 99 rooms should not now indicate that the building contains 199 rooms. At the same time, the maintenance management system should preserve history through the re-import.

Most building maintenance and operations uses different software for different business functions, and it is difficult to align and validate the information across products. While each part of an organization would like to use best of breed software, doing so today creates islands of information. It is routine to have separate systems to support maintenance, tenant management, event management, housekeeping, catering services, capital renewal, amongst others. Outsourcing and sub-contracting introduces the additional complexity of multiple organizations.

Each of these applications can potentially benefit from importing COBIE information. Some are interested in subsets only. Once the information is in place, the information in these systems begins diverging starting with the first day that they are used.

Reliable Controls COBIE can serve as a standard basis for exchanging information between these systems. Changes relevant to all aspects of building ownership and operations can originate in any of these systems. Government and institutional owners face additional issues introduced by space auditing. If each system supports two-way COBIE, this information can flow between business systems.

Last month, I wrote about BIMCards, which use COBIE as the basis for integration between enterprise schedules and BAS scheduling. It is a well-known practice to use the semantics from one space as the ontology for an adjacent space, that is to provide meaning to what otherwise might be a mere catalogue. Today’s building systems are rarely strategic, because while they may incur many expenses, they do not express anything meaningful to the primary business of the facility. BIMCards names a method to use COBIE to create on scheduling ontology for building systems.

COBIE also provides a link to the business value of facilities operations. Each business has its own ontology, that is, its own value proposition. For businesses that provide building-based services, that value proposition flows through the spaces in those buildings. COBIE-based integration, when extended to the building systems, links building system operations and performance directly to the business ontology.

A business that clearly understands its value proposition can react quickly to changing conditions. A business that understands how its building systems fit into that ontology, is a business able to easily participate in smart energy. COBIE-based integration fits building operations and building systems into the core business of the building owner and occupant.

Another ontology, a way to find meaning for building systems is to align with the people in the building. An alert reader sent me a link to the WristQue, a portable sensor and identity wrist-band for interacting with buildings. Just search for it.


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