Think BIG (DATA)

By Benedict Wallbank RIBA, SmartBIM Solutions



The exponential growth of storage capacity allied to plummeting costs mean data capture and analysis is possible in a way not thought of 5 – 10 years ago

These are exciting times for the construction industry as we take our first faltering steps to provide non-proprietary sharable structured digital data for our projects.  Government has understood that for the UK construction industry to compete on a global scale we must acquire data management skills, which add value to our services.  If we fail to do so, it is inevitable that competition from other parts of the world, who have lower labour rates or who successfully move to digital processes, will see our industry shrink.  

Each time we drop an object into our BIM authoring tool, it is given a Globally Unique Identifying number (a GUID).  It is that number, which allows us to attach data to an object in the same way that the bar code has allowed data to be added to the elements of retail.  The data added, however, only has limited use if it is in a format unique to that project or project team.  

In the UK, the industry’s “trainer wheels” for sharable structured data is COBie .  COBie is a sub-set of ISO 16739, known to most as IFC (Industry Foundation Classes), namely those parts of IFC, which relate to FM and O&M.  80% of the cost of a building lies beyond construction and COBie seeks to offer savings and efficiencies to built assets (be they buildings or infrastructure).  

There is already a vocal COBie backlash.  Early adopter projects, have struggled to provide COBie data (much of which has had to be entered manually). Inevitably there is a learning curve for new skill sets and changed working methodologies adding cost to COBie adoption.  People ask why not go straight from proprietary BIM system to proprietary CAFM  system.  Clients are also asking for COBie without defining what they require in the form of a COBie spread sheet issued as part of the EIR  or knowing how they wish to utilise the data.

Don’t judge COBie yet and don’t lose sight of the end objective of an industry capable of producing and using sharable structured data.  By adopting COBie Government will be able to compare the data on say a school in John O’Groats and a school in Land’s End developed by different teams using different software.  We still lack PAS (BS) 1192-4, which will document COBie as part of Level 2 BIM (due this year). We also lack a standard classification system (Uniclass 2?).  Software providers are only just starting to provide easier ways of generating and checking COBie data.  All of these will come with time and costs will reduce as staff learns the necessary skill sets.  

If we can master sharable structured data on an individual project, beyond 2016 and level 2 BIM the really exciting use of data will start.  Full IFC will be at the heart sharable structured data for the construction industry . Cross sector “big” data (for example social data related to housing) will be able to be used not just on a single building or facility but on


As the network is replaced by the cloud, closer collaboration and the move to BIM Level 3 becomes increasingly possible

whole neighbourhoods and cities.  

Nobody said this would be easy, and there will be short term pain, but the potential benefits in the longer term are enormous.